How to find & choose a business mentor

I’m asked this question quite often (sometimes in meetings with potential mentees… I try and stay impartial).  So here are my thoughts on how to find the right one for you – and why it’s so important.

A good mentor can help you identify and eliminate weak points in your business, increase your margin, get out of a rut and ultimately make your work more fulfilling and satisfying. Getting it right can feel like having a guardian angel on your shoulder. And getting it wrong? Well, it’s the exact opposite: a dull thud of a relationship that doesn’t support you or make any difference to your business.

I have a business mentor in London (I like to practise what I preach and, contrary to expectations, it’s not really possible to mentor yourself). I found mine through a personal relationship and when I met him it just felt right. So I would always say start by looking for recommendations. Ask people you trust if they know a business mentor. Check within your industry. Shout out on Twitter or LinkedIn. Or you could attend local networking events like First Friday or the excellent but horrifically-named Mumpreneurs (men allowed) – many are attended by mentors and business people they have mentored.

If you prefer the classic research approach, there’s nothing like an old-fashioned Google search in your county or area.  Most mentors have websites where you can learn all about their values, their services and what to expect if you work with them. Get a feel for what they do, make up a shortlist and get in touch. Good mentors will always be happy to have a chat or a coffee with you for free to help you see if you have rapport. Take the opportunity to make sure you’re confident they can help with your particular challenges. When I opened my business mentoring practice in Sussex I drank at least a gallon of tea a week and met many of my clients (and suppliers) this way.

Take some time for reflection before you meet the mentor. Work out what you need to know about them, their processes, experience and results. Ask yourself: what’s your dream for your business and what are your challenges? Try to be really clear with every mentor you meet about what you want to achieve, so that you can find out how they’d help you do it.

Finally, have a think about whether it’s important to find a mentor with experience in your industry. I’ve mentored many people from my own business background (the events industry), but I’m comfortable mentoring across other industries, as the nuts  and bolts of business planning and management ultimately don’t change. If it’s important to you to work with someone in your industry, ask your peers for recommendations. But be sure to keep your options open: you may find that someone outside the industry doesn’t make the same assumptions and can challenge you in the ways you need.

For more help finding mentors, check out:

The Association of Business Mentors

Institute of Enterprise and Entrepreneurs