How valuable is to learn from others' experiences?
I'd say that entrepreneur mentor's experiences are highly valuable for you and your business. As a popular Spanish adage says: The devil knows more because he's old than because he's the devil.
What's an entrepreneur mentor?
A mentor usually means different things to people according what their needs are. Some people say a mentor is somebody with the right connections that can help your business grow. Other says a mentor is somebody with a widely technical experience.
While a mentor can have connections, technical knowledge, acquaintances and many other characteristics; what distinguishes them is that they are willing to help others like you to succeed and have the specific experience you lack.
Therefore, before to start looking for help you have to (as always) analyze your situation and ask sincerely what you need help with.
If you're looking for specific technical experience maybe you aren't looking for a mentor (yet), you're looking for an advisor (which can be part of your team). Of course an advisor can become your mentor in the future too.
How to find an entrepreneur mentor?
As mentioned above your mentor should be somebody who has useful experience for your needs and purposes. You shouldn't for instance look for a mentor with experience in engineering if your business is related to retail sales because that experience will be useless with the specific problems your business carries.
You want someone who has started at least one business in the industry that interests you and who has made many of the mistakes you hope to avoid. Be smart and make your own original mistakes, not other's.
Finding a mentor can be a long process but here's a list of things you can start with:
- Think about your objectives and what you specifically need from a mentor.
- Devote some time of your schedule to network with other people. For instance:
- Go to luncheons, seminars, talks and conferences
- Join your local chamber of commerce and attend their meetings
- Make a list of successful people in your community that you admire. Always considering your objectives.
- Investigate what kind of associations or meetings s/he usually attend or if s/he gives some courses.
- Attend those and other meetings of your interest.
- According what you see and hear evaluate again if that candidate is your ideal mentor.
- If you can, ask some questions to your candidate. This way s/he will know you too.
- If you're convinced or if you want more, approach your candidate after the meeting, have a nice and informal chat (I wouldn't mention nothing about my purposes yet, but is opt to you) and ask s/he to lunch another day.
- Continue building that and other relationships.
- Repeat the process again, again and again.
As you saw, finding an entrepreneur mentor shouldn't be a task itself but a normal and natural process of human relationships, as natural as find a closely friend. Therefore don't force any relationship with a person you think is a potential mentor, let that relationship develop over time.
As you meet and work with many different people you'll create an important and valuable network where a mentor can arise eventually.
Should you give something back?
Usually an entrepreneur mentor won't charge you anything, after all is a successful person and want to give something back to his/er community right?
But even if this is the case of your potential candidate you should ask yourself: why is s/he going to spend time teaching me?
This is a tough question that should be answered before to ask somebody to mentor you. Money? s/he doesn't need it and probably you don't have enough.
What about your time? Time is gold and you can think (before hand) how this person can use your time and offer it in exchange. You might simply offer to do something for him/er too.
Also, think about some special skills you have that might be useful for your mentor and offer it.
As you've seen finding an entrepreneur mentor isn't always easy but you have to be patient and network with many people.
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