The mentor-protégé relationship is one that has a great deal of value in the small business world.  It should be a mutually beneficial relationship, so both finding a mentor and becoming one require knowledge and responsibility.  Here is a how-to guide for finding a mentor who can help you succeed in your business, as well as what it takes to become an effective mentor to someone just starting out.

Finding a Mentor

  • The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) offers a variety of resources, which are readily available on its website.  Additionally, the SBA also partners with SCORE, a “nonprofit association dedicated to educating entrepreneurs and helping small businesses start, grow, and succeed nationwide.”  Their website is also chock full of information to help you get started.
  • Decide what you want.  Identify what exactly you wish to be the result of the relationship.  Do you want an expert in marketing? Someone well-connected who can help you network with others in the field? A good listener who has been where you are in business?  Figuring out the qualities you want in a mentor will help you narrow your search tremendously.
  • Look in the right places.  There’s nothing wrong with starting your search with your family and friends who may have the expertise you’re looking for.  Outside of that circle, you may find an effective mentor in a former boss, at a professional development workshop, or trade show.  Your extended network of contacts may contain just the person you need.
  • Reach out to your industry.  If you haven’t found a mentor in your immediate or extended network, consider contacting your local chamber of commerce or the business editor of the local newspaper.  Chances are that you will find a large group of knowledgeable people right in your own backyard.
  • Seek recommendations.  Just as if you were hiring a landscaper or finding a good dentist, ask others in your field for recommendations about potential mentors.  Get some information about the person’s business background and experience, and come up with a list of questions you would ask about what he or she can offer.  You may even arrange a phone interview to see if this person would fit your needs.

Being a Mentor

  • Ask questions.  When taking on a protégé, it must be clear to both parties what is expected of each other.  The protégé should be asking questions, but as a potential mentor, you should come to the table with questions as well, such as those about the person’s business education, relevant experience in the field, and long-term goals.  This will help you focus your efforts and create a plan of action for your protégé.
  • Be a coach. Help your protégé create a positive and supportive environment. Instead of pointing out faults teach your protégé to identify problems and to develop a plan to overcome them. Coach your protégé to be self-reliant and goal oriented.
  • Set a timeline.  As the mentor, you may have a better idea as to how long it might take to reach whatever goals have been agreed upon.  Will you be mentoring this person for six months? A year?  How often will you meet over the course of the relationship?  Make sure that you both are comfortable with the time parameters of the arrangement and decide whether or not you are flexible should someone’s needs change.
  • Make yourself accessible.  If you are making the commitment to mentor someone, you should be available to them in a reasonable fashion.  Aside from meeting at regular intervals and perhaps touching base via email or phone in between, your protégé should feel comfortable contacting you at other times if necessary.

Tell us about your own mentoring relationships in the comments section below.