The article How to Find a Mentor as an Entrepreneur (Plus 6 Places to Look For One) by Braveen Kumar is a good introduction for founders who are considering engaging with a mentor.
One of his points jibes with one of my sayings:
A good mentor can help you avoid common mistakes early on, solve troublesome problems, and offer up valuable connections and advice, while helping you realize your full potential as a person.
I tell my mentees that one of my jobs is to help them be creative, don’t make the same mistakes I made, make their own!
Braveen Kumar has an excellent definition of a mentor:
A mentor is someone who has priceless experience that you don’t have yet, who has made all the necessary mistakes on the road to success, learned from them, and is willing to pass on those lessons to you.
A mentor doesn’t just have a good grasp of the specific knowledge you need to succeed, like how to create better Facebook ads or how to bring a product to market. They also possess an intuition that’s been honed over the course of many years doing what you hope to do, that can help you confirm, abandon, or shape some of your own business instincts.
If you think you don’t have the time be be mentored, or question whether grey-haired folks eligible for Medicare have anything to tell you, check out this statistic:
In fact, according to a survey of over 180 business owners conducted by UPS, 70% of the entrepreneurs that underwent mentoring had businesses that survived for 5 or more years. That’s double the rate of businesses that didn’t have the advantage of a mentor.
It’s important to understand what a mentor is not. We are not paid consultants nor coaches. Nor will we become your employee, Board member or investor. We invest our time in you, the founder to both give back, but also to learn from you, and gain the satisfaction of seeing an entrepreneur succeed.
Kumar has a good list of mentor qualifications:
- Has a visible, verifiable track record of success in the area you want to grow in.
- Is open, friendly, and appreciates curiosity.
- Is passionate about their field and craft (this often translates into a desire to teach).
- Has a decent work/life balance and can spare a few moments to chat to you on a regular basis.
- Is thoughtful and considerate, and doesn’t make up assured answers to questions just to appear knowledgeable.
- Has been mentored in the past and understands how valuable mentorship is to someone who’s just starting out.
While I agree with much of what Kumar has to say, I disagree with his advice on cold calling to find a mentor. As written in many other of my blogs posts there are much better ways to find a mentor, such as joining an incubator or accelerator, taking advantage of your college or university’s mentor programs, volunteering at an entrepreneurship program or event, and doing something significant that catches the eye of a mentor.
However, three of his points on how to enter a mentor relationship are worth quoting.
- Prepare a list of specific questions about both their story and your business.
- Start by telling them about yourself so they have context around your pursuits and your problems.
- Be conscious of their time and express your gratitude towards them (if you’re meeting them offline, offer to pay for the coffee, drinks, or food).
Here’s a great quote from Lois Zachary, author of The Mentee’s Guide:
“We’ve come a long way from the mentor as the sage on the stage. Rather, the mentor is the guide on the side that asks questions that take people to deeper places of insight. It’s a dance, it’s a partnership, and a mentor should not be giving the answers, they should be raising the questions and should be helping the mentees to seek answers to their own questions.”
I won’t take the space to reiterate Kumar’s six ways of finding a mentor, as I’m not really in sync with his recommendations. But the bulk of the article demonstrates a deep understanding of the nature of mentorship and I highly recommend you read it in its entirety.