Whether you are starting up a brand-new business or are a leader in an already established one, there will be moments when you could benefit from the advice and guidance of a trusted mentor.
This individual could be someone who has more experience than you, or they could be a peer. Either way, they can offer you a fresh, objective perspective and provide invaluable suggestions on how to navigate your career, run your business, and overcome any obstacles you might encounter along the way.
A helpful guide
When you’re faced with a new professional experience or challenge, a mentor can support and direct you in a way that only someone who is in your field or has traveled a journey like yours can. “I can’t overstate how important it is to have a mentor to help fast-track your growth and keep you accountable,” says Luke Acree, president of the marketing company ReminderMedia. “There are lessons only experience can teach you, but having a mentor can provide a shortcut so you can quickly learn information that might otherwise take years to understand. One of the greatest things my mentor has done for me is help put things in perspective.”
Financial planner Leah Hadley understands this well: she used the insights she received from her mentor to successfully start and manage her two Cleveland, Ohio-based businesses, Great Lakes Investment Management and Great Lakes Divorce Financial Solutions. “Honestly, I don’t know if I would still have my businesses without my mentor,” she says. “She helped me start thinking about important things like marketing, sales, and other skills I needed to develop.”
No matter where you’re at in your career or business, having a mentor can be like taking a crash course in everything you need to know for the next stage. Thanks to their experience, they can clue you in to solutions and tactics you might not have discovered on your own, allowing you to grow further and faster than you may have without them.
How to find a mentor
While a mentor can boost your career or help you get your business on the right track, it can be difficult to find the one who’s best for you. “Choose your mentor wisely—base your choice not on what they say but on what they have achieved,” Acree advises. “You should never take advice from someone who has a career you don’t want.”
There are many organizations that can help you find a mentor, such as SCORE, the nation’s largest network of volunteer business mentors. On its website, you can browse mentor profiles and contact individuals who are open to a mentoring relationship.
Another good place to search is in your own professional and personal networks. Hadley met her first business mentor at a conference for the Institute for Divorce Financial Analysts. She has also formed mentoring relationships with other female business owners through the National Association of Women Business Owners, an organization she’s a member of. While these relationships aren’t as formal as the one she has with her first business mentor, Hadley’s found that they still often provide her with a helpful sounding board.
When starting out with a new mentor, first determine what you each expect from the relationship and how you’d like to work together. “You don’t want to burden someone who’s trying to help you,” Hadley explains. “Ask about the best way to communicate with them, and have them outline their boundaries to help ensure a positive relationship.”
For example, Hadley’s mentor was happy to communicate with her over the phone and through email, so Hadley used to call her about once a month and send her occasional emails. Now that she’s been in business for a few years, she reaches out to her mentor less often.
Understand your needs
Since running a business or managing a team requires a wide variety of skills and comes with numerous challenges, Acree suggests developing more than one mentoring relationship. That way, you’ll be more likely to get the advice you need. “I’ve had a few business mentors,” he explains. “I chose them based on their specific expertise and experience. You won’t find one mentor who is great at all things.”
Additionally, your business and career will evolve over time, causing your needs to shift as well. “Initially, I had to learn how to get clients, and then I had to discover how to hire well, manage a team, and make sure all the legal stuff was in place,” Hadley explains. “Sometimes that meant finding other people with those specific skill sets to mentor me.”
No matter where you are with your career or business, having a mentor may be what you need to improve your abilities, solve problems, and work toward success. “As a leader of a multimillion-dollar business and someone who employs hundreds of people, one of the hardest things is feeling unsure about some of the toughest decisions,” Acree says. “Having a mentor to discuss ideas and share strategies with is invaluable.”
Pay it forward
You can obviously learn a great deal from working with a mentor, but Hadley suggests there’s as much to gain by sharing what you’ve learned with others. “Your mentors may give a lot to you, so you should do whatever you can to give back, whether it’s by showing gratitude or passing those lessons along,” she says. “Now that I’m more established, whenever somebody reaches out, I’m always happy to talk to them about what it’s like to start a business.”
Tap into your sphere to identify someone who could be a good potential mentor.