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Rev Up Your Search for a Mentor with These Expert Tips

February 4, 2016 by Jacqueline Prause 47

None of us is as smart as all of us. – Japanese Proverb

Great athletes have coaches who provide them with continual feedback to attain their peak performance. Ask around and you will quickly discover the same is true in business. Most business leaders will tell you they would not be where they are without the support and guidance of a mentor.

For entrepreneurs, the advice of a mentor is critical. But where do you find one?

An entrepreneur simply cannot do it all on her own – especially, given today’s business environment of complexity and real-time demands. For small business owners and entrepreneurs, the advice of a mentor is critical to achieving business targets, closing performance gaps, and identifying new opportunities in the market.

Where Do You Find a Mentor?

This question was explored at length during a recent panel discussion on Internet talk radio show Coffee Break with Game-Changers with host Bonnie D. Graham, presented by SAP. Panelists for the show were Susan Solovic, media celebrity and best-selling author known as THE Small Business Expert; Karen Kerrigan, President and CEO of the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council; and Lorraine Maurice, Senior Director, Global Indirect Channel Marketing, SAP. You can hear a recording of the one-hour show here.

Here are the panelists’ tips for how you can find a mentor.

1. Never be afraid to ask someone to be your mentor

Solovic said she is often asked to mentor, and in her opinion it’s always flattering to be considered to play such a crucial role in someone’s development. She encourages people to never be afraid to ask someone to be their mentor. As Kerrigan noted, “There are plenty of successful businesspeople who believe in the ‘pay it forward’ economy.”

2. Don’t isolate yourself in business

Continuously seek to build your network via local business organizations, industry organizations, and formal networking groups. While you’re at it, you will be making the kind of valuable connections that may lead to a mentoring relationship.

3. Look for someone who understands business and knows your industry

“I would be rather selective when it comes to people who can potentially mentor you. You want to have someone who is 10-15 steps ahead of where you want to be in terms of the business,” said Kerrigan, adding that the person should have some overlap in your vision for the future and fulfill a specific need – for example, by providing expertise in a specific area that you may lack.

4. Sometimes a mentor may enter serendipitously into your life

Solovic recounted how at her first corporate writing job, it became clear to her that her boss was much harder in critiquing her work in comparison to that of her peers. One day she asked him about this. He explained that he believed she was a good writer, but could be a great writer with some extra effort. “He was my mentor without me even knowing it,” she recalled.

5. Invest in lunch

“Take someone out who has already been through the trenches, has that experience, and pick their brain. Ask open-ended questions. That mentor relationship may develop later on down the road,” said Solovic.

6. Mentoring from afar is now easier than ever

Advances in technology and new digital tools, like Skype, make it possible to connect with your mentor across a distance – either one on one or en masse. Consider following thought leaders and people you admire in the media with whom you may not have a first-hand connection. Watch how they lead and how they articulate their values so that you can pattern yourself after them.

7. Be the “CEO of Me”

Surround yourself with successful people, either by having multiple mentors in different subject areas or by creating your own Board of Directors, advised Maurice. “Our world is changing dramatically and it’s becoming quite frankly smaller because of technology,” she said. “It’s important to keep up with the marketplace, your customer trends, and your local community and environment. It’s really hard to do that when you’re a small business or a single entrepreneur running a business.” Maurice advised that you create a Board of Directors org chart that you can visualize. Put it on your calendar to meet with your Board of Directors on a consistent basis. Have an action plan when you go to the meeting.

8. Tap into support networks for small businesses

There are established organizations that can help set you up with a mentor. Start by taking a look at SCORE and other non-profits supported by the Small Business Administration (SBA). Be diligent about your search.

Three Pitfalls – And How You Can Avoid Them

The panelists also had some advice about how to make the most of the mentor/mentee relationship once it was established. Here are their thoughts about what you can do to maximize the benefits of time you spend with your mentor.

1. Be accountable

If someone is going to invest themselves in your business, you need to be accountable, according to Solovic. If you say you’re going to get something done, then you need to do it. “Excuses just don’t work for me,” she said. “It’s action. It doesn’t have to be perfect but you need to take action.”

2. Set expectations

Be realistic about what your expectations are and what a mentor can provide for you. A mentor will not actually run your business for you. In fact, most will be sufficiently busy with their own businesses. Solovic was frank in saying, “If in your head you’re thinking you’re going to go to breakfast with them every Wednesday and suck up that kind of time, that probably isn’t going to work for them.”

3. Be someone who is enjoyable to mentor

Be organized, prepared, consistent, and be respectful of your mentor’s time. “Remember that your mentor or the people you surround yourself with are part of your network,” said Maurice. “So when you’re not enjoyable, you’re not held accountable and you don’t come through, that’s a reflection on your business.”

Join Us for Coffee Break with Game-Changers

For more up-to-the-minute business and IT news, listen live to Coffee Break with Game-Changers radio on the VoiceAmerica Business Channel, Internet radio, each Wednesday at 11 AM EST / 8 AM PST.

Photo source: Shutterstock

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