How to get the best out of a business mentor
Business mentors come with a wealth of experience and can challenge the way you think about your business.
Working with a business mentor is a two-way relationship. Mentors can provide relevant advice and an objective viewpoint on how to move your business forward. However, it’s up to you to listen and react to get the most out of the arrangement.
Businesses can be reluctant to work with a mentor but ultimately can benefit from the experience. A mentor can:
Boost your confidence. As well as increasing self-belief, they can help you feel more confident about taking the business in new directions
Provide emotional support. They have usually been through a similar experience, so they understand how you’re feeling
Offer a wealth of experience. They can draw upon this and apply it to your situation
Challenge your ideas and perceptions. A mentor will give you a fresh perspective that you’re unlikely to get from internal staff
Understanding why you need a business mentor
There are many reasons why business owners choose to work with a mentor. A lot of them won’t become apparent until you start working together. However, it’s advisable to consider what you want out of the relationship early on to help you find the most suitable mentor.
Do the same problems keep repeating themselves?
Perhaps you have trouble hiring the right people, managing cash flow, or fulfilling orders. When problems keep repeating themselves, it’s best to seek advice.
Do you lack direction and struggle from a lack of feedback?
Many business owners complain that there’s no one to manage them, but this is where a mentor can come in. Regular sessions will give you time to discuss your own role and get feedback on how you’re performing.
Are you in need of more contacts?
Mentors can introduce you to new people and networks, from stockists and suppliers to influencers and other business owners. Again, being clear about the contacts you need means you can be sure they can connect you to the right people.
Are you afraid to take risks?
Being a business owner can be lonely, especially if you’re preparing to take the business in a different direction. Playing it safe is the easier option, but a mentor can help you to take calculated risks and be a sounding board when you need it most.
Do you suffer from self-doubt?
Business owners doubt themselves just as much as anyone else, but the absence of a more senior figure can heighten these feelings. A good business mentor will address emotional blockers and reassure you that they have felt the same.
How to find a business mentor
Once you have a better idea of what you want out of a mentor, you can start putting out feelers. Here are some of the best places to start.
You may not know the ideal mentor personally, but it’s likely that one exists in your wider network. Talk to key contacts and explain what you’re looking for to see if they can recommend anyone. You could even post a request on LinkedIn or message people directly to ask for recommendations.
Get in touch with people you admire
Are there a few people on your wish list? Don’t be afraid to approach them directly to see if they’re interested in working with you. This is the time when it pays to be clear about exactly why you want them to mentor you. They are more likely to be motivated if they can clearly see where they could add value to your business.
Business networking groups
Attend local business networking meetings to increase your opportunities of meeting potential mentors. Online groups on Facebook and LinkedIn are also useful starting points.
Formal mentoring schemes
You may choose to have more than one mentor, but always take a strategic approach and be sure about what each individual can offer you.
Five steps to deciding on a mentor
It’s exciting when someone shows interest in mentoring you. But follow these five steps to make sure you’re laying the groundwork for a successful relationship.
1. Do you have a rapport with them?
Look for a business mentor that you respect for more than just their professional achievements. It’s likely that they will see you through ups and downs that will affect you personally as well as professionally. If you share the same life values, they will be able to support you on an emotional level as well.
2. Do they understand your needs?
A mentor running a business with thousands of employees may seem impressive, but can they appreciate the challenges of growing a small business? Look at their specific credentials, including workplace history and achievements.
3. What will they get out of it?
The best mentor relationships work because both parties are invested. Most mentors are simply keen to help others, but don’t disregard what you can pass on to them. You can provide insight into the challenges faced by today’s growing businesses as well as a fresh perspective to take back to their own company.
4. Are you casting your net wide enough?
It’s tempting to approach the CEO of a company you admire, but they will be hard to reach and focused on their own day-to-day business. Lower profile senior figures may have fewer demands on their time but still have insights and experience to draw upon.
5. Are you selling it to them?
To you, this might be obvious. But mentors will want to know why you think they could help you.
Be clear about how they can be useful to you and explain exactly what you want to achieve from the relationship. Not only will a little flattery help to get you off to a positive start, but you’ll also save time setting objectives.
Working with a business mentor
A good mentor will help you navigate business dilemmas. This can be challenging and tough to get used to. It could be the first time that someone has questioned your leadership decisions or encouraged you to try a new direction.
Now is the time to think back to those reasons why you needed a mentor in the first place. Were you stuck in a rut, lacking confidence, or struggling to make decisions?
Use these dos and don’ts to guide your working relationship.
Do ask for context. Mentors aren’t there to tell you what to do, but they should give insight into how they have addressed similar issues. Use their examples and stories to direct you
Do plan your time together. Schedule regular meetings and prepare an agenda to get the most out of your time together. Follow up each meeting with an email summarising the key takeaways and actions
Do follow up on your discussions. Do your homework in between your meetings and provide evidence of how you’ve been implementing their suggestions. This shows that you value the relationship and will keep them engaged in the process
Don’t expect them to do all the work. You won’t be spoon-fed. Your mentor will bring experience, examples, and insight, but your input and action is needed too
Don’t always follow their advice. If discussions don’t feel right for your business, say so. You are still in the driving seat of your business
Don’t give up on mentors. If you decide that your mentor isn’t best placed to help you, end the relationship professionally and amicably. But don’t let it put you off – the key to success is finding the right person
How to get the best out of a business mentor
Good mentors provide experience to help you navigate business decisions. Use our guide to find a good match and make it a success.
Identify why you need a mentor
What problems keep arising in your business?
Who do you want them to introduce you to and what doors would you like them to open?
In what areas do you lack confidence or are you struggling to make decisions?
How to find a mentor
Personal contacts. Ask your key contacts if they can recommend anyone or post a request on LinkedIn
Send a message on LinkedIn. Approach people you admire directly, giving clear reasons why they could add value to your business
Business networking groups. Attend local business networking meetings or try groups on Facebook
Checking the mentor is right for you
Do you have a rapport? If you share the same values, they will be able to support you on an emotional level as well as a professional one
Do they understand your business needs? Look at their specific credentials, including workplace history and achievements
What will they get out of it? Don’t disregard what you can offer them in return
Have you cast the net wide enough? Try lower profile senior figures who have fewer demands on their time but still have experience to draw on
Are you selling it to them? Mentors will want to know why you think they could help you
How to make the mentorship a success
✔ Do ask for context. Use their examples and stories to direct you
✔ Do plan your time together. Schedule regular meetings and prepare an agenda
✔ Do follow up in between meetings. Provide evidence of this to show you’re engaged
X Don’t expect them to do all the work. Your input and action are needed too
X Don’t always follow their advice. You are still in the driving seat of your business
X Don’t give up on mentors. Don’t let it put you off if the first mentor doesn’t work out