I’ll never forget when my friend Laura* casually handed me a book.
Sure, people give books to others all the time. But this wasn’t just any book— it was a source of motivation—the type of motivation entrepreneurs need to get started.
It also was the moment when I knew Laura was my mentor. After reading the book, I made the leap from a 9-to-5 job to a full-time freelance writer.
Some history—Laura and I had always been friendly and shared the same group of friends. But things changed when I discovered she’s the owner of a private speech pathology clinic. I became intrigued with her business and started asking questions like, “How difficult is it to balance business and family life?” “What stresses you out?” “Why did you start your own gig?”
Our friendship grew. She started spending more time with me, sharing her experiences, and most importantly, encouraging me. Now I realize how lucky I am; this mentorship happened very organically. But I also believe great mentors are all around us. We just need to watch for them and build relationships in a natural way.
If you’re looking for a mentor, you might not have to look that far. Here are a few tips to help you find the perfect mentor to guide your small business.
Look for people you admire.
First, think about people in your inner circle. It’s best if they already own a small business, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be in your industry. Get a pen and paper and jot down names.
To help you narrow it down, here are some questions to ask:
Think carefully about your neighbors, friends, extended family, and “friends of friends.” Chances are, there’s someone close to you who could be a great mentor. Maybe you’ve already met your perfect mentor at your kid’s school, the gym, or a neighborhood party.
If no names come to mind, look further. Scroll your LinkedIn feed. Sign into Twitter. Google businesses that are similar to yours. Then demonstrate your interest in them by responding to tweets, commenting on posts, or referring work to them. Side note: For obvious reasons, you’ll want to avoid competitors.
Once you have a couple of people in mind (and have made initial contact), it’s time to reach out to talk more in depth.
But when you do…
Ditch the word “mentor.”
I didn’t pull Laura aside and officially ask her to be my mentor. Instead, it happened naturally in the form of a friendship.
How would you react if someone formally asked you for a mentorship? Would it overwhelm you, or would you feel honored? Many people think they’re too busy to “mentor” someone, but in reality, they have time to discuss their work.
Instead, it helps to say something like:
“I’ve noticed you’re really great at . . . I’d love to know more about . . . Do you have time to get together to talk?”
Be casual, approachable, and genuinely interested. Chances are, the person will be flattered. And if your prospect doesn’t have time or interest, don’t sweat it. After all, a great mentor has the capacity and availability to help you. Just move on to the next person on your list.
Meet in person, if possible.
Set up something informal, like coffee. If you can’t meet in person, just talk on the phone for 15 minutes or so. Use the time to ask questions, like:
Of course, you don’t want this to feel like “20 Questions,” so let the conversation flow. Remember, you don’t need to learn everything in the first meeting.
Tell your mentor about yourself, too. Share any challenges you have. For example, if you’re having trouble getting paid on time, ask for advice. Maybe your mentor has been successful implementing late fees, sending reminder notices, or even working with a lawyer to obtain payments. You can learn a lot from another person’s experiences.
Take the next steps.
When you’re done, send a quick thank-you email. There’s no need to mail a formal note, but depending on your industry, it can’t hurt. Then ask when you can get together to talk more.
After sending a thank you, organize notes from your conversation:
Then outline three specific action items you can begin to tackle. Add a fourth—get back in touch with your mentor within the quarter. You don’t want too much time to pass before you continue to build the relationship. If the person doesn’t have enough time to meet this quarter, consider seeking a new mentor. It’s important to find someone you can talk with on a regular basis.
Keep ‘em with kindness.
It probably goes without saying, but treat this person like you would want to be treated. Follow up with thank-you messages, wish them good luck before a meeting, and acknowledge their accomplishments. Even the most successful small business owners need encouragement too. And they’re more likely to return the favor if you demonstrate kindness and respect toward them.
*Name has been changed for privacy.
I earned a B.A. in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin at Madison (go Bucky). After realizing my first job might involve carrying a police scanner at 2 am in pursuit of “newsworthy” crimes, I decided I was better suited for freelance blogging and marketing writing. Since 2010, I’ve owned my freelance writing business, EST Creative. When I’m not penning, doodling ideas, or chatting with clients, you’ll find me hiking with my husband, baby boy, and 2 mischievous mutts.
Emily writes on a number of topics such as entrepreneurship, small business networking, and budgeting.
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