Finding a business mentor you can trust and rely on for much-needed advice and support is not an easy task. This post will guide you through why having a mentor is so important, my personal story of finding one of my most influential business mentors and actionable points you can follow to find the right business mentor to guide you through the perils of entrepreneurship and running a business.
If possible, take your time to write down notes and do the tasks you are given because both will take you a step closer to finding the mentor or mentors you are looking for.
Why do you need a business mentor?
We all need someone to look up to, someone who will guide us along the way and teach us invaluable lessons in whichever career you are in. Your mentor can be anyone from your boss, a senior colleague or a professor. A mentor, at any point in your career, can be extremely helpful and here are some reasons why.
Related: How to find a mentor
Outlook and Knowledge
You can immensely benefit from the vast amount of knowledge and experience that your mentor has. Pick your mentor’s brain regarding projects you find difficult and challenging projects that you know will get you ahead if you execute them right. Your mentor can introduce you to new techniques and work around to make your task easier based on his or her experience in the past.
Expand the way you think
Your mentor can help you think beyond the conventional ideas and allow you to explore more outside the box. At first, you may be hesitant to take risks or get too creative, but your mentor will be able to tell you how much is acceptable and how much is too far. This is a great thing to have. Mentors will push you to be more original and break barriers to succeed because they have been there themselves. Having a mentor who pushes you to think and be innovative will reap immense benefits in your later career.
Clearing your path
If you are just starting your career or a fresh graduate who has no idea what you want to do or progress in the career that you are currently in, a mentor will help you realise your full potential and guide you along the way. Your mentor will give you a much-needed sense of direction. You can also discuss your worries about your career with your mentor, and he or she will lay down a plan that is most suited for you and your skills, showing you the big picture along the way.
Help in building a network
Networking, as you know, is very important if you are even to stand a chance in getting ahead. It’s no longer just book and street smarts anymore, you now need to have a connection and a set of valuable networks to rely on. Since your mentor has been in the industry for years now, he or she will have a network that you can join in on and be a part of. Make full use of this opportunity. Mentors will be more than happy to introduce you to their network and will be proud to let them know you are their prodigy.
Open opportunities and possibilities
Because of the vast network and connections that your mentor has, you will be exposed to a wide variety of opportunities and career path possibilities. Mentors who are board members often take their mentees along with them to the board meeting so they would get hands on experience and meet the people who matter in person.
How I found my first mentor
When I went to Poland to set up my business, I really struggled. For six months, I didn’t get a single meeting. Everyone told me ‘you don’t speak polish, you are too young, we are not interested’. After six months, I decided to change my strategy. I wanted to meet the best corporate trainer and executive coach in the country to learn from them. I found what seemed like an endless list of names. After a brief research on each, I contacted all the ones who were even remotely relevant. One of the most influential of my years in Poland is Piotr Tymochowicz. Piotr was said to be the best business coach and PR specialist in the country. Some loved him, others hated him, yet everyone seemed to agree he was the best.
Within six months of research and contacts, I had a track record of hundreds of emails I never received a reply to, dead-end phone calls and meetings with improbable mentors. I felt as if I’d never find any executive coach who’d understand me. I felt that they were all so patronising, dismissive and that they kept sending me to the back of the line: “you’re too young, too inexperienced and you need to get 30 years of business experience before doing what I do.” I read Piotr Tymochowicz’s company website, and I was impressed. My judo teacher says “it doesn’t matter how often you fall, what matter is that you stand back up and that you keep going”. Remembering his teaching, I gathered all my energy and enthusiasm and sent Piotr an email.
Within a couple of hours of sending Piotr an email, I was invited to a meeting the following week. Half an hour into the conversation, he told me he is impressed by my ideas and wants me to meet the rest of his board. The following week, I met the rest of the board, and he took me under his wings as his protégé. I am very grateful that he took 2h a week to teach me one-on-one his “Open Communication” technique. After completing the programme and proving my ability to learn and implement this new communication technique, he gave me what I had asked for: the opportunity to coach a CEO of a company. After teaching him the 30h coaching programme one on one, the university drop out in me was very proud: I was 21, and I successfully coached a CEO whose children were older than me and who earned more in a day than I had in my entire life. This experience changed my life as a coach because I had finally done what I wanted to do.
Through this experience, I learned that finding the mentor you’re looking for is a numbers game. In retrospect, Piotr seems like a “God-sent”. In reality, I contacted and met with hundreds of people before I met Piotr. Piotr was a “lucky draw” in the sense that I had no idea he would be a better match than others I had met. This situation is a perfect illustration of what Thomas Jefferson said: “I am a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.”
How to find the right business mentor
Create an excel sheet and make a long list of names of people who have at least one characteristic that makes them a potential business mentor for you (e.g. they’ve got the kind of job you want to have). As a rule of thumb, it is good to start with a minimum of 10 names. If you can collect over 100 names, it will make the rest of your work easier and more comfortable.
- Look into your personal network (phone, address book, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.)
- Ask everyone you meet if they know someone who has this characteristic (friends, family, colleagues, acquaintances, etc.)
- Research the internet for influencers in that field (practitioners, experts, bloggers, journalists, speakers, writers, researchers, business owners, etc.)
- Contact your networks to ask for people with the characteristic from their current/alumni networks (schools, universities, former bosses, former mentors, trade associations, student societies, etc.)
Next to each name, add a column with a number from 1-3 for how close you are to this person (3 = closest, 1 = farthest) and another column with natural connection (3 = you feel the most naturally connected, 1 = you feel the most distant). Sort the columns to see the most naturally connected and the closest people at the top.
Then you need to contact the first ten people on your list starting from the top and tell them what you want to talk about (i.e., You want to learn how you can get the job they have, you want to hear their experience in that industry, you want to get their advice on the next big thing in the industry, you want to understand better about their work, etc.at / near). Ask them for something specific like 10 min / 30 min / 1h to talk over the phone, meet at/near their office or grab a lunch.
- If they’re the right match, continue the conversation and ask to meet again
- If they’re not the right match, ask for people they can introduce you to who also have the characteristic you’re looking for.
From there continue to grow your list and repeat with the next top 10 people on your list. Sharing your progress can help with keeping yourself on track. Share in the comments how long it took you to make the first draft of your list and how many names you have put in there. You can also share your progress as you send the first 10 emails, make your first meetings and when you find a mentor. After you make the list and write a comment, remember to share this post with friends who can find it useful, too.
The article was co-authored by Lujie Chen is the co-founder of the Young Leaders Circle and Gift for Reading, two social initiatives that develop and empower young people to make a positive impact in the world around them.