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Business Mentoring

Get the basics on business mentoring.

A business mentor can be a wonderful source of professional advice and information. [©Shutterstock, 2010]
©Shutterstock, 2010
A business mentor can be a wonderful source of professional advice and information.

Business mentoring helps less-experienced professionals learn the ropes of their jobs and avoid career pitfalls. A mentoring relationship can take different forms, though the most successful ones are developed over the course of many years. As Entrepreneur magazine points out, many seasoned professionals are willing to offer informal advice over lunch or at a party that can be invaluable to up-and-comers looking to get ahead. Few can resist sharing their knowledge when approached politely and asked the right questions.

Business Mentoring Basics

True mentors are something more than sources of information: They are role models that help shape careers. They meet with protégés regularly to monitor their progress, hear their concerns and help them navigate critical decisions. Most importantly, mentors care about the people they advise -- otherwise, they would have no impetus to help them succeed.

Many mentors report that they get more from mentoring than the simple satisfaction of watching a person develop in a career; in today's fast-changing market, young professionals can actually teach their mentors new skills and broaden their perspectives.

Many businesses pair new hires with experienced hands within the company and have them meet at least once a quarter. These programs can help cultivate a culture of loyalty among employees as they learn their way around. However, the most effective mentor relationships have an element of informality; ideally, a mentor would be available far more often than once every three months. Both parties must be committed to the arrangement in order for it to be fruitful.

Finding a Mentor

It is important that those seeking mentors remember to find someone who is more than just an experienced or successful businessperson. In simple terms, the right mentor is someone who has been where the mentee wants to go. For example, a legendary corporate lawyer has little to offer a young entrepreneur. Likewise, a person who founded an energy company might not be the greatest source of inspiration to someone who wants to start a furniture business.

Inc. advises those seeking mentors to be open to developing relationships with peers and receiving advice from multiple people who bring different perspectives to the situation. For instance, one advisor might have excellent information to offer about sales and marketing, while another might give excellent advice on dealing with banks.

Of course, there are exceptions, but the process of finding potential mentors and developing the relationship usually takes patience and persistence. To make the process easier, there are organizations founded with the express purpose of helping businesspeople find mentors, such as SCORE, a partner of the U.S. Small Business Administration. There are even firms that provide mentoring services for a fee. Alternatively, seekers can make a list of people in their industry that they admire and seek them out for advice.

Starting a Business Mentoring Relationship

Though mentors can be a vital source of support, the relationship rarely begins with the direct request, "Will you be my mentor?" The most effective track may be for business people to attend events where they might meet potential advisors and let relationships develop from there. Many have met mentors at Rotary clubs, seminars and networking events organized by industry associations. By taking the initiative to introduce themselves to people and ask smart questions, people just starting out show they are hungry to learn.

Dynamics of the Business Mentoring Relationship

Trust is an important component of the mentor/protégé dynamic. Protégés need to know that the mentor is there to help, but mentors will rarely put a lot of energy into helping unless they know their protégés are serious about growing businesses or developing careers. Although it can be difficult for both parties to find enough time to have fruitful discussions, this is the key to developing a successful relationship.

Mentees should be aware that an advisor's time is valuable, and should treat it as such by coming to meetings prepared with a pen and paper or a recording device to take notes. They should also spend some time organizing their thoughts to get the most from the experience. By isolating short-term problems, mentees can find effective ways to further long-term goals.

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