Written for the Female Ventures Blog by Anne Pleun van Eijsden
There’s no questioning that as a starting entrepreneur or business woman, you need help. However, sometimes it can be really difficult to know where to start when looking for a mentor.
When I started my business about three years ago, I knew from day one that I was not going to grow this company on my own. One of the most important traits you can have as an entrepreneur is knowing your own weaknesses because it helps you manoeuvre around pitfalls. The same holds true when you start a job at a new organisation. In both of these situations, a mentor can be of great help.
So where to start when finding a mentor? I’ll share with you my preferred way of approaching this. However, please be aware that this is also about finding your own path so feel free to shake things up a bit if you feel that’s relevant.
1. Identify in what areas of your profession you need help most (or, what aspects of the business are most important to get you through the valley of death).
To illustrate my point, for me this was pretty clear. Without a background in business, I needed at least one person to help me with basic business organisation and management skills. Since we offer a consumer product, it seemed relevant to find a mentor who’d done something similar: a sustainable design product brought to the market with success. I ended up asking Merijn from Dopper for his help and to this day I am super grateful for all of his advice.
2. When you’ve identified these areas in which you need help, start looking for people who can fit that need.
Start your search in your own online ‘rolodex’ of contacts or talk to business friends about who they’d think would be fitting to your needs. This seems pretty straight-forward but on this aspect don’t think too small and also don’t think too big. The best situation is the one where you can regularly meet your mentor(s) in person, so keep that in mind.
3. Start approaching them!
I could write a whole separate blog just about this topic (upon request I might, please let me know!), but here are a couple of suggestions on how to take this hurdle.
- Always remember: your desired mentor might be VERY busy. Very. So keep it short. Don’t send over your business plan immediately (or at all, up to your consideration)
- Don’t cold-email preferably. Look for a warm introduction, and don’t just call her/his secretary. One of the tactics I love most in business in general is finding a way to meet someone in person. Show her/him my product and get to talk a little. Events work great for this.Just look up where your mentor(s) are speaking or attending, and approach them during the event when you get the chance. This works wonders, in my experience. Move awayyyy from the desk (probably my favourite business credo).
4. ‘Seal the deal’
Not much of a deal to seal here, since you probably are wondering what YOU can offer in return. Well, most likely, joy. The feeling of helping others out is awesome! I like it very much myself. And I know from my mentors that this is the main reason for them to be helping my company in its current stage.
So my advice would be to make sure the mentor and you both know how this mentor/mentee relationship will work best. Set clear timeframes for when you will (or won’t) be in touch. For example, I meet some of my mentors every half a year, or even every year; others I call on a weekly basis. With each mentor, we are both aware of and have agreed to a particular dynamic. Make sure you are aligned planning-wise because you don’t want to become your mentors’ stalker…
This is part two of a four-part blog post series about mentors for starting entrepreneurs and business women. I very much welcome any feedback, requests for further tips or remarks in general. You can connect with me on LinkedIn or send me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org