I’m a firm believer in the power of mentorship as you build a business. There simply is no substitute for the ability to kick around possible strategic directions, operational tactics and big decisions with someone who has been there and done that.
A mentor can help you grow your business in a whole range of ways. Beyond offering advice and serving as a sounding board, they can help bolster your networking efforts by introducing you around, connecting you with a supplier or referring you to their accountant.
Mentors also can be confidantes when you can’t seem to find a balance between your company and your personal life. If you pick the right mentor, you might well find yourself a lifelong friend and, potentially, even a business partner down the road.
But your first problem is finding a mentor. If you don’t have one already, here are some tips on where to start:
- Close to home: It’s always smart to start by thinking of family and friends. They know the most about you, and they already have a stake in your life. You also will be able to skip all the getting-to-know-you awkwardness.
- Think one step removed: What about your extended network, friends of your friends and relatives? Think about your network of contacts on LinkedIn and look to see if there’s someone within two or three degrees of you in the network with whom you can get an introduction. Look for someone who is in a similar business and maybe someone who shares your background. That will give you something in common on which to build the relationship. Even then, you’ll want to wait until you have a rapport before you ask them to be your mentor.
- Think about people in other cities: A really great mentor might be someone who is in the same line of business as you but who is not a direct competitor. For, example, someone working in another city or state. The two of you might be able to help each other along eventually by swapping tips of the trade.
- Get involved: Joining local business associations, such as the Chamber of Commerce, is a great way to find knowledgeable people. You really should be part of these organizations, anyway, just for business networking reasons.
- Think about where you went to school: Is there a particular college professor you hit it off well? Well, I hope you’re staying in touch. If not, give that person a ring. Chances are, he or she will be more than happy to help you. Every teacher wants to see students prosper.
- Pay for it: If you don’t have a lot of time to develop a mentor relationship, there are all kinds of business consultants standing by. Be careful, though. Not every consultant who hangs out a shingle understands your particular business, and not each one knows what he or she is doing. Talk to some folks and get a referral.
As a wise person once said, the road to success is safer when you walk it with someone who has been down that road before. Getting a mentor might be just what your new business needs.