Have you considered the benefits to finding a mentor to help you grow as an entrepreneur? A mentor can guide you in business and act as a sounding board for your ideas. A potentially valuable addition to your support network, mentors provide introductions to their own connections, and they can help your company grow.
Many large firms run their own in-house mentoring programs, pairing new recruits or potential high fliers with senior executives. But how can a small business person tap into the mentoring buzz? It is possible to find a mentor without the backing of a big corporation.
How to Find the Right Small Business Mentor
Consider what you need
Think about what you want out of the mentoring relationship. Do you need someone to bounce ideas with you? Someone with skills that balance out your own, say, a specialist in business marketing if that is your personal weak point?
Don’t limit yourself to choosing individuals in your own business area. Someone with expertise outside your industry could still be a very useful contact, and it’s always worth sharing ideas across sectors to see what you can learn.
Where to look for a mentor
Think about how you are going to get in touch with your mentor for regular catch up sessions. If you would prefer to meet face-to-face, then choosing someone local, or who at least regularly travels to a city where you work, is the best option. If you're happy to chat over the phone or on Skype, then you can pick a mentor based anywhere in the world.
Check out local business directories, breakfast clubs, and business networks for potential mentors. Contact the big businesses near you to see if they let their senior managers act as mentors. Speakers at conferences are also a good bet. Ask your own business network for recommendations. Then research your shortlist of candidates online and pick one to approach.
How to approach your prospective mentor
Make a polite, professional initial inquiry, stating that you're looking for a mentor and have been impressed by this individual’s strengths and experience. Ask if she would consider mentoring you and define what that means to you—one face-to-face meeting per month at a location of her choice, for example. You could also volunteer to return the favor and mentor one of her junior employees.
Don’t be disheartened if your prospect says no. Many professionals are so busy right now, they may not be able to take on mentoring as a commitment—even if they see the career benefits for both parties. Simply move on to the next person on your list. Stay positive, and you’ll find someone who could become a lifelong confidante and friend, as well as a business mentor.
Elizabeth Harrin is director of The Otobos Group, a project communications consultancy. She has a decade of experience in leading IT and process improvement projects in financial services and healthcare. Elizabeth is the author of three books and blogs at GirlsGuideToPM for which she won the Computer Weekly IT Professional Blogger of the Year award in 2011.
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