Mentors aren’t just for young whippersnappers or only for a short period of time. Find one for the long term!
We have a tendency to think of a mentor as someone who shepherds a very young novice for a short period of time as he enters a new organization or profession and then disappears from the picture once the novice has found his footing. In fact, that’s the exact sequence of the famous mentor-mentee relationship between Mentor and Telemachus in Homer’s The Odyssey, which is where the word comes from.
But don’t read too much into this example--mentors aren’t just for young whippersnappers or for a short period of time. On the contrary, you should give serious consideration to finding a business mentor for the long term no matter how experienced you are because there will always be something new to learn.
But where do you find one of these mythical mentors? (Hint: Don’t ask George Costanza.) Lots of times, these types of relationships develop naturally over time, but early on, you can try the following channels for quick results:
The U.S Small Business Administration administers a program called the Small Business Development Centers Program, which consists of a nationwide network of Small Business Development Centers in every state with almost a thousand different service locations in total. You’ll frequently find their offices housed at colleges, universities, community colleges, vocational schools, chambers of commerce, and economic development corporations.
The mission of these SBDCs is to provide management assistance to current and prospective small business owners, and you can obtain a wide variety of information and guidance from their business advisors, who spend their time trying to help small businesses just like yours.
You can also contact SCORE, which is a nationwide network of volunteer business mentors. Like SBDCs, SCORE’s mission is to help small businesses start up, grow, and succeed. Your best bet is to use SCORE and your local SBDC to complement each other. Business advisors at local SBDCs advise small businesses full-time, but they are responsible for helping all types of businesses. In contrast, SCORE’s volunteer mentors may spend only a small portion of their time advising businesses, but you may be more likely to find someone with expertise directly in your area. Try both and you can get the best of both worlds!
If you’re willing to wear down a little more shoe leather to find a mentor, then you could also try a more organic approach. Almost every major city has business networking groups, from Business Networking International groups to less formal groups found on Meetup.com and Eventbrite. Try joining one of these groups and going to their meetings. You’ll likely get great advice and insight from everyone you meet, and eventually you might find a more experienced mentor with whom you have a great connection.
Don’t be afraid to cast as broad a net as possible and then drill down as narrowly as possible. Using social media platforms like LinkedIn, you can search for someone in your industry or an adjacent industry with more experience than you who also lives in your same geographic market. Many people are generous with their time and will agree to a coffee or lunch meeting for the sake of networking, and if it makes sense, then you might agree to connect on an ongoing basis, perhaps quarterly, to catch up. In this situation, though, remember that these relationships don’t have to be one-sided, and shouldn’t be if you can help it. In addition to seeking advice, see if you can explore ways to return some value back to your mentor.