The first several months of any new venture can be overwhelming, and setting up your own business is no exception. You undoubtedly have numerous questions about matters ranging from the mundane to the momentous, and Internet searches often turn out conflicting opinions and results. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to turn to an expert, or one who has gone before? A business mentor has been through the start-up process, and understands what you’re going through. He has made and learned from his own mistakes, and he can answer your questions, silly as they may seem. Finally, a business mentor can become a trusted friend as you navigate the sometimes rocky waters of self-employment. But how can you find such a mentor?
Here are just a few places to begin your search for someone to help you gain your footing:
- Friends and family: If someone close to you is already a business owner in a similar field, then he might be the logical choice.
- Trade associations: It might be a good idea to join an association affiliated with your industry; not only will you be able to network with other professionals, but you may find a mentor as well.
- Industry-related Internet forums, such as commonfig. Since our goal is to encourage quality relationships between our members, you might be able to find a mentor willing to lend a hand.
- You old boss: If you left your previous job on good terms and you’re not in direct competition with your ex-boss, try asking him if you can pick his brain.
- A friend of a friend: Ask around within your circle of friends and acquaintances. Does someone know someone who successfully started a similar venture? Ask if she’d be willing to introduce the two of you!
- A paid consultant: If you can’t find someone who can donate some time to helping you out, a paid business consultant will be able to answer your questions and get you headed on the right track.
Once you find the right person and he agrees to answer some of your questions and lend a helping hand, you might not know how to proceed, particularly if he has never mentored anyone before in this capacity. Here are a few hints:
- Meet regularly. Whether it’s monthly or quarterly, and whether it’s in person or over the phone, knowing that you’ll have regular contact allows you to compile your questions over a period of time and have them all answered at once. This makes the best use of your mentor’s time, as we as your own.
- Make goals. Determine what your overall goals are for your business, and break them into bite-sized pieces. Each time you meet with your mentor, update him on ways that you are moving toward the achievement of those goals.
- Be open to criticism. Remember, your mentor has done this before, and his job in this instance is to help you reach your aforementioned goals, not necessarily to affirm that you’re doing a great job. Encourage him to tell you if something needs to change.
There is a lot more to know about finding, keeping and working with a mentor, so here are some links filled with good advice:
U.S. Small Business Administration
Have you successfully worked with a mentor? Or have you mentored someone else? Tell us about it!