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According to Forbes, 70% of mentored businesses make it past the five-year milestone. Compare this to the roughly 35% of businesses that survive past the five-year mark without mentors.
The evidence is clear: seeking the advice of a business owner who you admire and inspires you has a good chance of paying off in the long run.
But what exactly is a business mentor?
Mentor: a Rough Definition
Even for the purpose of this article, the definition is broad. Basically, a mentor is someone who has more business experience than you do. They have not only survived in their chosen field but flourished.
Essentially, they can be any business owner, executive, or entrepreneur that you admire.
Sometimes they are old work-related connections or an acquaintance you met while networking.
Other times, they can be people you research and then reach out to. The definition of a mentor isn’t formalized.
What Should You Do When Researching a Mentor?
If you don't already have a mentor in mind, here are a few tips for finding one and successfully connecting with them.
Let's be honest. Most of your time connecting with mentors is going to be spent on LinkedIn. LinkedIn is not only great for finding employees or employers, but also for cultivating business relationships like mentorships.
While searching on LinkedIn, or other comparable business-oriented social media, keep these thoughts in mind:
1. Don’t Ask Direct Competitors
Look up successful start-ups and businesses in your field that are not in a directly competitive area. Alternatively, look to industry-adjacent companies—a successful sock company if you make ties for example.
Mentors need to be equipped to provide you guidance and need to be genuinely invested in your success. In the case of a direct competitor, there is a clear downside to your success in their eyes.
Long story short, avoid direct competitors when looking for mentors.
2. Don’t Limit Yourself to One Perspective
Don’t reach out to only one prospective mentor. Just like a patient might want a second opinion regarding a diagnosis, you are looking for a wealth of insight.
The more minds (and experience) you can connect with, the better. When thinking about mentorship, people often fall under the misconception that it is an exclusive relationship.
Instead, you should be looking to forge as many connections as possible with more experienced business owners. Look for mentors who have strengths where you still have a lot to learn to get the most out of their expertise.
3. Learn From Failures
You can learn a lot from mistakes—just as much as you can learn from successes.
A common saying tells us that failure is the best teacher, and, frequently in business, one fails before one succeeds.
Therefore, do not be afraid to ask about failure. Humbled veterans of business know the importance of mistakes. Be respectful when asking about things that went wrong, but be persistent.
Knowing what not to do is often just as important as knowing what you should be doing.
4. Have Specific Questions Tailored to your Audience
If you are a business owner you already know how frustrating it is to have someone waste your time.
Don’t come to the table with generic questions and without a focus. Instead, you should do your research and come up with engaging and meaningful questions that are tailored to the person you are asking. Don’t go through the motions just to go through the motions.
Remember, this isn't busy work. You are here to gain valuable insight. Showing up unprepared wastes your mentor's time and means that you won't get the most out of their expertise. Engage with mentors in a way that is respectful of their time and experience
Also, make sure to include the specific details you have collected that are relevant to the mentor you ae reaching out to in your outreach message(s). This personal touch helps communicate to them that you are genuinely seeking their advice and that you likely won't be wasting their time.
Do Your Research and Reach Out!
Many experienced business owners want to share their successes and failures with upcoming entrepreneurs. If you’re going to pick the brains of more experienced business owners, follow the advice in this guide, and you’ll be video-conferencing in no time with your new mentor.
Veronica Baxter is a writer, blogger, legal assistant, and entrepreneur operating out of the greater Philadelphia area. She writes for the Law Offices of David M. Offen, a group of successful bankruptcy lawyers in Philadelphia.