Get a Mentor

Posted by: Today's Tip Contributor on January 26, 2011

A recent study by the U.S. Small Business Administration reports that 52 percent of entrepreneurs get advice from a mentor. If you’re part of this group, you know that a great mentor can improve your business profitability by helping you stay focused, solve business challenges, and avoid common pitfalls.

In building out my last venture, Nu-Kitchen, I often sought the advice of those who could help guide me with everything from building a scalable business model to investing in a new culinary center and raising capital. These seasoned experts—I worked with two over a five-year period—mentored me to make better decisions and provided resources to navigate the murky and sometimes turbulent waters of running a business. Without them, I would have been in deep trouble.

If you belong to the 48 percent of entrepreneurs who don’t have a mentor, start looking now. Start simple by thinking about people you know who have been successful or by joining industry networks and your local Chamber of Commerce. During your search for a mentor, be sure to look for the following:

1. The right experience. Every successful person I know is happy to mentor others, myself included. But getting the attention of the right successful person for you can be a challenge. Identifying some common characteristics you share with your desired mentor can help move things in your favor. It can also be really helpful in building a stronger bond between the two of you and, more to the point, creating a willingness in the other person to offer mentorship guidance to you.

2. Commitment. In my experience, having an informal mentor works fine for established businesses, but a more formalized commitment is better for new or early-stage businesses. Formal mentor relationships generally require a bigger time commitment, so be sure to set expectations and requirements up front, such as a particular number of meetings during the year or introductions to key partners and possible investors. In some cases, you can offer an incentive or equity in exchange for this commitment; indeed, it may be expected.

And finally, determine what you want out of the relationship. Regardless of the stage of your startup process, you’ve got questions about how to move forward and what steps to take. Even if you aren’t sure you want a mentor, you can use an initial meeting to forge a relationship and ask questions related to your most pressing needs. Let the potential mentor know where you are in the journey and listen to his or her story and experience, and—this is important—offer to provide assistance to him or her in any way you can. At the end of the meeting, ask the person if you can reach out again as you progress on your journey, and if he or she says "yes," you may want to consider asking if he or she would be willing to mentor you.

Bryan Janeczko
Founder and CEO
Wicked Start
New York City

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