Finding Business Mentors

  • AUTHOR: StartupNation Writer
  • DATE: 09/12/2006

Ask anyone successful in any line of work how they did it, and
there’s at least one thing they’ll all agree on: You’ll never make it
without the guidance of special people who’ve walked your path before.

Finding
a business mentor is the best way to stay afloat, grow your business
and advance your career. Whether they’re family members or friends,
former bosses, colleagues or executives you’ve met, you can learn
something from everyone.

Here’s how to identify, develop and nurture mentorship relationships.

Get specific with your mentor needs

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Before
you can find a mentor, you have to identify the areas for which you’d
like advice, says Brad Sugars, CEO of Action International, a Las
Vegas-based professional coaching organization.

“Define
what you want a mentor for – finance, marketing, sales, product
development,” Sugars says. “It’s not enough to just say, ‘Everything.’
Don’t look for one mentor to be everything to you. I’ve got a buddy who
gives real great relationship advice but, man, I’d never take his
financial advice.”

After you know what you’re looking
for, try to find it by joining the types of organizations your
potential mentors frequent – charities, sports clubs or business
networking groups, among many.

At 35, Bill Wagner, CEO of Accord Management Systems, Inc., in Westlake Village, Calif., put an ad in The Wall Street Journal .
It said: “35-year-old entrepreneur with strong business acumen seeks
mentor who wants to retire and has no children to leave business to.”
He got 20 responses, from “men who built a business, put three kids
through college and nobody wanted to take over Dad’s business,” Wagner
says. Most of them wanted to retire but keep a hand in. That’s what a
potential mentor sounds like.

Today Wagner, author of The Entrepreneur Next Door (Entrepreneur Press; 2006, $19.95) pays for his advice through an organization for CEOs.

There
are plenty of professional coaches and organizations like the one
Wagner joined, so it’s easy to pay for professional guidance. But you
don’t have to. A true mentor is a veteran in the wings who you take to
lunch or visit occasionally and who offers kernels of wisdom just
because.

Ask (for mentorship) and you shall receive

The
best way to approach a potential mentor is to introduce yourself and
invite him to lunch. Then, ask about his career, the people he admires,
whether he’d be willing to offer some advice. Be humble and flattering
and make it clear you’re there to learn.

Marc Bluestein
started looking for a business mentor at 22, when he first got into the
sports marketing field. “I tried to act as a sponge for all the
information they had, all aspects of the business, not just the
particular discipline I was in at the time,” says Bluestein, now 34 and
vice president of sales for SportsWorX, a two-year-old company in
Rockville, Md.

“Asking them about their career, picking
their brain at lunches, the people they learned from, I tried to find
out the one piece of advice that was really important, that people in
the business always gave,” he says. “I tried to keep those in my own
mind and take the advice.”

Today, Bluestein continues to
develop new mentorship relationships. One of his mentors is actually a
client who runs a multi-million dollar homebuilding organization. “We
pick his brain all the time,” Bluestein says. “You get a whole other
perspective, and that can apply to your business.”

What goes around comes around

What’s
in it for them? While it’s certainly an ego boost to be a mentor, Brad
Sugars believes there must be some incentive for the business mentor or
they won’t want to do it.

“Who are you
mentoring?” he asks. “If you’re not mentoring a young kid or someone
who’s just started, how do you expect to find someone to mentor you?”

When
you do, send thank-you notes, Christmas cards and small gifts for your
mentor’s time and guidance. Pay for lunches and coffees. Give back.

Without
appropriate business mentors, “you won’t succeed at growing your
business,” Bluestein says. “If I want to service my clients at the top
level and find new avenues to expand our organization, it’s really
important to understand how other people have done that.”

Lynne Meredith Schreiber is a freelance writer for StartupNation.

  ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
StartupNation Writer
StartupNation Writer

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