When it comes to doing your own thing, everyone can use a little good advice.
Unlike paid consultants, mentors and advisors are experienced professionals who find satisfaction in supporting independents for little or no compensation.
The right mentor can make all the difference.
Finding a mentor
First, clarify what kind of help you need.
Setting clear goals is the first step to anything you do. What does success mean to you? There’s no wrong answer, but it’s important that you are honest with yourself and that you are as specific as possible.
Once you know what you want, think a bit about what might hold you back from these goals. Is it a lack of financial acumen? Inexperience with marketing and promotion? Help with your sales pitch? A lack of the right connections?
Where to look
Finding the right mentor takes time. Not everyone that you meet will be the right fit, but chances are you will learn something from everyone you talk with. Where should you start looking?
- Friends and family
While it may not seem intuitive at first, your family and friends may offer a wealth of expertise across a variety of areas. Even if they aren’t the right fit as mentors, they may have connections to potential mentors they’re willing to share.
- Professional networks
If the family and friends option isn’t for you, the next obvious choice is reaching out to your professional network. Consider your LinkedIn, industry associations, former colleagues/ customers, or even peers in your industry. When asking for an introduction, be specific about what you hope to learn from them.
- Business media
Consider scanning business media for profiles of business owners and leaders doing things you admire. Be aware that they’re likely to be busy, but even a short phone call, email exchange or meeting can often be fruitful if you know what advice you need.
Finally, there are a number of government and non-profit organizations that can connect you with a mentor at no charge (be wary of mentors who ask for a fee). Some examples include SCORE , the SBA’s mentor protégé program, and your local chamber of commerce.
Finding the right fit
Once you have a short-list of the best potential mentors and resources available to you, contact them and ask to schedule an informational meeting. Be up front about what you hope to learn from them and why you think they might make a good mentor. Remember to be considerate of their time—keep your meeting brief and focused.
Many of your contacts may not be available to even do an informational interview, which will whittle down your list right away. After you do meet with candidates, remember to look beyond chemistry and see who best meets your criteria while also having the interest and availability to be a mentor.
Building a relationship
Building a relationship with a mentor is all about clear communications. Establish ground rules around how often you plan to meet, how you’ll handle urgent matters, what’s confidential, and what goals you’re hoping to achieve over a particular time period.
As you establish a rhythm over time, be sure to send regular updates to your mentor outside of asking for advice. The goal of a mentorship is to help you grow over time, so it’s important for both of you to monitor your progress. After your specified time period comes to an end (six months, a year, etc.) evaluate your relationship.
Was the mentorship successful? Would you like to re-up for another period of time? Or is it perhaps time to find a new mentor? If it is time to move on, be sure to show your thanks and appreciation – because your mentor will continue to be a valuable connection (and friend) over the course of your business career.