Just because you have a killer business idea doesn’t mean you have killer business skills. The most successful young entrepreneurs recognize their own limitations and lack of experience. They rely on a network of seasoned and successful business mentors to give them the advice they need when they need it.
Finding those mentors is often easier said than done, however. While some people may have success walking into a CEO’s office and simply asking, there are more effective and more natural ways to find mentors.
Here are 10 tips to get you started building your network of mentors:
1. Know what you want to get out of a mentoring relationship. Not every mentoring relationship is the same. You need to know exactly what it is that you need help with, and how the mentoring relationship should benefit you. You might need help with business strategy, networking, the work-life balance, or more. Maybe you need comprehensive advice, but in some cases you may just need a sounding board.
2. Find a mentor with whom you have chemistry. Don’t just accept anyone into your network of mentors. You need to click with these people. If you have diametrically opposed views on marketing, for example, you’re going to have a hard time connecting on related topics.
3. Start by looking at your family and friends. Your first mentors may be people with whom you’ve had a relationship most of your life. A trusted aunt or a grandfather, for example, may have business experience from which you can learn. These are wonderful early mentors, because they may be more patient and understanding as you grow and develop, and they may be more willing to make that mentoring commitment early on.
4. Grow your network of mentors via your extended network of associations. After you’ve exhausted resources among family and friends, start looking to acquaintances, colleagues, former or current employers, and others in your extended circles of influence.
5. Some of the best mentorship opportunities will come from strangers. Let’s face it: unless you’re going into the family business, chances are you’re not going to find a mentor who’s wildly successful in your field. That means you need to seek out those wildly successful people. Approach those prospects humbly and delicately. Schedule a brief telephone conversation, limit the call to a handful of very specific questions. If it goes well, raise the idea of a repeat phone call. After a while, you may be able to raise the prospect of a more formal mentoring arrangement.
6. Look into SCORE. SCORE is a group associated with the Small Business Association. It consists of retired executives and professionals who have a passion for helping up-and-coming entrepreneurs. They offer free and confidential mentoring. SCORE mentors can be a bit hit-or-miss, depending on your industry, but in general they can offer a useful perspective and are more than willing to give advice.
7. Check out the Chamber. Many local Chambers of Commerce offer mentoring connections. The key thing here is that, if a given chamber member is in the same niche as you, it’s going to be much harder to convince them to work with you. After all, if you’re currently starting a business, they don’t want to be responsible for training their competition.
8. Look for industry specific opportunities. For example, if you do contracting for the federal government there is a mentor program offered by the Small Business Administration that helps you understand how to grab government contracts.
9. Consider local options. Larger cities often have mentorship programs in their business communities. The Silver Fox Advisers in Houston is a good example of this. Chicago, Detroit, and Jersey City all have non-profit groups that focus on mentoring for businesses run by women and minorities, too.
10. Pay for it if you have to. There are paid mentors out there, as well. Often going under the moniker of “Business Coaches,” these mentors will often be very hyper-focused. They will provide some of the most efficient mentoring relationships, mainly because both of you realize that the relationship is costing you money.
Finding and building your network of mentors takes some serious legwork. Chances are you’ll face some rejection along the way. The good news is that there are many people out there in business who have experienced success, and who are more than willing to take a budding entrepreneur under their wing in a mentoring relationship. Keep looking until your mentoring needs are met, and you’ll find your business skills growing by leaps and bounds.
Sara Schoonover is Vice President of Ticket Kick, a California company that helps drivers get red light tickets, speeding tickets and other traffic tickets dismissed by helping drivers through the trial by written declaration process. The company, which formally launched in 2010 after providing similar services since 2006, is the leading company in this space and growing rapidly.