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Choosing a Business Mentor (and Getting Them to Choose You)

You're asking for a lot — show you're serious

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In part one of this series, we took a look at the value of a business mentor and why every entrepreneur should have one. Now that you've decided you want a business mentor and understand the value of having one, how do you go about finding the right one?

It all depends on how selective you want to be. A number of Web sites and organizations offer free mentoring. Some will offer a great deal of information about your potential mentors, while others simply match you with whoever is available. That doesn't mean they're any less qualified, of course.

You can find a mentor via:

Government programs

Most governments offer small business mentoring, such as New Zealand, Scotland, and Ontario, Canada. Check with the information center of your local government office.

In the U.S., the Small Business Development Centers and SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives) provide entrepreneurs with free mentoring and workshops at hundreds of local offices nationwide. SCORE also offers email mentoring and an online database of their mentors.

Organizations

Many professional associations offer mentoring programs. If you are looking for a mentor in your industry, this is the first place to look. Also, some service organizations, such as Rotary, offer business mentoring programs.

Direct personal contact

Explore your network: distant relatives, friends of the family, former bosses or professors, people you meet through professional associations or networking groups, or even online social networks.

Who do you admire and respect? Who has already been a role model for you? Is there someone who has already been helpful to you on a smaller scale that might be willing to formalize a more in-depth relationship?

If you are a first-time entrepreneur, you are going to have a lot to learn from any mentor. You of course want to be compatible with them, but it doesn't have to be a lifelong commitment. If you have already started your business, it is more important that you go ahead and get a mentor and get started, rather than spending a great deal of time searching right now. As your business takes shape, you can always move on to another mentor.

On the other hand, if you've been down the entrepreneurial path before, you may have a much clearer vision of what you are trying to accomplish and how a mentor can help you get there. Here are some steps you can take to help you find the right mentor for you:

1. Define a list of your top goals for the mentoring relationship.
2. Brainstorm a list of prospective mentors.
3. Research available information about them.
4. Select the top candidates who are aligned with your goals.
5. Write a letter or email to mentor prospect requesting a meeting. You do not have to divulge at this time that you are interested in a longer-term relationship with them, just that you are interested in getting their input on what you are doing.
6. Call to set appointment.
7. Prepare a short list of questions regarding their feedback on your current situation.
8. Meet with them. If they're willing to take time away from their office, that's best. You pick up the tab.
9. Ask them about their history, current situation, and goals.
10. State your goals and ask your questions. Take notes!
11. If you like their responses, you can test the waters with them regarding an ongoing relationship, e.g., "I really appreciate your input on this, and I'd greatly value it on an ongoing basis. Would you be willing to meet with me again next month to follow up on what we've discussed today?"
12. Send a thank-you note and perhaps a gift.
13. Review your notes.
14. Take action on their suggestions.
15. Call to discuss the results of those actions and request a second appointment (assuming you're still interested).
16. Propose a mentoring relationship. Be sure to spell out your goals and expectations, as well as your commitment to them. A written agreement will show you are serious about the commitment.

Keep in mind that while a mentoring relationship generally lasts more than just one or two meetings, neither of you is locked in. You continue the relationship only if it continues to serve you both well. In part three of this series, we'll look at how you can get the most out of the mentoring process, as well as give to them in return, to ensure a long and mutually beneficial relationship.

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