Executive Education

3 Things You Need to Know When Vetting a Mentor

Charlotte DeMocker, co-founder and Chief Operating Officer at Penny
Charlotte DeMocker, co-founder and Chief Operating Officer at Penny

Did you know that according to a study from Kabbage,  92% of small businesses agree mentors have a direct impact on growth and the survival of their business?  A separate report revealed 84% of small businesses reach profitability in the first four years of their business, with 68% attaining profitability in the first year. The writing is on the wall, the early years of any business is a crucial make-or-break period and having the right mentor is vital to success.

In addition, of all respondents, 89% of small business owners that don’t have a mentor wish they did. This represents the 63% of businesses that do not currently have a mentor, highlighting a need among the entrepreneurship community to easily find and connect with others that can deliver actionable advice and value to a business.

Most people who hire a mentor meet them through a common friend or in a business community they belong to. So what happens when you don’t have access to these types of people? The good news is that it’s possible now to be connected to a mentor online, even if they are someone you would never cross paths with in normal life. However, you will have to do your due diligence to make sure that any potential mentor will be a good fit for you.

Here’s 3 Factors to Consider When Vetting a Mentor: 

  1. Can your mentor relate to your business and it’s challenges? Have they walked a mile in your shoes? A lot of people (including high-profile folks) are dishing out advice these days. However, generic messages like ‘don’t give up’ or ‘believe in yourself’ won’t really help your business. What will help you is speaking to someone who has experienced what you are going through – whether that be a liquidity crunch, problems building teams, legal issues, or getting a specific business license.Does
  2. your mentor ACTUALLY want to help you? Sure, anyone who is offering their services in theory wants to help. But how serious are they? If they just want to meet for coffee once every 3 months, and aren’t available when you have questions, the relationship won’t be valuable.

    Perhaps a more practical way to think about this is by asking yourself these questions:
    What’s in it for them?
    What incentive do they have to be invested in your success?
    What are they getting in return?

    Unless someone is a close friend or family member, it is unlikely that they are going to be *deeply* interested in your success simply out of the goodness of their hearts. Perhaps you should consider giving them a reason to be.

  3. Is finding the right mentor worth making a financial investment? Whether you’re just more comfortable paying a potential mentor, or you’re unable to find one organically, there are a lot of reasons why hiring a mentor can be a fantastic investment. First of all, you know that there is something in it for the mentor so they will make time for you, you can clearly lay out your expectations for the relationship ahead of time, and you are likely to take the relationship more seriously and apply advice your mentor gives you immediately to test the results.

Asking yourself these three questions will help you narrow down if a potential mentor is going to be right for you. There are going to be other considerations you want to make, depending on your business and goals. For example, do you want to hire a younger mentor? Someone who may have less hands-on experience, but a wide knowledge base of digital marketing and the information you need to take your business online. Or maybe you’re looking for a female mentor who has insight on overcoming gender stereotypes in your field?

The list goes on and on. Just remember the most important aspect of finding the right mentor is trusting your intuition. You’ll know it when you’ve found the right person.

Written by Charlotte DeMocker.

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Charlotte DeMocker
Charlotte DeMocker is co-founder and chief operating officer at Ascendr, a one-stop shop to get any question answered and get active mentorship on topics in small business, finance, career coaching, investing, or anything that is keeping you from getting ahead. She has written for Worth, Ms. Career Girl and CNBC.