Finding Your Mentor
Who could you look to as a mentor? Where could you find this person? Look for someone you respect or admire professionally but with whom you believe you can develop a real connection over time.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Consider what you are looking for from a mentor. Define what you want out of a mentor before you reach out. 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.
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.
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.