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How to Find a Mentor to Help You Navigate Small Business Ownership

by Liz Hester, Staples® Contributing Writer

A Small Business Administration study shows that business owners who had three or more hours of mentoring experienced higher revenues and stronger growth than those who didn’t. So why wouldn’t you consider mentorship for growing your business and yourself? Here’s some important information to consider when it comes to finding a mentor and building a relationship as a small business owner.

Just Look Around

Villanova University’s director of the Entrepreneur and Business Boot Camp, Dr. Scott Testa, says there’s no best place or worst place for finding a mentor than the places you already go. “It’s how you’d meet a spouse or girlfriend — at a bar, convenience store, friend of a friend,” he says. Mentors can be college professors, former bosses and partners. “Find those people you have a common bond with and like to spend time with.”

Create a Connection

“The biggest mistake you can make is to go up to a person and ask, ‘Will you be my mentor?’” says Bridget Weston Pollack, vice president of marketing at the SCORE Association, a nonprofit, volunteer organization dedicated to helping small businesses through free advice and mentoring. “It needs to happen organically.”

Denver-based strategic and market research consultant Walt Boyle naturally made the transition from colleague to mentor. “Recently someone I serve on a nonprofit board with learned of my background,” he says. “She made it very clear that she was looking for a mentor and asked if I might know of someone. That opened the door for me to eventually offer my support, without putting me on the spot, which I appreciated.” You also can approach a prospective mentor through a mutual friend or business associate.

Make It Mutual

Building a relationship that’s mutually beneficial ensures that you and your mentor get the most out of the connection. Most mentors don’t want much in return beyond knowing their assistance was helpful, says Pamela Mitchell, founder and CEO of The Reinvention Institute in Miami.

“Often people come to you for advice and don’t really take it,” she says. “A mentor wants to see if you’re using that advice to move forward.”

Mitchell recalls giving advice to a colleague. “She said, ‘Oh, I’ll call you in a week’ and I said, ‘No, I actually need to see a payoff from that advice. Come back in a month or two and show something for it, then present another problem for help.’”

Seek Complementary Skills & Experiences

Mitchell and Testa agree that the best mentors have strengths that are your weaknesses. “The best mentors push us out of our comfort zones and force us to look at things in a different way,” Mitchell says. “You want a mentor who’s the opposite of you so that you learn and fill in some of the gaps.”

When Testa was starting a business, he looked for mentors to provide an entrepreneurial example. “I really needed someone I felt could understand the experience I was going through,” he says. “My mentors helped not just with technical stuff, but also with the psychological.”

Boyle offers some final advice on finding a mentor: “Be selective and deliberate about who you tell that you're looking for support — but don't be afraid to put it out there. Someone you know is likely to know someone who'd be just the right fit. You'll never know unless you ask.”

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