ANY self-respecting entrepreneur can recognize the fact that there is always something new to learn about their business or market.
Especially when starting a new company and guiding it during its first years of operation, the value of learning from other more experienced entrepreneurs cannot be overstated.
However, finding a suitable mentor can be easier said than done – most don’t know where to start or how to approach another busy professional with the prospect of being a mentor. Therefore, it is not surprising that so many entrepreneurs struggle with the idea of having the help of an external consultant.
It has been proven that a mentor’s guidance and advice can offer as much value as any other form of training, if not more. This is due to the fact that the support is tailored to the specific needs of the business and offers expertise that is lacking within the business.
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The guidance of a mentor with extensive experience can help to significantly reduce the learning curve of a less experienced entrepreneur, often saving valuable time and money. Therefore, it is vital that a business owner knows how to find suitable mentors and consultants to help guide them in the right direction.
With that in mind, here are some tips to help make the search for a mentor easier:
Shared core values
Having clear core values is extremely important to guide your business. It tells you how decisions are made, how teams are managed and whether the business is going in the right direction. It is logical that mentors add more value when they understand and align with the essential values of the person being mentored. You are also more likely to find a mentor willing to spend your time offering guidance if you share the same values. When speaking with potential mentors initially, ask them about the values that drive their own companies and carry on with the conversation if you think their values echo yours.
Start with an informal approach
It is best to start by building a more informal relationship with a potential mentor. A simple phone call about a specific issue for an industry veteran can initiate a broader conversation and can even lead to a visit to your company’s facilities. Many professionals are also more willing to meet for coffee over the weekend or after hours, when the pressure has eased. In this way, the first contact with the mentor runs very little risk of being unsuccessful, and both parties are able to see if it is worthwhile to build a formal mentor / pupil relationship.
The importance of trust
Trust is fundamental to a successful mentoring relationship, as is mutual respect between the two parties. As a business owner, you should feel totally comfortable sharing information about all aspects of your business with your mentor. With that in mind, avoid finding a mentor among competitors – instead, look for people in unconnected sectors who can share the same methods or challenges. Retired or semi-retired business leaders and entrepreneurs tend to be great mentors, as they have seen it all, have plenty of time and are not affiliated with any competitor.
Be willing to learn
In general, entrepreneurs are very obstinate and, although this is a great (and necessary) characteristic for entrepreneurs who are starting a business, it can be a barrier to learning. However, any form of mentoring will be of little use if the entrepreneur is not open to suggestions and new ways of doing things. Good mentors often have little time to spare, so they are unlikely to continue with pupils who are very strict and unwilling to take their advice. It is possible to maintain the vision of your business and, at the same time, be open to different ways to achieve your goals. Keep that in mind and make sure to pass on to the potential mentors that you are willing to learn.
Developing a company in a competitive environment or in a depressed economy is complex and challenging, and entrepreneurs would be prudent in taking all the good advice they can get. Mentoring offers access to the tools and knowledge needed to grow a business, so learn the lesson from all the successful entrepreneurs who have walked the path before you and seek guidance.