Finding a mentor: what you need to know

Growth and strategy

6 October 2017

On 27 October, National Mentoring Day will honour the role of the generous and committed people who take the time to share their knowledge with others.

If you’re an aspiring entrepreneur or a start-up business, have you thought about finding a business mentor to guide you on your journey?

What is a business mentor?

Business mentoring allows a young company or entrepreneur to learn from the knowledge of a more experienced professional. It’s not like hiring a consultant: it’s more of a genuine interpersonal relationship. As such, it can be extremely rewarding on a personal development level as well as for business growth and advice.

How can a mentor help me develop?

As well as a practical insight into the industry, a mentor advises, identifies and helps with areas that need development, and becomes your go-to person for informal, impartial advice. It can sometimes feel lonely as a new entrepreneur: your encouraging mentor is someone with whom to share your thoughts and talk through ideas and decisions.

How does the mentor benefit?

For entrepreneurs or managers who are intrinsically motivated (they love their work for its own sake), mentoring represents professional enrichment. It encourages reflection and re-evaluation of the mentor’s own knowledge, along with developing skills such as coaching. Taking on a mentoring role is sometimes used as a development target for managers.

What sort of person makes a suitable mentor?

The main quality needed is a willingness to teach and inspire. This is as important as industry experience: there’s no point finding an expert if they’re reluctant to share.

Enthusiasm and positivity are essential; and check whether they’re respected within their field. You also need to hit it off: a mentor who challenges you is good, but one who is too confrontational is demotivating.

One piece of advice is to choose someone who is “ten steps ahead of you” in your industry – in other words, someone who is where you want to be in ten or fifteen years’ time.

How do I find a mentor?

Often, mentors and mentees choose each other from pre-existing relationships. This is straightforward in a conventional workplace, but what about aspiring self-employed entrepreneurs?

Make the most of existing contacts: networking events for your industry, conferences, friends-of-friends or LinkedIn and Facebook groups. Look for any National Mentoring Day events where you’ll be able to find plenty of advice if not an immediate mentor.

Can I find a local mentor?

Remote mentorship is possible; however, for personal and career development, nothing beats a face-to-face relationship. If you’re drawing a blank using your existing local networks, try searching on Mentorsme. This is a website that matches SMEs with business mentors. You can search by UK region or business life stage.

It’s worth taking time to find someone with whom you genuinely connect: this could be the start of a long and successful relationship.