On Mentors and Advisors: How to Find Them

Rob just left me a comment over:

Hi Mike. I read somewhere that being an entrepreneur can be the loneliest job in the world. I didn’t understand until I started my business. I think it’s great that you recognize the value of good advice. Do you currently mentor up and coming entrepreneurs?

I have long been convinced that mentors provide great value, and I because I am outspoken on the topic, I frequently get asked by other entrepreneurs if I know any mentors that could help them, or if I can help them myself. I don’t and I’m not able to presently, but here’s what makes a good mentor and how to discover a mentor for yourself.

Step 1 – Admit you don’t know everything and you need help. No mentor is interested in a know-it-all who is closed to the advice they bring. While this may sound obvious, many entrepreneurs are not open to mentors or their advice – it’s a shame.

Step 2 - Consider your personal network of family and friends- consider it long and hard. I’m willing to bet you already know someone with great business and management experience, or someone in your network who does. I recommend appealing retired business people and/or people who are a few years ahead of you in the same industry. If your network comes up dry, create one. Go to a conference, talk to the local chamber of commerce, reach out to your accountant, your lawyer, the local coffee shop owner – entrepreneurs know other entrepreneurs, and so do the professionals entrepreneurs rely on.

Step 3 – Reach out to your prospective mentor and ask if you can buy them a coffee, a donut, 15 minutes of their time. Do not make it a pain to spend time with you; fit yourself into their schedule (i.e. this is why lunch is a great option – everyone has to eat, and it’s during the workday so it does not cut into family time). Travel if you need to, a good mentor is worth the commute. Since it helps to establish a personal connection with a prospective mentor, don’t send an email asking if someone wants to be your mentor. Instead make a phone call, visit their office or send an email and say you are wondering if you could take them out to lunch and “bounce some questions” off of them because you are wrestling with some things as you grow your business. This will appeal to their vanity (they are human after all!) and it gives you the chance to “try before you buy” which is *always* a good idea. If they are not interested in meeting with you after you make this ask, then they may not be the right fit for you anyway. If you are sure they are, be persistent and follow up after a suitable period (measured in months).

Step 4 (key ingredient) - When you do finally meet, lay yourself bare. Wise people are drawn to less experienced people who are open about their areas of weakness and concern. Tell your mentor (or prospective mentor) your true state of affairs. Sugar coat nothing. This will foster trust and stir genuine desire to help in a prospective mention – it’s the un-written rule: mentors need to be needed.

I hope this helps.