All entrepreneurs need a solid support system of individuals they can turn to for business advice. These supporters can be close friends, family and colleagues, but one of them should fill the role of a knowledgeable, experienced mentor.
"Mentors can be one of the most powerful weapons for an entrepreneur by providing guidance, wisdom and connections," said Lourdes Martin-Rosa, American Express OPEN adviser on government contracting and mentor for the OPEN Mentorship Institute program. "Every entrepreneur should have a mentor for obtaining the best answers to his or her daily challenges during startup and management."
Although forming a mentor-mentee relationship must be a mutual process, there are some key factors to keep in mind as you're seeking a business mentor. Mentoring and career experts offered their answers to questions entrepreneurs may have about choosing a mentor who's right for them.
What does a mentor do?
Whether you're the founder of a brand-new startup or an entrepreneur with a bit of business experience under your belt, you can always benefit from having a mentor.
"A mentor can serve as a sounding board at critical points throughout your career," said Diane Domeyer, executive director of staffing firm The Creative Group. "They can provide guidance on career management you may not be able to get from other sources and an insider's perspective on the business, as well as make introductions to key industry contacts."
Doña Storey, another OPEN Mentorship Institute mentor and American Express OPEN adviser on procurement, noted that mentors can help their mentees identify and avoid business pitfalls, and work through the challenges ahead of them. Martin-Rosa added that a mentor can also save entrepreneurs valuable time and money by helping them craft a road map to success.
What qualities does a good mentor have?
At the most basic level, your mentor should have experience greater than your own and a track record of success in what he or she does. But there are plenty of other qualities the person who is guiding your business decisions should possess. Doug White, career expert and editor of career and management insights website TCG Blog, advised seeking a mentor with a strong character and whose traits are worth emulating.
"Look for mentors who are authentic, empathetic, creative and honest," White told Business News Daily. "You need someone who's caring and invested in your professional growth, but also someone who will speak truth to you. Sometimes, you need some constructive criticism or a reality check, while other times, you need a high five or pat on the back. A well-chosen mentor can provide all of those things."
A mentor in the same business area as yours may be able to better understand your business's challenges and concerns, but Storey noted that fruitful mentoring relationships don't necessarily have to happen within the same industry.
"Make sure that the mentor shares a similar value system in leadership and management," she said. "Knowing who you are as a leader is critical before entering into a mentoring relationship. Only then can you align yourself with the right guide."
How do you find one?
There are many experienced business owners and professionals who are well qualified to be mentors, and they're often right in your own backyard. It is possible that your perfect adviser could find you by chance and offer his or her mentorship, but Domeyer believes that being proactive in your search for your mentor (or mentors) is the best approach.
"Try to meet as many experienced professionals as you can," she told Business News Daily "[Once you've identified someone], approach your potential mentor and the initial meeting as you would an interview. Be prepared to explain what you hope to learn from the individual and why you value his or her insights and expertise, as well as what you bring to the table. Don't take this phase lightly — you're laying the groundwork for a relationship that will hopefully last a lifetime."