Businesswoman communicates with younger businessman carefully look at laptop screen.
New entrepreneurs often hear they should find a business mentor, but this is often easier said than done. You can begin in your current network, then expand into organizations. — Getty Images/fizkes

As a business owner, you can’t solely rely on what you learned in the past to help you move forward in the future. Seeking the expertise of a business mentor can help you avoid common mistakes and hone in on your goals.

Here’s what you need to know about business mentors and how to find the right one for you.

What is a business mentor?

Business mentors are successful, experienced industry leaders who can offer guidance as you grow your business. Unlike business consultants, which you may consider for a particular business problem or project, a business mentor is someone you develop a relationship with over time.

Some mentors may offer broad advice, such as whether a degree or specialization could advance your business, what suppliers can be trusted, or hiring methods they rely on. Others may relate to specific aspects of your experience, like coming from similar backgrounds or going to the same school.

How entrepreneurs can benefit from business mentors

Entrepreneurs are likely used to doing things on their own — individual thinking and standing apart from the crowd are common characteristics in those building a business. However, working with a mentor can offer you additional insight and advice to help you meet your goals.

Some benefits of having a business mentor include:

  • Learning from someone else’s mistakes. Mentors share their experiences with you, pointing out common mistakes or where people can go wrong. You can save money and time by avoiding the mistakes others have made.
  • Expanding your network. Your mentor can connect you with new contacts to develop your reputation in the industry, expand your client base, or perform necessary maintenance on your business.
  • Having someone in your corner. Being the boss has its benefits, but it also means you’re often alone. The right mentor can offer you insight when making major decisions or even hold you accountable for growing your business.

[Read more: Execs From Hershey’s to Microsoft Reveal Their Mentors’ Best Advice]

6 places to find a business mentor

If you think a mentor could benefit you and your business, there are a variety of places you can search for possible matches.

Start with your current network first

Most people overlook the connections they already have. If you graduated from college, participated in any internship program, or worked a full-time job, you probably have more professional connections than you realize.

Start by reaching out to the alumni network at your college. They may be able to connect you with potential mentors. Or, if you keep in touch with any of your professors, you might also reach out to them.

If it’s been a while since you’ve attended college, you might consider reaching out to your professional network and letting them know what you’re doing. You never know who they may be able to introduce you to.

You never want to start by asking someone to mentor you. Focus on building the relationship and getting to know them first.

Find a mentor through SCORE

If you want to find a free business mentor, then you should check out SCORE. This organization can connect you with a qualified business mentor to help you navigate the early stages of building your business.

Your SCORE mentor can help you:

  • Create a business plan.
  • Determine which business ideas to pursue.
  • Recommend proven business tools.
  • Provide practical business advice.

To get started, you can browse through the mentor profiles on SCORE’s website. Or you can answer a few questions and let SCORE match you with a mentor.

Check your local Small Business Development Center (SBDC)

Over 1,000 Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs) are located across the United States and provide businesses with the support and tools they need. These centers are typically hosted by universities and private organizations and are funded by Congress through a partnership with the Small Business Administration (SBA).

To get started, you can find your local SBDC. From there, you can receive free business consulting and training.

[Read more: What is a Small Business Development Center?]

Attend meetups and networking events

Attending live events or connecting with people online can help you find the right business mentor. Many towns, universities, and business associations will host networking events for small business owners. Twitter and LinkedIn are also excellent resources to connect with other business owners and learn about online conferences and events.

Join an incubator or accelerator

Joining an incubator or accelerator is a great way to connect with more experienced entrepreneurs. An incubator typically supports startups in the early stages of building their businesses. You’ll often share a workspace with other business owners for 12 months or more. You’ll receive mentorship and help to build a Minimum Viable Product (MVP). Before joining an incubator, talk to other members who attended the program about their results.

An accelerator helps more established businesses accelerate their growth. To join this type of program, you’ll need to apply and demonstrate a certain level of growth. These programs typically last a few months and often include training, mentorship, and potential funding.

Before applying to a business incubator or accelerator, research different offerings to find the best option for you, and make sure you can invest the time needed to complete the intensive process.

Join a professional networking association

Finally, you may be able to find a mentor by joining a professional networking association within your industry. For example, marketing professionals can join the American Marketing Association (AMA) to connect with other marketers in their area.

You can also join your local Chamber of Commerce or other local business groups. Once you get involved and start meeting people, look for someone who has achieved what you’re looking to achieve. However, you never want to start by asking someone to mentor you. Focus on building the relationship and getting to know them first.

[Read more: Networking With Other Entrepreneurs: Why It Matters and How to Do It Right]

Qualities to look for in a business mentor

Even if you admire someone or they excel in their field, they may not be the right mentor for you. A strong candidate for a business mentor will have the following qualities:

  • Similar values. Find someone who has a similar approach to business to you. For example, if your mentor prioritizes business growth over everything else, they may not be able to adequately guide you in pursuing a healthy work-life balance.
  • Direct and respectful communication. The right mentor can tell you difficult things without being cruel. They will be a good listener who values what you have to say.
  • Experience and knowledge. Of course, your business mentor should have expertise to draw on and share with you. Someone at a similar or earlier stage in their business development may not be able to offer you experienced guidance.

How to build a relationship with your business mentor

Once you find the right mentor, you’ll want to build a genuine relationship with them. Here are some steps you can take to help:

  • Set expectations from the start. The best way to avoid confusion is to get on the same page right away. Communicate your goals and objectives for the relationship early so your mentor knows what to expect.
  • Schedule regular check-ins. With the many responsibilities you have to your business and your personal life, it’s easy to let things fall by the wayside. Use reminders or schedule emails ahead of time to catch up with your mentor.
  • Utilize different methods of communication. You can keep in touch through social media, email, phone calls, and in-person meetings. On a personal level, sending a thoughtful article or a card is a great way to strengthen your relationship.
  • Regularly assess the relationship. Review the goals you set up in the beginning and make sure you are continuously moving towards them. Adjust when necessary, and don’t be afraid to update your goals or find new mentors as needed.

This article was originally written by Jamie Johnson.

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