Checklist for Finding a Small Business Mentor

business mentor

Having a business mentor can really help you advance your goals and avoid some common business mistakes. But not just any mentor will do. Finding a small business mentor that meets all of the requirements listed below can ensure that you find someone who is going to be helpful and relevant to your business.

Tips for Finding a Small Business Mentor

Must Be a Good Listener

A big part of your mentor’s job is going to involve listening. They need to be able to listen to your challenges so that they can help you navigate through them. They need to listen to your strengths so that they can help you make the most of them. And they need to listen to your ideas so they can help you turn them into real plans. You can get an idea of your mentor’s listening skills by simply meeting with them and seeing how the conversation goes.

Has Track Record of Proven Success

The main goal of choosing a business mentor should be to help further your business goals. So a successful business owner who has experience reaching their own goals is more likely to be able to help you do the same. Take a look into your potential mentor’s background and accomplishments to make sure they fit this standard. If their career accomplishments look like what you’d like to emulate, they might just be a good fit for you.

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Understands My Industry

It can also be helpful to choose a business mentor who works within your industry, or who at least has knowledge of it. So if you’re a tech entrepreneur, you might not get the most out of your mentor if you choose someone who is successful in the restaurant business. Sure, they might be able to give you some general business insights. But someone who has worked in the tech industry can likely give you more specific and actionable tips for how you can make your particular business succeed.

Has Skills I Don’t Have

However, you shouldn’t choose a business mentor who’s like you in every way. If you do that, you’re not likely to learn any new skills, since you already know what they know. Instead, choose someone who is similar in some ways, but who has some additional expertise or insights they can share with you. In addition, your mentor’s extra skills and expertise should mean that they can give you a different viewpoint when it comes to certain issues. Sometimes a new set of eyes can be a huge benefit – but you need someone who looks at things differently than you do.

Ken Yancey, CEO of SCORE said in an interview with Small Business Trends, “A mentor may view your business from a completely different perspective than you. Be fully open to their ideas and try to understand their view. This doesn’t always mean taking their advice verbatim but it’s important to be able to see your business from multiple viewpoints.”

Has a Long Rolodex

Another potential benefit of a business mentor is access to an extended network of relevant business contacts. If your business mentor is successful in your industry, they’ve probably met lots of people who could potentially help your business, collaborate with you, or do business with you in some other way. If you find a business mentor through mutual contacts, this might be a sign that they also have access to more relevant contacts in your industry. Alternatively, you could look into their working history to see some of the companies or industry professionals they’ve worked with in the past.

Capable of Delivering Tough Love

You don’t want a mentor who is just constantly going to tell you what you want to hear. You won’t grow if you don’t ever correct your mistakes. So a good business mentor should be able to notice when you’re doing something wrong and be able to communicate with you clearly so that you can correct it and find a better method for getting things done.

Has Enough Time to Spend

Often times, successful industry leaders are also incredibly busy. So choosing one as a business mentor could mean that they don’t have much time to spend meeting or communicating with you. Since you probably don’t want a mentor who’s just going to cancel on you constantly, make sure that you find someone with enough time to spare. Ask them to be honest with you about their schedule, and be honest with them about what sort of communication you’re looking for in a business mentor. You might also find it beneficial to find a mentor who has retired from your industry, since they’re likely to have a more flexible schedule.

Shares Similar Values

Values are an important part of running a business. If you’re a business owner who thinks it’s very important to be home for dinner with your family every night, then you probably don’t want to work with a business mentor who’s constantly going to tell you that you need to put in longer hours. Or if you’re dedicated to bootstrapping your startup with no outside investment, you shouldn’t choose a business mentor who is all about finding investors. You don’t necessarily need someone with the exact same style or philosophy. But a good mentor should at least understand where you draw the line when it comes to your business values, and be able to help you navigate tough situations without crossing those lines.

Not a Free Worker

Although having a business mentor can be a huge benefit to your business, you need to realize that it’s not a magical solution to all of your business issues. A mentor can help you polish your ideas and plans. But they cannot do everything for you. The actual work is up to you.

Yancey says, “Think of a mentor as your own personal business guru – someone to inspire and push you in the right direction, but the work is up to you.”

Print out this Checklist for finding a small business mentor to help you grow your business and achieve greater profits:

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Annie Pilon Annie Pilon is a Senior Staff Writer for Small Business Trends, covering entrepreneur profiles, interviews, feature stories, community news and in-depth, expert-based guides. When she’s not writing she can be found exploring all that her home state of Michigan has to offer.

7 Reactions
  1. Thanks for this, I think so many people try and be experts and sell consults when really they are still learning theirselves… I’m sure your article will help a newbie to IM…


  2. The key is to look at the background of the mentor. It is not enough to hire someone just because they seem to know their stuff. You need someone that really knows what they are doing and they have the experience to back it up.

  3. Thank you for this post! I’m starting to realize I need a mentor desperately 🙁 This checklist will be of great help!

  4. Great article. I’ve been a business consultant for about 10 years and was a counselor almost as long previously, and I can definitely attest to much of what you’ve written.

    I would say the most important points are: 1) a match for values (a “hard work and perseverance” entrepreneur would probably not have much faith in my “find the path of least resistance” approach, for example).

    2) The industry specific experience. I’m a darned good consultant, to be honest, but don’t ask me to help a retail client. It is a completely different world than the tech, marketing intelligence, financial services, creative artists, and holistic services industries I’ve mostly worked with. There are specific bodies of knowledge needed for different ways of doing business. Services businesses have a lot in common across industries, but service and retail are very different. The same can be said for distributors, wholesalers, etc.

    and 3) Make sure they have achieved a level of success that establishes they know what they are teaching well enough to have applied it themselves. Now if you go with a larger firm, you may be assigned someone who has never run their own business. Depending on what you need, that may be fine. But the boutique firm with one primary lead consultant who provides one-on-one mentoring to other founders is going to offer a unique expertise. Someone who has had to walk their talk in addition to guiding others to following their guidance is going to present the most complete skill set.

  5. I love the point of “Tough Love”. Your mentor is not your Mum.

    Having coached hundreds of individuals, I can say with confidence that the Mentor’s relationship has to be that of a Coach. Bringing out the best in the business and at the same time, holding them accountable to the promises made to themselves.

    I also believe that Mentor needs to have a one-to-one relationship with the Founder/Owner/Business Head as there is a direct link between individual and business high performance.

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