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Women Business Owners: Finding Your Mentor
Why Do You Need a Mentor?
Running a company can be a lonely business at times. A mentor can offer you perspective, real-world insights, connections, and advice from someone who knows what you’re going through. Don’t underestimate the value in meeting one-on-one or virtually with someone who can provide a fresh perspective on the issues you’re facing day-to-day.
Consider what you are looking for from a mentor. What kinds of problems do you need help solving? What’s the tough business nut you haven’t yet cracked? Think in terms of your biggest hurdles, and imagine a person who has cleared them. Define what you want out of a mentor before you reach out.
A mentoring relationship is just that - a relationship - and as such, it needs to benefit both parties to be successful. Look for a person whom you respect or admire professionally but with whom you believe you can develop a real connection over time. Your mentor will benefit from your fresh perspectives, and by helping you address the challenges you are facing, she’ll keep her problem-solving skills honed. As a mentee, you bring her an opportunity to get inspired and to remember why she started a business in the first place.
Setting expectations for both sides of the mentoring relationship is essential to success. What challenges are you trying to address? How often do you want to be in contact? What type of communication method (email, phone, video conferencing, etc.) is best for you both? These are all questions to ask yourself as you move through the process of finding a mentor.
Enter into the relationship with clearly articulated goals. You need to be committed to meeting with your mentor and carefully considering the advice that you receive from her. Keep your mentor informed of your progress and how her guidance and introductions have impacted your company.
Finding Your Mentor
There are many ways to find a mentor and a few specific approaches.
1. Formal mentoring program. These programs are often offered through professional associations as well as through the SBA’s Women’s Business Centers. Mentoring programs provide professional help to match you with a suitable mentor. Mentorship within these types of programs often provide a specific time frame for the mentoring engagement and place a lot of emphasis on goals and scope.
2. Your business contacts. If you want something less structured, start by looking at your own professional networks. Colleagues, vendors and even clients with whom you work could make great mentors for you.
3. Your social networks. The best social network for professional networking is LinkedIn. If you have an account, connect with people whom you actually know or have met so that you can get warm referrals to others. Message your connections directly asking for leads to mentors. If you are not on LinkedIn yet, sign up for free and follow the prompts to complete your profile and connect with people you know. A useful feature on LinkedIn is the ability to look at your own contacts’ connections and request an introduction to them.
4. Your community. Think about people you already know from school, your family, church, and civic groups, even friends of friends or acquaintances. Don’t underestimate the power of simply reaching out.
5. Your local media (newspaper, radio, television). If you have read an article about someone, heard an interview with someone, or seen someone on television and thought, “Wow, I could learn from them,” reach out to them. Many people are flattered to receive mentoring requests, and while they cannot accept all of them, you never know if they’ll mentor you until you ask.
You don’t necessarily need a mentor in the exact same business as yours or even in the same industry. If your needs are extremely specific to the type of company you have, look within your industry. Most issues pertaining to running and growing a business are similar across all industries so a seasoned entrepreneur could offer you valuable insights regardless of the type of business she’s run.
Once you are ready to “make the ask,” reach out in whatever way you can or that is appropriate, whether in person, on the phone, or via email. When you ask someone to be your mentor, briefly outline your expectations, goals and suggest parameters such as meeting frequency and duration. Then invite her to help you shape the relationship.
Remember that a mentor is not going to solve all your business problems, so it’s important to be realistic about what she can bring to the table. You are the person running your business; you bring critical inside knowledge of your company. While your mentor can help you hone in on how to deal with a particular situation or recommend an approach that is likely to net the best results, you are ultimately the one who can make something happen.