Advice and support from someone who knows the ropes can be invaluable for entrepreneurs at any stage in their business.
Aisha Tejani, coordinator of MentorshipBC, a resource organization for small business owners, offers guidance on managing the mentor relationship
1. Look in all the right places: You can find a mentor informally—a teacher, family friend, manager or business contact—but there are also more than 50 formal mentorship programs for small business owners in B.C. “The key is to connect with a person who will find it a beneficial experience to support you,” says Tejani. Some mentorship programs are free while others charge a fee. Programs listed with MentorshipBC involve one-on-one mentor matching for a defined period.
2. What about your needs? “I would tell the person to write down all their criteria and then find a program based on that,” says Tejani. For example, you can choose a program specifically for women or specifically for your industry, one based on how much you want to pay, or whether you want a loan and mentorship or just mentorship.
3. Clarify expectations: Set expectations in the beginning of your mentoring relationship so you both understand your roles, says Tejani. Discuss what you both expect from the relationship, the duration and frequency of meetings, how you will communicate between meetings (email, text or phone) and how you will hold yourself accountable to your mentor.
4. Communication is key: Lack of communication is a top reason that mentoring relationships fail, says Tejani. Aim to meet with your mentor once a week or at least monthly. Before each meeting, write an agenda to define your goals and questions; afterward, send a recap email to your mentor outlining the advice you received and steps you will take to complete your goals. Set quarterly meetings to discuss what is working well and what can be improved.
5. It's not all about you: Mentorship is a two-way relationship. Mentors gain fulfilment from seeing their mentees succeed, notes Tejani. Find specific ways in which your mentor helps your business and send your mentor a thank you note. You can also help your mentor by introducing him or her to beneficial business contacts or by offering your advice in areas of expertise that your mentor may be missing.