In today’s topsy-turvy economy, it’s tough to be optimistic about any business venture. But many experts say growth and opportunity lie in newer, smaller businesses, so you could be on the right track if you’re launching your own home-based business. Still, it’s a good idea to learn what you can from those who have gone before you.
So before you leap off a cliff and launch your venture, check in with those who have discovered the secrets to working and living under the same roof. Here are 10 tips for finding a mentor who can show you the ropes.
- Make a wish list. Before you start your search for a mentor think about what you are looking for. Do you need a mentor from a specific business field? Do you need someone who can devote a lot of time to you (possibly a retiree), or just a couple of hours a month?
- Start looking. For starters, just get out there and network. Make a list of the successful people in your community that you admire. Ask them to lunch or coffee. Go to luncheons, seminars, talks, and conferences. Join your local chamber of commerce or local business networking group, meet your fellow members, introduce yourself to the guest speakers, and ask them questions.
- Ask for help. The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) and has a robust mentoring program called SCORE. SCORE matches up successful former business executives with those just starting out.
- Pop the question. Finding a business mentor is almost like dating. If you’re uncertain about how to make your approach, remember that flattery can work wonders. Few people can resist hearing that you admire them for their accomplishments. Most people are happy to give you an hour or two of their time, particularly if you make it clear that this is all you want.
- Check it out. When searching for and selecting a mentor, ask yourself these questions: Do I have a rapport with this person? Do I feel comfortable raising questions? Does he or she ask about the dreams and desires I have for my business? Do we share a common vision?
- Be selective. Look for someone who has considerably more experience and connections than you have in the field into which you are launching. If you’re starting a small service business, it’s probably not going to help having a mentor who is an executive at a large technology corporation. You want someone who has started a business or businesses in your industry and who has made many of the mistakes you hope to avoid.
- Develop the relationship. A mentor relationship is deep, personal, and long term. A mentor is someone who serves as an example, an advisor, a sounding board, and as a friend. That last attribute is very important. A mentor cannot really be effective if they don’t truly care for you, and vice versa. Truly effective mentors do what they do for one reason: They want to help you succeed. They aren’t working with you to make money or to boost their egos, or to be able to claim volunteer time on their resume. They work with you because they are interested in helping you.
- Commit to the long haul. Be patient. Finding, keeping, and growing in the relationship with a mentor will be a long process.
- Soak up the experience. Spend a lot of time near your mentor, observing him or her. But don’t just observe. To get the most out of the mentoring relationship, actively seek your mentor’s input.
- Show your gratitude. Don’t forget to thank your mentor and to acknowledge your mentor’s suggestions. Also, let your mentor know how you put their advice to good use. Remember you’re building a long-term relationship: to get the most out of a mentoring relationship, you’ve got to keep it alive and share experiences, challenges, and results.