Businesswise | Finding a great business mentor
The few fortunate explorers who have been there insist you will be so enamoured that you will never want to return home.
As an adventure-seeking nature lover, you can't wait to discover and experience its splendour for yourself. But there's a big problem. The route to get there is long, winding and treacherous in many places. Most people are too scared to go.
If you were bold enough to try and had the option of using a map or an experienced guide, one who knew the danger zones and safest shortcuts, which would you choose? The guide, of course! Assuming you want to arrive in good time and in one piece.
In a sense business mentors are like experienced guides for entrepreneurs who have set out on the precarious voyage of starting or growing a business. They can offer practical guidance, ideas, insights, connections and shortcuts to help you achieve your goals faster and easier, while helping you avoid major pitfalls.
The problem is business mentors are not easy to find, especially in our neck of the woods where the few who are qualified are in high demand and too busy to commit to long-term mentoring relationships. However, finding, keeping and maximising the relationship with a great mentor is not impossible and could be easier for you if you follow the steps below.
Set goals and develop a mentor profile.
You need to be clear on where you want to go and identify the resources you may need to get there. Mentors can't and won't set goals for you. in fact, that, would be an unreasonable request. Once you define clear business and professional goals that are SMART that is, specific, measurable, attainable, relevant to your overall mission and time-bound then you can begin to outline a profile of the type of mentor you will need to help you advance.
Research existing programmes.
It's important to do thorough research on mentoring programmes that may be available. for example, a few local business associations have mentoring programmes for people who are relatively new to business. There are also some international initiatives to which entrepreneurs can apply, for example, the acclaimed Cherie Blair Mentoring Programme for women entrepreneurs.
I have a preference for formal programmes because they have more structure, offer screening, proper training and matching of mentors and protÈgÈs, and set clear guidelines with respect to commitments, tenure, confidentiality, measuring effectiveness, and termination, among others.
Compile a list of prospects.
If you can't find or prefer not to engage with a formal programme, then you can create a list of prospective mentors based on the profile you would have developed at Step 1. Once you have a list of prospects, do detailed research on each one to learn about their story, passion, values, common interests, associations and charities to which they are affiliated.
Outline the expected value.
This step is critical because it will allow you to express and sell the value of mentorship to prospects. Remember that experienced and accomplished entrepreneurs and business professionals lead busy lives, with time being their most precious resource.
You must likely make a very persuasive argument for why they should invest, not simply give, their time generously to developing you and your business.
Using the information garnered at Step 3, outline the expected value for you both. State what returns the mentor will get and try tapping into what they care about in terms of social responsibility, personal vision and values. You must carefully outline how you will use the investment to build your company and pay it forward in your network or community.
Do not make cold-calls or email strangers. Mentoring is a very personal process and it's more likely that your ideal prospect will work with you if introduced by a trusted connection.
This is why you will need to be patient and strategic, for example, join business associations and build networks where you can establish and eventually leverage relationships with those who can connect you.
Possibly the most important step is knowing what to expect, and how to behave so you benefit fully while building a healthy relationship with your mentor. Remember, a mentor is a volunteer with very limited time. They usually want to maintain some basic boundaries and a practical approach, like showing up for meetings prepared and on time.
Keeping sessions concise, productive and professional, not getting personal, not asking for money or pushing for contracts and setting short time frames on the initial relationship, for example, three months, six months or a year.
It's also your responsibility to track growth, measure success, provide regular progress reports and maintain effective communications throughout.