When people say, “Experience is the best teacher,” they generally mean one’s own experience. Maybe no lesson is learned so well as the one you learn yourself — the hard way — but I prefer to learn as much as possible from someone else’s experiences. It’s possible to build a successful business without one, but having a mentor can help you do it much faster and save you a lot of trouble along the way.
I am blessed to have a wonderful mentor. He’s a business coach and a serial entrepreneur whose advice is highly prized and sought after because of his down-to-earth, no B.S. approach to running a company. When I first started my business, he helped me avoid making countless rookie mistakes. As I’ve grown, he has helped me avoid mistakes that are common among more experienced entrepreneurs. He has helped me navigate through tough decisions. He has shown me how to emerge from difficult predicaments with grace and respect. I shudder to think of the amount of pain and suffering I would have walked right into if I hadn’t had access to him.
That’s what good mentors do. They help you evaluate your ideas and strategies, identify weak points, and show you how to shore them up. They help you get clear on your business goals, and they challenge you to stretch your thinking. They encourage you and cheer you on when you need to do things that are outside your comfort zone (which is all the time!).
HOW TO FIND A GOOD MENTOR
Identify potential candidates.
It may seem like a daunting task, but good mentor candidates are likely all around you. You may have them in your network. Check your connections on LinkedIn, and don’t forget your 2nd and 3rd-degree connections. If you find someone you’d like to meet, ask a 1st-degree connection to make an introduction.
Associations, entrepreneurial organizations, business incubators, and CEO peer groups are also full of potential mentors. Any place where business owners gather is a great place to look.
Approach them the right way.
When you find someone you’d like to talk to, the way you approach them will set the tone for the kind of conversation you will have, or whether you’ll have one at all. Instead of saying you’re looking for a mentor, briefly outline a specific challenge you are facing in your business and ask for the person’s insight into it.
Don’t ask to buy them coffee. Everyone wants to do that, and they’ll probably say no. It’s never a good use of their time (or yours).
Don’t say, “Can I pick your brain?”. This is an old expression that has been over-used by tire-kickers and turns people off from the start. Read this article for ideas on how to ace this conversation.
Don’t ask, “What should I do?”. This can be a signal that you require a lot of hand-holding. No one wants to mentor someone who wants to be told what to do. They want to mentor people who want to learn, so demonstrate your desire to learn in the way you speak.
Listen to how they answer you.
This conversation is a sort of audition for them as much as it is for you. If someone doesn’t ask many questions and tells you exactly what to do, this is not the mentor you are looking for. Anyone with quick, pat answers may be more interested in being perceived as an expert than offering practical help to someone trying to get a leg up in the business world.
A good mentor should be a good listener and should ask as many questions as they answer. They should also not tell you what to think. Entrepreneurs think differently, and a mentor should teach you how to think by guiding you through a series of questions in such a way that as you answer them, the point they want you to learn reveals itself.
Rachael Hodo is the Founder of ProAdmin Solutions, LLC, a VA firm that specializes in general administration, content marketing, and association management services. Rachael and her team work by referral only. You can reach her on LinkedIn at linkedin.com/in/rachaelhodo.