A mentor is someone who can give advice and share their experiences. They’re normally unpaid and work voluntarily, and can be hugely beneficial for startups looking for guidance.
Looking for a mentor is daunting, especially if you don’t have a strong network, so where do you start?
Think about what you want from a mentor
Before you begin your search, it’s important to understand what you want from a mentor. If you want financial support or someone to tell you how to run your business, then a mentor is probably not the best fit.
A mentor’s role is to share their own professional experiences, provide advice and give you connections in your respective field.
Start by making a list of what you’re looking for. Do you want to speak to someone with experience in a certain sector or get advice on what it takes to build a business? Identifying these specifics will help you target the right people.
Look for contacts in your current network
First, look at your current contacts. Could you ask a previous employer or colleague in a senior position for advice? They will be more likely to help because they’ve worked with you before. Invite them for coffee and see if they would be interested or could suggest someone from their network.
LinkedIn is a useful place to find people with relevant experience, since you can search by sector or job title. You can also use LinkedIn’s Career Advice tool, which lets you input a query and then matches you to someone with expertise in the area.
You may also want to consider joining a networking group. Although face-to-face meetups are difficult at the moment, many groups are still connecting and thriving.
If you’re a student, contact your university careers service, as they often have networking events and online webinars available or a mentorship scheme.
When you’re reaching out to potential mentors, consider contacting people other than the CEO or founder of a business. People within an organisation may have more time to give and have specialist expertise.
There are also many support programmes open that can provide you with mentoring opportunities:
- Of course, we have to mention The Pitch. The winner of The Pitch 2020 will win an exclusive mentoring package with industry-leading entrepreneurs
- The government provides free business mentors who can share their expertise and give professional guidance
- Another great scheme is the Santander Women Business Leaders’ Mentoring Programme. This programme gives female entrepreneurs support and guidance from established business professionals
- The British Association of Women Entrepreneurs (BAWE) also offers mentoring, training and networking opportunities for female entrepreneurs.
If you work in a co-working space, it may be worth seeing if they offer a mentoring scheme too. You’ll likely be surrounded by other entrepreneurs who can share valuable advice, but some workspaces also have designated mentoring programmes.
How to make the relationship a success
It is important to make it clear what you want out of the relationship. Not only does this provide more direction for your meetings, but also makes it easier for your mentor to understand your needs and provide more relevant advice.
You can do this by outlining why they would be helpful during your first conversation and having specific questions prepared for them in your first meeting.
Think about how often you would want to meet, what you want to learn from your mentor, what position your business is in and where you want to take it.
Value your mentors’ time. It’s not necessary to follow aspect of their advice but it’s important to recognise that they have taken time out of their schedule to help you. Showing that you are actively listening to and acting on their advice is important.
By the same token, it is also important to be on time for your meetings. Cancelling last minute or showing up late suggests that you aren’t engaged and don’t really care about building a long-term relationship.
Last, keep your mentor updated on your achievements and success! If they’ve invested a lot of time providing you with advice and guidance, then make sure they know how you have benefited.