Before beginning your search for a mentor, you need to be able to understand when and where you need help. This will improve your chances of finding the right mentor to help you. You do not want to look for a mentor who is specialized in accounting, when you need help with marketing and distribution. In other words, be sure to seek out individuals with expertise in your weak points, not your strengths.
One of the first steps in finding a mentor is to identify people you admire for their expertise and can learn from. Research their backgrounds and then reach out to request a meeting or phone call. It is important that when you reach out to someone, be sure you clarify your intention and respect a potential mentors’ time. The worst thing that can happen when reaching out is that person says “no.” So move on to the next one. In most cases, the entrepreneurs are honoured to be asked and will try to make time – even if only for a phone call or a cup of coffee.
If during an initial meeting with a potential mentor you (or they) find that they may not be the best person to help, do not be afraid to ask them about other people they may know who could help you. Show them the respect and thanks they deserve by agreeing to meet with you and trying to help you. This will go a long way for other potential situations or problems that they may be able to help you with.
When seeking a mentor, don’t just look up, look across! In building your small business, you need to be connected with all kinds of people. While the mentor stereotype is of an older, wiser person in the same industry, it does not mean they have experience with the problems and challenges you face. This means not just looking at those who are seen as leaders and innovators, but also looking at peers who may have recently overcome the same challenges and needs that you face. Your peers are often accessible and are looking for that same opportunity. They may be willing to grow together, especially when your common problem involves overcoming a major competitor.
Don’t be afraid to reach out to your social media networks such as LinkedIn, Google+ or even Facebook, to ask friends and business acquaintances to help identify potential mentors. Even if you do not ask friends to help you in your search, looking at the people in your circles and those of your friends will at least help you identify who you should be approaching. Getting a personal introduction to the person you have identified on a friends circle will also make for a better chance of getting the first meets. So ask the friend to make the introduction.
In your search for a mentor, don’t forget that you should try to give as much as you take. Mentorship is not just a one-sided value proposition. You want both parties to gain benefits from the mentoring relationship. So you may want to seek out a mentor who may be having a problem with something that you have since overcome, or have developed some level of expertise in. Offering some value to them should be a powerful incentive for them to help you in return.
Once you have identified potential mentors, you should do some research to determine your mentor’s availability and preferred mode of communication. Your goal in retaining them as a mentor (or even just getting that initial meeting) is to reach out to them in the most convenient way so that they will respond. Traditional wisdom has been to find the most personal way of approaching them (whether it be by phone, email or even a ‘snail-mail’ letter). Identify the format that the mentor favours. You may find that people respond much better to a phone call or a letter than you realize – because fewer people make those types of calls or send personal letters these days.
If you have office space in a shared office environment, such as an office business centre, your chances of networking with a mentor can be much greater. Over the years, there has been many chance encounters between office tenants at Telsec Business Centres that have developed into mentorships. Sharing common areas like the hallways, a reception area, kitchens, photocopier and printing rooms and even the elevator getting up to the 18th floor of the Toronto Star Building, can offer people a chance to have casual contact and get to know one another. This type of non-forced networking can also lead to opportunities to discover friends who might be well suited to mentor you.