A business mentor is an experienced professional who can provide guidance and advice as you build your company. Mentors can serve a variety of purposes — they can act as sounding boards, answer questions, and provide introductions. They can also help you navigate tricky politics; take Purdy Crawford, who famously championed Bertha Wilson as she entered the male-dominated Canadian legal community in the 1950s. Later, Wilson became the first woman to serve on the Supreme Court of Canada. By seeking out one or more mentors as early as possible, you can benefit from their wisdom at every stage of business development.
Deciding What You Need in a Mentor
Before you approach a potential business mentor, it’s important to know exactly what you want out of the relationship. Start by making a list of the areas in which you need advice and business help. If you’re making your own promotional materials, you might want an experienced marketing professional who can review campaigns and make suggestions. If you’re opening your first business, it can be helpful to bounce ideas off of a long-time entrepreneur. Keep in mind that you may benefit multiple mentors, allowing you to seek a highly specialized professional for each area to ease the burden on any one person.
Finally, decide whether you need a weekly meetup, a monthly phone call, or someone to call with occasional questions. When you know what you need, it’s easier to narrow down the mentor pool by expertise and availability.
Where to Find a Mentor
Start looking for a mentor by reaching out to people in your immediate network, including college professors, former colleagues, old classmates, and friends of the family. Explain what you’re looking for in a mentor, and ask if the person can refer you to a professional who fits the bill. If you already have a mentor in mind, send an email that describes your situation and asks if the person might be interested.
A variety of Canadian organizations can help you find mentors. Mompreneurs offers networking, mentoring, and business support for women entrepreneurs across Canada. For Ontario business owners, the York Entrepreneurship Development Institute provides training and formal mentorships. Other places to look include professional associations in your industry, your city’s chamber of commerce, and local business incubators.
Getting the Most From a Mentor
Each mentor-mentee relationship is different, but it’s always your responsibility to keep the relationship moving forward. Start by understanding the person’s workload and availability — and then respect their time. If one of your mentors is a high-powered CEO with little to no free time, don’t bother him with insignificant concerns or idle chatter, Instead, you might send one-off questions by email or request a 15-minute phone call each month to get feedback on mission-critical ideas. Whether you’re given 10 minutes or an hour, maximize the time by coming prepared with a list of questions. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to ask for what you want, whether it’s an introduction or advice on handling a political situation with a supplier.
Being a Great Mentee
As a mentee, the most important thing you can do is make the most of the opportunities your mentors provide. If they set up a meeting with a valuable contact, show up on time, in professional attire, and prepared with thoughtful talking points. In short, you should make your mentors look good. And of course, don’t forget to thank your mentors, offer assistance, and publicly recognize their contributions.
Mentor relationships can be invaluable assets as you build a business. By choosing wisely and making the most of your mentor’s wisdom, you can enjoy a faster growth process.