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Tips for finding a Mentor for Your Startup
by Startacus Admin
A business mentor is, we suspect rather obviously, someone who will put their experience to use helping you grow your business and achieve your goals. Someone who will use their own failures and successes to ensure you avoid the same failures and mistakes, and reach the same successes. It’s a two-way street, of course, in which you work together rather than you sitting back and letting your mentor build your business.
But before you can avail of your business mentor’s experience and use them to reach the heady heights of success, you need to actually find one and know how to do said availing. So what are the ways you can go about that?
If you are thinking about putting your business into an accelerator, you would do well to make sure that it is one that offers time with a business mentor. Just ensure that you go in knowing exactly how much time you will get with the mentor and that it isn’t advertised just to make the accelerator look more appealing. If possible, find out who the available mentors are, and if they seem like they can actually help you.
Do you have any contacts already who could act as a business mentor? Do you have contacts who have contacts? If you have already built up a network, there’s a decent chance that one of them would be in a position to make a good business mentor. It almost goes without saying that you should make sure to follow this path with a business mind, as choosing a mentor based on what a good friend they are, for example, might not work out well. You need to choose someone who, aside from understanding your business and your sector, will be able to give constructive criticism properly, and from whom you can take said.
Don’t think of business mentors having to be multi-millionaires in fancy suits. If a family member ran a successful small business, they could have some useful tips for you. This probably won’t be sufficient to entirely fulfil your needs, but it could be a very useful starting point. There’s nothing wrong with getting advice from multiple mentors, so long as you aren’t wasting anyone’s time, but ultimately you want a business mentor who is an expert rather than someone who has good general advice.
Don’t go looking for someone who is going to tell you how great you are, how amazing your product is, and how successful you’re going to be. You’re not looking for validation, you’re looking for someone to tell you what you’re doing wrong and how to fix it, what you haven’t thought of and how to implement it, etc. You need to be willing to listen to their constructive criticism and take it on board, but don’t be too afraid to disagree here and there; it is your business, after all. Just be open to questioning yourself about where your objections come from. Is it ego? On the other hand, you may find that you simply don’t work well with your mentor, in which case, save yourself and them a lot of time by ending the relationship professionally and respectfully, making sure you thank them for their time and effort, even if you don’t think they have helped.
Make an impression
You may very well be just one of many entrepreneurs approaching this person for mentorship, and you don’t want to just blend into the sea of overly-similar emails. We have written about how to write a good introductory email, which should help you stand out a bit more, but go outside of this email to make an impression. Engage with them on social media (don’t stalk or kiss up to them, though), follow their blog, talk to them at events, and when you do contact them, make sure to be specific about what you need from them.
Again, it almost goes without saying that you should be ready to get started with your mentor as soon as they agree to it, and not be taken by surprise. But you should be fully prepared for the whole journey. You should already know about the person you have asked to be their mentor – what their expertise are, what they are passionate about, what exactly it is you want from them specifically. You should be proactive with your mentor, telling them what you need and asking them specific questions or requesting advice in specific areas. They are almost certainly going to be reactive, responding to your questions and requests, not using up their free time putting together a detailed plan for how they are going to help you.
They are not going to have a lot of time for you, either. You might get less than an hour per week with them, so being fully prepared will mean that you can squeeze out the maximum from them within that time. Go so far as to plan how you are going to ask questions in such a way that it won’t require extra explanation or have your mentor asking too many questions in return, and unnecessarily eating up your time.
A lot of things surrounding the locating, securing, and utilisation of a business mentor is down to common sense. For the rest, you can always find more suggestions and tips online. But, while the majority of your questions should be specific, don’t be afraid to ask your mentor what they think you need to know/do as well.