Growing pains: Finding a mentor to navigate a business growth spurt

August 2, 2018

Getting a business off the ground is a massive undertaking with a steep learning curve. Once scaled, the next goal becomes clear: taking the business in new directions or opening new locations. But growth comes with its own set of challenges.

That’s where mentors can help. Mentors bring a wealth of real-life experience, including tips for scaling up a business and advice for sidestepping pitfalls. So where do you locate these wise advisors? And how do you convince them to join your team?

This post will demystify the process of getting mentors to help grow your business.

Figure out where you need help.

The first step is to break down your needs into the smallest possible chunks. That way you have a clear idea about what you want to learn from a mentor, rather than bombarding him or her with requests.

Next, prepare a set of specific questions you need answered. If the questions are hitting a variety of areas, consider tapping more than one mentor. After all, no one has all the answers, and no one can fix every problem.

For example, one person may be a well-connected insider who can help expand your network and make new connections. Others may be operational gurus who can help improve business practices. Still other mentors may be product experts who can advise you on offerings.

Cast a wide net.

Mentors can come from anywhere. They can be a known player who’s been featured in a local business magazine, or a fellow small business owner working several stores over. They can be friends of friends, acquaintances from a seminar, or someone you reached out to on social media.

The more people in your network pool, the more likely you can find willing participants. Beyond friends and family, some common sources for finding mentors include:

  • Networking events: Make sure you’re not hugging the wall, but actually mingling and talking to new people.
  • Social media: Try to turn digital connections on LinkedIn, Twitter, and other networks into real-world relationships.
  • SBDCs: Locate a Small Business Development Center in your area and check out their free advice, workshops, and seminars.
  • Mentor services: Search for mentors through SCORE, a volunteer organization that lets you meet retired executives via email, video chat, or face-to-face.
  • Industry expos: Talk with featured guests and other attendees—anyone with a proven track record in related industries.
  • Your community: Tap groups you already belong to, such as faith communities, PTA organizations, LGBTQ groups, or networks of women or minority entrepreneurs.

Uncover promising prospects.

Most mentors aren’t signing up for a paid gig doling out constant counseling. Mentoring is more about forging organic relationships to bounce ideas around, seek advice about specific issues, or share concerns.

Let the relationship develop naturally. While it might grow into a close bond that involves regular dinner and coffee meet-ups, mentors can also be more casual acquaintances to contact only sporadically. Both options can work, but be prepared to let the mentor decide the terms.

Whether the mentorship is ongoing or occasional, look for great personal qualities, not just big titles. Valuable mentors are honest, transparent, giving, and reliable. As you approach people and ask them for guidance, keep some of these bedrock traits in mind.

Ask in ways they can’t refuse.

Modern life can be a pressure cooker, as people juggle families and nonstop work. To increase your chances of landing a reliable mentor, find ways to reduce the pressure.

Pinpoint specific areas that don’t require huge time commitments. Show enthusiasm and gratitude to the potential mentor, and never be pushy. Let relationships develop, while subtly staying on top of contacting them and meeting up regularly.

Flexibility is good too. Many people won’t want to commit to dinner or even coffee, but are happy to offer valuable advice—as long it’s quick. Consider mentors you can email with quick questions and count on for timely, on-target replies.

Or, find a mentor who is also running a small business. As long as you’re not direct competitors, a peer can be great for sharing tactics for expanding the business. These mutually beneficial relationships can also be the most lasting.

The mad scramble to get up and profitably running is behind you. For your next steps in this incredible journey, find a mentor to help troubleshoot problems and steer you in the right direction.

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