Definition and meaning of mentors.
Before learning how to find business mentors, let’s start first by understanding the definition of the word mentor. In business, it comes to mean a person or a role model, from whom you can acquire knowledge, skills, know how, but also attitude, behavior and character. A mentor is a wise and trusted councilor or teacher.
It is a rare person who can forge a new path in society, without consciously or unconsciously imitating someone who came before him. (R. Clear)
Mentoring is very similar, and often considered the same as seasoning. Seasoning is a kind of mentoring, the difference is that mentor-ship is wider and less focused, you can learn by reflecting, a mentor can be in a totally different industry than you, and still be able to help you tremendously. While seasoning is more focused, more hands on, and very precise.
Read my article about seasoning: Seasoning is the Secret to Success.
Importance of mentors.
Mentor-ship in general is such an important aspect of skill development, that in ancient civilizations mentors were revered. In the 18th century B.C., Hammurabi had one of his famous laws requiring all men of learning and craftsmanship to pass their knowledge to the young through examples.
We are and have always been students of behavior, as infants our eager mind grasped everything going around us, we watched then imitated our family and friends. Our family and our close entourage became our mentors, our models, even without knowing.
If you had good models of integrity and achievement, you would grow to become an achiever yourself.
If your role models reflected apathy or failure, you would grow to imitate the self defeating and negative behaviors you witnessed in your early years.
Most of us, got the middle of the roads models, thus we got installed with a mixture of positive and negative attitude about ourselves and our ability to succeed.
Hence, the need to find an external role model, a mentor. A successful role model to imitate or learn from. Mentorship is not only about emulating. Mentors provide inspiration, motivation, help you develop the believe that anything is possible, and allow you to learn though modeling. Mentors, can make the difference between success and failure. But, mentors have weaknesses and fail too, and even this have a positive aspect, as it empower the mentee to have self confidence and see the mentor as a human, and thus say to self “if my mentor can do it, so can i”.
Questions mentors will help you answer:
1- What must i do to achieve my goal ?
2- What skills do i need to learn ?
3- How must i behave ?
4- What actions do i need to take ?
5- How to think ?
How to find a mentor?
Before we try to answer the question of how to find a mentor, or even how to find business mentors, we need to know what type of mentors are you looking for? A simple web search on how to find mentors, resulted in many articles that do no distinguish between the different kinds of mentors.
What are the types of mentors, and how to find them ?
1- Sports or athletics mentor (coach?): When you are looking to develop your athletic skills, or any sports skills (not our focus here). Look for a coach, who is an old champions in the sport you are practicing. These old champs would be glad to have a young athlete ask them for mentor-ship. A small financial incentive can also sweeten the deal.
2- Academic mentor: It is probably the easiest to find a mentor when you are in academia. The entire structure of academia pushes towards mentorship, this is why the position appear in different forms like ” student counselor ” or “supervising teacher”. Thus to find a mentor all you have to do is find a teacher willing to give you some time or eventually private lessons but instead of the lessons let it be more private guidance. In higher education, mentors can be published lecturers.
3- Work/ employee mentor: I didn’t know this was a thing, but after reading the various articles, here’s what it is. Find a successful employee (whatever that means), maybe a senior employee, a valued employee, a colleague you aspire to be like in few years, a good sales employee, so on. Get to know the person, try to establish a friendship. Put some effort establishing such a friendship, invite to sports games, barbecue. Do whatever you can to create a friendship, then observe, learn and ask.
4- Work/ Craftsmanship, programming mentor: This is a kind of mentor-ship where you need to pick up small subtle details that make great products great. This can only be achieved by a hand on approach, an internship, apprenticeship, so on.
5- Business and entrepreneurship mentor: This is logically what i would think of, when hearing about mentor-ship. Business and entrepreneurship mentor-ship, is the only one not easily accessible. You can not hire businessmen to teach you (you can’t afford it), thus we jump to the next section of this article.
How to find a business mentor?
At first glance, it might appear that no successful person, with the similar objectives and goals, is remotely accessible. Finding a business mentor is not easy, more so if you are not from the 1 percent .
Learning from mentors can be done in two ways, knowing that opens a lot of doors to you.
– Indirectly: You do not have to be in direct contact with your role model or mentor, instead you can rely on youtube videos, movies & books (autobiographies & biographies). Find fictional or real characters, that have achieved something similar to what you want to achieve or in a vertical market.
– Directly: Having direct contact, feedback and day to day observations and remarks. This is done through the traditional mentor-ship approach.
DIY makeshift mentors:
When you need to create a mentor figure, but don’t have any one specific in mind.
1- Identify your own personal role models by browsing historical figures, popular successful people or successful people surrounding you.
2- Learn attitude and behavior from them.
3- Use them to create a blueprint for your own actions.
4- Draw inspiration from them, empower your purpose, with a sense of possibility (if others can do it, why shouldn’t you).
Find real mentors:
There are few ways to find real mentors, it might be a bit more difficult to find business mentors, but here’s how:
1- Through personal acquaintances. Friends or friends, friends of family.
2- Find someone that has the same business as the one you want to launch, but somewhere else. This works mostly for small businesses.
3- Local meetup or local facebook business groups often have organised meetings. Most of the people are usually young and not really mentor material, but it can be a first step to grow your network and maybe find someone within their network that can be a mentor.
4- Attend events in your field of interest, and be chatty and social, take a business card, and be ready to network. Also you can pitch speakers that participated in the event (later on, not on the spot).
5- Take advantage of the connections that can be accessed though your alumni network, internship connections, or professors.
6- Join a professional association, then find someone who have achieved the success you are aiming for but who is not a competitor (not the same market).
7- Join a business incubator or accelerator (these tend to sometimes offer you money for a part of your company), thus if you just want the mentorship part, you can launch a pseudo project to acquire real knowledge and experience.
8- Use Linkedin to expand your network, and pay for direct emails to potential mentors. You might need to send few before getting a positive response.
9- Find mentorship online programs. But expect that the majority of such programs are offered by snake oil salespeople with no real experience to share and no real mentorship to offer. However, you can still find some real mentors, so you will have to do extensive background check before signing up.
10- Websites connecting mentors with mentee, there are many platforms that offer the service of connecting mentors with mentee. The only logical issue i find here, is why would a successful entrepreneur want to be paid 20-100$ a session? This sound a bit like what a gig economy freelancer would do rather than a successful businessman, to be honest. Or maybe, in certain fields like book authoring, advertising, it might make sense. In any case, like before, do an extensive background check.
How to approach mentorship for small business?
1- Identify your small business needs and desired support.
2- Identify and contact a business owner that could answer your questions from point 1.
3- Reach an agreement for mentoring, remember you are taking his time thus you need to give something in exchange (offer free help, or assist in a field like advertising, or sponsor an event).
4- Schedule a mentoring session(s), can be by shadowing him, a normal appointment or even zoom/skype calls.
5- Set goals for your small business with guidance from your mentor.
6- Develop a friendship and rely on the advise and consultation of the mentor through the life of your business.
Tips to keep in mind when seeking mentors:
1- Don’t seek a mentor if you did not yet gather information about or study the line of business you seek. A mentor is not a teacher for basic business skills, nor a way to learn about the basics in an industry. Do your homework, learn as much as you can online/books. You should be prepared, before reaching out to a mentor.
2- Get to know the mentor, it is a friendship relationship that you are trying to build. Not a transactional relationship (another reason why paid mentorship websites do not work).
3- Do not pitch a mentoring requirement. Avoid using the word mentor, as it has a connotation to a lot of time requirement. Instead, approach the first few sessions with the mentor in a way to build a relationship. example pitch: Have you got 10 minutes, i would like to pick your brain on this subject.
But as the relationship progress, let it be known that you see him/herb as a mentor.
4- Determine if you and the mentor are a good fit. This is much more important when we have mentors of different genders. You do not want to give wrong signals, and you do not want to suffer from cheesy jokes. Mentorship should not feel like a chore, but rather like an interesting meeting where you learn and exchange ideas, find business mentors that would help you achieve this.
5- Focus on the mentorship requirement. Do not prioritize mentors in an entirely different industry, who can not provide useful insight into yours. But keep the option open, as you can still get a very valuable teacher and advice.
6- Avoid asking for mentorship people who are emotionally or financially tied to your business. For example, an investor, a member of the board of directors, etc.
7- Offer something in return. The mentoring relationship must have value for both parties to be successful. But respect point 4. Then figure out how you can make this interesting for the mentor himself. (similar to point 3 in the previous section). Figure out what you can offer (be a fishing partner, a golf partner, squash partner, practice a language with him/her)…
8- Advice to be taken with a grain of salt. Remember, this is not an exact science. The mentor experience and conclusions do not mean they are optimal or even correct. You try to find business mentors to help expand your vision and understand the industry, but don’t take their words as sacred.
9- What is better than 1 mentor ? A few. Consider establishing a board of mentors. No one mentor can help you achieve all of your goals. One mentor can help you with leadership thanks to the supervisor skills they have. Another might be able to advise you on production, etc…
10- Ending the mentorship. Some mentorships will end, based on where each person is in life. Don’t feel guilty, but close the loop respectfully.
This article is based on ideas from Ray Clear book (Neuroscience of Self-Discipline), ideas from various articles dealing with finding mentors and mentorship, in addition to my own opinions and experience.