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What to Look for in a Mentor and Where to Find One

Keith Shields

Keith Shields

Partner at Designli
Keith Shields is a partner with Designli, a digital product studio that helps both entrepreneurs and startup-minded businesses launch problem-solving apps and web apps. Designli's proprietary SolutionLab process brings new customers from a simple concept to a fully defined, designed, and prototyped "project blueprint" that is entirely development ready - all within 30 days.
Keith Shields

When you’re a new entrepreneur launching a business, you may find yourself inexperienced in a few areas. The most effective way to overcome this deficit quickly is by finding a mentor — someone who has the experience of starting and running their own company and is familiar with what skills, mindsets and tools are useful; as well as what pitfalls to avoid.


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Here’s how to find the right mentor for you as you embark on your entrepreneurial journey:

Why a mentor is beneficial

A mentor can help navigate the rocky waters of starting a business. This person has similar experience and knows the specific issues you face.

Drawing on his or her experience, your mentor can advise you on what it takes to be an effective leader, including when to push forward and when to pivot. Though they will not have all of the specific answers for your business, they can help to provide valuable insight and point you in the right direction. They can help you apply your own strengths, goals and passion to your business.

A mentor can also help you determine what relationships are required along your journey. In some cases, they may be able to provide introductions. Building solid relationships with the right people can greatly impact your success as an entrepreneur.


Related: How Smart, Strategic Networking Can Transform Your Business During a Crisis

What to look for in a mentor

Finding the right mentor may seem like a daunting task when your plate is already overflowing. There’s a lot to consider for this important role, as this person will act as your guide, advisor and advocate.

Someone who has “been there, done that”

Seek a mentor in someone who has gone through the entrepreneurial ropes and come out successfully.

For example, one important thing you will do as a founder is build a team. This core group of people forms the backbone of your startup and will carry out your vision. What do you look for when building your team? What traits, experience and skills are needed in each role, and how do you structure your startup to maximize the skills of your team members?

Someone who has been through this process before can help you create the organizational structure that will work best for your business. They can then provide guidance as to what to look for when you’re building your team.

A person who will challenge you

In addition to providing valuable guidance and coaching, a mentor will also provide a new way of thinking. They will ask you tough questions and will hold you accountable for results.

You don’t necessarily want a mentor to act as a cheerleader, but someone who will encourage you while asking the tough questions when needed. This person should help you set deadlines with actionable goals. Of course, you want someone who you can work well with, but you also want someone who will motivate you.

A specific skill set

When looking for a mentor, you may also want to seek someone with complementary skills in addition to prior experience and a good business sense. Your mentor can bring his or her complementary skills and knowledge to the table. A mentor who has a background that complements yours can better assist you when it comes to learning about your field.


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Where to find a mentor

Finding a mentor can be challenging, as you’re looking for the right mix of experience, knowledge, personality and willingness.

First, start with your existing network. Take inventory of those around you and reach out to a few people to get their suggestions. Another place to look for mentors is through indirect competitors, such as those companies that are in the same industry as you, but that target a different market segment. Look to connect with these individuals at conferences, industry expos and speaking events (and for now, during the pandemic, you can continue to do this through virtual events).

Additionally, organizations specifically designed for small businesses and startups can be incredibly helpful with mentorship.

Consider the following:

  • Your local SCORE chapter
  • A Small Business Development Center (SBDC)
  • An independent organization that provides expertise, advice and resources to small businesses and entrepreneurs
  • Startup incubators or organizations in your area

Finding a mentor can be challenging, but as a novice entrepreneur, it’s a worthy endeavor. A mentor can be one of the best ways to grow your business into a successful venture.

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