Guiding Lights: How to Choose the Ideal Mentor

Business.com / Careers / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

Your career will have many ups and downs and decisions to make. A mentor will help you succeed and guide you. Here's how to find one.

When you're launching your business or startup, you're going to have questions; it's just the nature of the beast.

You'll run into a situation you didn't anticipate or a question you can't easily clarify online, and you'll pause, not entirely sure what you need to do next.

You need a mentor.

So where do you find a great mentor?

There are many ways to find mentors. If you’re founding a technology startup and are building the product yourself, consider finding a mentor through companies such as Code Mentor, which connects entrepreneurs to experienced developers remotely. 

Related Article: Guiding Lights: How to Create a Mentor Program for Your Organization

If you need industry-specific guidance, you could contact your local professional union or trades organization. Business mixers, network events, and entrepreneur fairs are all great places to connect with other businesspeople and see how you can help each other grow as entrepreneurs. The most important aspect is to connect with a mentor that specializes in your field and who will guide you through specific steps associated with your startup.

A mentor will guide you through the challenges of beginning your business, and help you learn how to run a business your way. They will provide valuable advice on how to make your business a success.

Many Small Business Administration chapters and Chambers of Commerce offer mentorship programs, but how do you know you're choosing the right mentor? 

Your Mentor Is Better Than You at Business

Whatever arena your mentor is going to help you with, from HR to marketing to production flow, they should actually be better than you at it. After all, if you're going to come to them with questions and concerns, they need to be able to answer them with some expertise.

If you have friends who are at similar stages of startup creation, they can still be great learning partners, but the point of having a mentor is knowing that they know more than you, and can be a resource for information.  Find Mentor is an excellent source that provides tools to connect with mentors in various different fields and cultural backgrounds.

Look for mentors who have:

  • Received industry awards
  • Are known in your community for their success in a certain area
  • Come recommended by your professional organization or chamber

Naturally you can also get connected to startup mentors through incubators such as TechStars or 500startups, which have global bases and great networks of mentors. Generally, mentors are often seen as the secret weapons that help startups achieve success.

Your Mentor Is Approachable and Friendly

If your mentor makes you feel foolish for having questions, you're less likely to ask the questions you need answered. Just because someone is great at business doesn't make them a great mentor. If you're looking for a long term mentor relationship with someone, as opposed to advice on one specific issue, you should keep this in mind.

There are many different ways to work together, and a great mentor should have a couple of different preferred methods. Mentoring.org offers community engagement and the opportunity to connect with local business leaders and teachers. They may want to meet every week for a breakfast or lunch meeting to discuss your project, want to help you with your issue but also discuss wider business issues, or feel like they need to give you assignments of reading or business planning to help you learn more.

Choose a mentor who can:

  • Work within the hours and timeframes that you have available
  • Be willing to discuss what you need help with, and what you feel you have dialed in
  • Offer you several different ways of working together so that you find what you need
  • Be available to you when you have questions and concerns—though limiting contact so that they can get their own work done is also understandable.

Your Mentor Challenges You to Do Better

A mentor can be a cheerleader, but if all they do is tell you what a great job you're doing, you're not going to get any better. You need a mentor who celebrates with you when you succeed, but also challenges you to find new perspectives, reconsider your point of view, and improve your skills.

Your mentor also should not do the work for you. If you don't want to get better at marketing, for example, you don't need a marketing mentor--you need a marketing employee. Sometimes people who aren't great at mentorship, but are really good at the necessary task end up taking over and doing the work themselves. This won't help you in the long run. You can connect with advice-oriented experts through sites such as Clarity.fm.

Related Article: Motivational Superhero Quotes to Give You Power

Find a mentor who:

  • Asks lots of W questions--who, what, when, where, and why? This deepens your understanding of the process in front of you.
  • Expects you to figure out what would be best for your business instead of doing what you're told.

What do you think are the most important qualities in a mentor?

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