We asked the experts how to find a mentor as an entrepreneur and they had some sound advice. Including what a mentor actually is or does. According to Luisa Zhou, founder of LuisaZhou.com, “a mentor helps you see possibilities in your business/career you didn't even realize existed. That's what a great mentor does!”
Sometimes, we’re too close to our own businesses to see the path forward and we lack strategic perspective. “Mentors, they guide by the side and separate fact from the fictional stories we tell ourselves, and cheer us on to greatness,” says Dr. Ruth Gotian, leadership coach, speaker and author.
If you’re looking for a mentor, these are the tips our experts shared about how you can go about finding the right one for you and your business.
How to Find a Mentor as an Entrepreneur
Look for Interesting People
While we think of a “mentor” as someone older than us, with lived wisdom and vast amounts of knowledge, in practice, mentoring often doesn’t look quite so stilted and pro-forma. Finding a mentor can be as simple as finding a person that you find interesting and relate to.
If you’re looking for a mentor, Dr. Gotian suggests to “think of all the ways you can meet interesting people — including webinars, conferences and social gatherings. Connect with people whose comments resonate with you. Do not tell them what you do; rather, tell them the problem you are trying to solve. Find a common interest and launch the conversation from there.”
Find a Quality You Relate To
Finding your mentor can be as simple as finding someone who you relate to and are curious to learn from. But, it’s not always a straight shot. “Finding a mentor is a bit of trial and error; you can't know for sure that you'll work well together before you've actually done so,” says Zhou. “That said, I'm a mentor to my clients, and the way they choose to work with me is that they relate to me in some way. For instance, my engineering background attracts people who like my analytical approach. In the same way, you should look for traits you like.”
If you find a quality in someone that resonates with you or that relates to you in some way, that’s a good place to start in finding the right mentor for you.
Mentoring Doesn’t Have to Be Formal
Another tip from Dr. Gotian is that mentoring doesn’t have to be a formal relationship. You can find a mentor in anyone around you without them ever agreeing to be your mentor. She says, “Surround yourself with interesting people who can offer new perspectives and ideas for you to ponder. Finding the right chemistry with a mentor is critical, so work on building relationships with people you find interesting. This takes time, so have patience.”
Taking an informal approach can also make mentoring feel less uncomfortable for both of you. “Do not ask someone to be your mentor, as that sounds like another job. Instead, ask them for their perspective on a question or challenge you are pursuing,” continues Dr. Gotian.
Even when mentoring happens informally, it can provide a lot of benefits to you and your small business. Mentoring can help you to develop leadership skills, increase your knowledge in a specific subject, help you to improve your productivity and even support growth in your personal life.
Build Community By Sharing
Another recommendation from our experts is to not make mentoring a one-way street. You are unique with a unique set of skills and have a lot to offer to others around you. When you think of mentoring as a part of networking and community building, it becomes much easier. “I like to think of my network as something non-transactional,” says Zhou. “I don't build it to extract as much value as possible; instead, I want to give as much value as I can. That's what you should look at — how much value are you providing?”
That simple psychological shift can make networking and seeking a mentor less vulnerable and awkward. If you’re not sure what you have to offer to your community, Zhou suggests an exercise: “Sit down and write down on a piece of paper all the different ways in which you, right now, can offer value to other people. That's the best way to build your network — to offer your skills and insights to help others (NOT ask them for 5 minutes to pick their brains).”
Make It Organic
While it can be tempting to find a mentor by simply emailing everyone on your contact list and asking them to be your mentor, it’s much more useful to seek a mentor in an organic, natural way.
Mike Funkhouser, CEO at Small Business Mentor, says, “Entrepreneurs have a knack for solving problems, so working with others, having conversations and helping others will organically grow your network.”
While organically building your network through conversation, Funkhouser does have one other suggestion: “If you [are] vulnerable, ask great questions, and speak up when you need help — you'll find mentors and people that believe in you.” While vulnerability can be uncomfortable in the moment, it’s one of the best ways to build authentic, long-lasting connections.
Leverage Your Network
This is one of those “seemingly no-brainer" tips that’s subtly brilliant. “Your network is only helpful if it is leveraged,” says Dr. Gotian. “If you are collecting people and not learning from them, it is of little use. Don’t ask for favors as soon as you meet someone, as that makes it transactional and a real turn-off.”
When you’re trying to network, build your community and find a mentor, it’s all about building authentic connections. If you’re just looking for free advice or help, you’re going to have a harder time finding a good mentor.
It’s About Community
Finding a mentor and building a network is all about community. “The best way to get relevant and useful information is through communal interaction with individuals who have more than and less than the experience needed to amass this wealth of knowledge,” says Kamyar Shah, Fractional Chief Operating Officer and Established Business Consultant at KamyarShah.com. When you’re building your network, you want to get a variety of perspectives from diverse people with differing knowledge bases. To do that, you’ll want to open yourself up to new experiences.
Look at Similar Industries
A sneaky little hint from Funkhouser is to seek a mentor in a different industry. Why? “You'll realize that you can't necessarily seek out mentorship from someone in the same industry because they are likely your competition," he shares. "So you normally end up working and learning from others who are in a similar but different industry or vertical.”
Where to Find Mentors
When we asked our experts where to find mentors, they had a number of great suggestions.
Zhou suggests, “LinkedIn can be great for both entrepreneurs and employees, while Instagram and other social media platforms give an equally great platform to find and connect with other people.” LinkedIn has lots of groups you can join that are based on your industry, your city or even your generation. Seek out these groups and interact with others by posting relevant comments and asking questions.
If you're looking for a less traditional way to find a mentor, Dr. Gotian says, “The chats during webinars offer a rich and often underutilized resource. People with similar interests are gathered to learn about a topic of interest. See who makes comments or asks questions which resonate with you and follow up with them to start building that relationship of know-like-trust.”
Online Mentor Services
And, if you are interested in finding a mentor right now, you can also seek out a mentor-mentee matching service online or in your local area. Some local professional groups offer mentor matching programs or you can sign up for SCORE, which offers free mentor matching in the U.S.
When you’re an entrepreneur, you don’t have built-in colleagues and teammates to turn to when you have a question. Instead, you have a network and community. Building that network and finding a mentor is a wonderful way to ensure success as an entrepreneur.
Page is a freelance content marketing writer with experience writing about small business, the future of the workplace and health. She also operates a weekly email newsletter where she shares advice on living an authentic, intentional life. When not writing, you can find Page traveling, fostering older cats and working as a sexual assault advocate.