How to find an informal mentor for your business

feature-informal-mentors-thumbBudding entrepreneurs can find a valuable mentor from a wide variety of sources, from investors to those met through networking events.


But some of the best mentors can be found where you least expect them – among family, friends and casual acquaintances.


Finding an informal mentor might sound relatively easy, particularly if you have plenty of family and friends willing to be your guiding light.


But is there more to an informal arrangement than meets the eye? And how do you ensure you’re getting the most out of it?


StartupSmart spoke to three experts to determine how every soloist should go about finding a brilliant but informal mentor:


1. Sourcing informal advice


Adam Levine, founder of Rockwell Group Holdings, says the source of informal mentorship is not as important as the mindset of the person you opt to have as your mentor.


“Whether or not your mentor is a family member, friend, colleague or someone completely external to your business sector, he or she must be positive, supportive and constructive in the advice they give you,” he says.


“Stay away from inherently negative people or those who are just naysayers.”

Michelle Rowan, a freelancer product manager and start-up generalist, isn’t a fan of using friends and family members as informal mentors because their advice is often biased.


“In addition, they often do not understand the context of the idea or understand your particular position, industry or role,” Rowan says.


“I usually start by asking my colleagues and/or ex-colleagues if they are able to assist or know of anyone who can.


“If I can’t find someone in my immediate network, I use a variety of methods, from targeted email introduction requests to social networks like LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook.”


Simon Dale, who works with start-ups in his role at business software provider SAP, says another way soloists can start is by doing a Google search on the experts in their industry.


“First and foremost should be the identification of someone who has ‘been there, done that’, aligned to what your objective is,” he says.


“I mentor a lot at SAP, and most people are looking at mentoring as a way to help get over challenges in either their business goals or career goals.


“In a small business context, finding someone who has that relevant experience is the first step.”


2. Structuring an informal arrangement


Dale says every soloist needs to determine whether the mentor they choose is in fact a good fit, before defining expectations on both sides in terms of duration, frequency, topic boundaries, etc.


These things should happen in the very first chat, he says.


“Once expectations are set, then it’s down to driving to agreed objectives/outcomes, and check-pointing at pre-agreed times such as quarterly or annual review points,” he says.


Rowan, meanwhile, stresses the importance of picking a convenient location and being prepared for meetings in advance.


“Pick a location that is easy for the mentor to get to, and make sure you have an agenda in mind for every meeting and be specific with your questions,” she says.


“The more thought you put into the meeting, the more you will get out of it.”


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