Whether you’re just starting out or wanting to take your career to the next level, finding a business mentor can pay huge dividends. Not only are mentors great for bouncing around new ideas, they can also help fill gaps in your skill set and help you navigate the many challenges that lurk on the road to success.
While mentors come in many forms – the kindly uncle, the sports coach, the religious leader – the kind you want for career purposes is a man or woman with extensive business and life experience who broadly shares your values and who will be motivated to help you achieve your goals. If you’re lucky, a mentoring relationship may arise organically with someone such as a current or former manager. More often than not, however, you’ll have to actively search for a mentor if you want one. Here are a few tips on how to go about it.
Work the room
Industry get-togethers and networking events are not just about enjoying free food and booze. They are also an opportunity to connect with those who know their way around the field you’re in. So if you find a guest speaker – or even just the person you’re making small talk with at the bar – inspiring, ask for their contact details and get in touch to see if they are amenable to taking you on.
Join a mentoring program
State governments, local councils and chambers of commerce often provide mentoring programs, particularly but not exclusively for small business owners. They also run programs designed specifically for groups such as young people or women. Even better, organisations like the Small Business Mentoring Service will provide access to workshops and networking events on top of connecting you with a business mentor.
Don’t underestimate family and friends
You don’t need to have the world’s most acclaimed business mentor to be successful. It’s likely one of your friends or a family member is already acting as a de facto mentor to you in some fashion, and there’s rarely any harm in asking if they would be willing to provide guidance in a more structured fashion. Having a mentor who is a friend or family member has two big advantages: they are already aware of your strengths and weaknesses, and they are usually more than happy to offer their opinion on what you’re doing wrong.
While historically the mentor relationship has been unsullied with direct forms of payment (indirect forms are another story), like just about everything else in the modern world mentoring has now been commoditised. There are now a variety of businesses offering mentors for hire, and while a commercial arrangement might initially feel awkward the chances are that you’ll both receive more professional advice and be more inclined to value it if you’re paying for it.
Before shelling out for a business mentor, you need to clarify what you want out of the relationship. For example, are you looking for a better work-family balance? Do you need help with your people skills? Are you struggling with time management? A mentoring company will typically offer a range of different mentors, each with their own specialties. It will save a lot of time and money if you know what you want so you can choose one with the expertise you need.
Like finding true love, finding a great mentor can involve a lot of trial and error. Similar to searching for a romantic partner, the more people you get out and meet the more likely you are to find your perfect match.
This article represents the views of the author only and not those of American Express.