Starting up in business can be lonely, it can be tough and above all, it can be a steep learning curve. As the business owner, the buck stops with you – everything is ultimately your responsibility – but you’re also human, you don’t know and can’t do everything yourself. So where do you find some support, some friendly expertise? One valuable option is to get a business mentor.
Originally a figure from ancient Greek mythology, an advisor to the house of Odysseus, a mentor now comes in a variety of forms. For some, mentorship is a formal arrangement with structured and scheduled meetings; for others, a more relaxed deal which may occur mostly in social settings. In both cases, the dynamic is one of someone experienced sharing their own learning and business wisdom with another.
Above all, a good mentor relationship is ongoing. It’s not a one-off consultation, it’s something that develops over time, grows with the participants’ changing circumstances. A business mentor is not a paid coach or advisor, dispensing instructions and advice in exchange for a monetary return of some kind. A mentor is more like an experienced friend who genuinely wants you and your business to do well. The key is finding the right mentor for you.
Remember, it’s not the years that make a mentor, it’s the experience. Ideally, your mentor knows the journey you’re on with your business because they’ve already taken that journey themselves. Not every step will be the same, granted but they’ll have learned some of the key lessons you’re facing and can help you through them.
There are a number of approaches to finding your mentor:
You might identify an individual or two in your local business community or your industry whom you admire and respect and ask for a little of their time, maybe buy them lunch.
Networking can create an endless series of opportunities: seminars, meetings, conferences, luncheons are all about meeting new people. Your local Chamber of Commerce, Rotary Club or other business society have regular events at which you can talk to your more experienced peers.
Or you may connect online, via a LinkedIn group, Facebook, or more a specialized site and forum.
Alternatively, a number or organizations offer mentor-matching services, such as that offered by the non-profit SCORE.
However, finding a business mentor is rarely a straightforward recruitment process. The best mentor relationships arise out of meetings between people with mutual respect; they develop over time; often the process is never formally called “mentoring”. Much more likely is that as you network, meet people, create new business relationships, a mentor situation will develop organically. On your part, the key is to be inquiring, inquisitive, respectful (of course) and ask a lot of relevant and specific questions. If the question is interesting, so much the better; after all, the more intrigued and interested your mentor is in your situation, the more energy they’ll want to devote to helping you with it.
Put simply, a business mentor has made the mistakes so that you don’t have to (or at least, you’ll be able to go straight to making original mistakes of your own!)