You’ve probably heard that finding a mentor is one of the greatest steps in advancing your career. According to one study, mentees who participated in a five-year, company-sponsored mentoring program were five times more likely to get promotions and five times more likely to receive a raise.
But similar to going to the dentist, it’s something that most business owners know is a valuable step, but it’s often postponed indefinitely. How do you even find a mentor? Here are a few tips to help you find a worthwhile mentor for your company.
Where can I find mentors
The most important thing to know about mentoring is that it is a relationship. Done right, it’s really more of a friendship than anything. And not everyone is ready for friendship yet. That means you have to be ready to reach a lot of people in hopes of finding the right mentor.
Formal mentoring programs
There are also two general types of mentoring. The first – and the easiest to use – is a formal mentoring program. You may find formal mentoring programs in places like:
- An alumni association
- Your workplace
- An industrial or commercial organization
- A non-profit organization dedicated to education and career support
These programs can be especially easy to find a mentor because people are pre-screened and ready to serve as mentors. The downside is that there is no guarantee that you will be paired with someone who can best help you achieve your goals.
Informal mentoring opportunities
Some of the best mentoring programs are created “organically” – that is, without any outside intervention. It is an agreement – formal or not – between you and someone else who has agreed to help you in the long term.
This type of mentoring can be some of the most valuable as you can find the best person to help you with your specific goals (provided they are willing to help). They can be some of the best relationships too. If your mentor is ready, they can take a long time.
However, because they are not part of a formal program, they can also be some of the most difficult mentoring relationships to find. Here are some places to look for informal mentors:
- Alumni networks
- Trade groups or non-profit organizations
- Local business organizations
In short, you can find informal mentors in most places like formal mentors. You just need the ability to approach people individually and see if they are ready to help you.
How to start a mentoring relationship
It can be nerve-wracking to approach someone and ask them to be a business mentor. After all, it can be a huge drain of time, and not everyone has this type of free time. However, there are several things you can do to increase your confidence in contacting a potential mentor.
Be clear about what you want
One of the greatest things you can do is really be clear about your goals. You need to know the general direction you want to go in your career, whether it’s running a wildlife research team, covering international news, or making computer software more secure at a large technology company. It is fine and even healthy if this develops over time, but you have to start somewhere.
Knowing where to go for help is also a good idea.
- Would you like someone you can meet with regularly?
- Are you looking for someone to turn to if you have any questions?
- Do you need help learning a new technology, would you like feedback on a product idea or advice on an unfamiliar new business venture?
Being clear about what you are looking for can give you the confidence to move forward.
It is also important to note that there is a mentor Not necessarily trainer. You need to be committed to doing the things your mentor will help you with. But they’re not the kind of people who give you homework and then hold on to it.
Mentors give you the tools to help yourself, and you are the one who has to take the initiative to do it yourself. Mentors are more likely to help you when they see that you are serious and self-motivated.
Start Meeting People
Once you know where you are going, you can start looking for potential mentors who can best help you get there. Reach out to one or two people at the same time and ask for a briefing.
Tell them you are thinking about an idea or starting an X, Y, Z business and would appreciate some time if they could save it. A good meeting place (in normal times) is a coffee shop for a “coffee chat” and it’s nice to pay for the coffee.
Zo calls are acceptable these days, but sending through Venmo for $ 5 is still a friendly gesture. Here is an example of a quick email template that you can modify:
My name is ___ and I just wanted to say hello to you. I have a business in ___ and I already have _____.
I see you’ve been in this industry for a while and ___ doing whatever interests me.
Would you be ready to meet for a coffee chat at some point? I am happy to give you $ 5 for a “virtual coffee” for your time. I would really appreciate your time and expertise.
Let me know. Thank you and have a wonderful day!
Once you’re at the meeting, it’s good to take this time to get to know them. Don’t be weird and bring up the “M” word right away. That’s a big question, especially if they don’t know you.
Bring up a business problem or two that you have had and seek advice. At this point, more than anything, it’s networking. Even if that person will never be your mentor, it is still a win because now you have someone else to add to your network.
Expansion of the relationship
At the end of your meeting, ask the person if you can come back for business advice in the future. If you are looking for someone to date with on a regular basis and the person seems open to it, now is the time to ask.
Often times, instead of sitting down for regular meetings, you’re just looking for a mentor to turn to with questions that arise in the future, and that’s fine, too. Either way, now is a good time to open the door for future meetings.
Focus on what you bring to the table
Starting a mentoring relationship is often cumbersome. There is an odd power dynamic between you and someone who may hold the keys to your future business. It’s okay to acknowledge this, but don’t let that stop you from contacting mentors.
After all, mentoring is not a one-way street. Your mentor benefits too. It can be a free coffee once a month or just a reward for helping someone with interesting ideas. Either way, think of it as a business friendship first because that’s what it’s really about.