Summer 2016 was a tough year for my content business.
I was 25, living back at my parent’s house for the first time since college, and looking for my place in the world.
I was writing articles off Upwork for scraps and working nights at a bar to make ends meet. Living paycheck to paycheck, trying to pay back student loans, and yes, my mom was making me breakfast again for the first time in six years.
I made a pact with myself that this would be the last time I came back home. The nine to five life was not for me. I would make it as an online entrepreneur, whether it was dropshipping, writing, or creating.
Picking gigs off of Upwork wasn’t working for me anymore, and I knew I could do more with myself. If only there was someone who could show me the ropes.
It wasn’t until I met Steve Berry, founder of UX studio Thought Merchants, that my career path changed for the better.
After pitching for his gig on Craigslist (2016 was a different time), we connected over the phone (see what I mean?) and he took my inexperienced self under his wing, both as a client and mentor.
Steve was someone I wanted to be like. He was smart and motivated, worked with big brands like Casper and Harry’s, and went surfing during the “workday,” which I got to experience during an on-site in Los Angeles.
He helped me discover my true talent. He helped me navigate the world of remote work and tech, and if it wasn’t for his mentorship, I wouldn’t be where I am today. The business and network I’ve built since sitting on my mom’s porch are due in large part to Steve’s mentorship.
Needless to say, the right mentor can make a huge impact on your life. They advocate for you and prepare you for the world. They help you grow and are there to support you during low times.
At some point, they were in the same spot as anyone just starting out: unsure how to navigate the hurdles before them, looking up to someone who was somewhere that they wanted to be.
These people who have “been there and done that” offer one of the most understated resources entrepreneurs can benefit from: mentorship.
A good mentor can help you avoid common mistakes early on, solve troublesome problems, and offer up valuable connections and advice while helping you realize your full potential as a person.
This article will cover:
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What is a business mentor?
A mentor is someone who has the priceless experience that you don’t have yet; who has made all the necessary mistakes on the road to success, learned from them, and is willing to pass on those lessons to you.
A mentor doesn’t just have a good grasp of the specific knowledge you need to succeed, like how to create better Facebook ads or how to bring a product to market. They also possess an intuition developed over the course of many years doing what you hope to do, and their knowledge can help you confirm, abandon, or shape some of your own business instincts.
A mentor helps you find your best self faster than time alone would allow.
Mentorship occurs naturally in nearly every field. But in the world of business, especially, you’d be hard-pressed to find a success story that didn’t involve a mentor or three along the way:
- Warren Buffett credits Benjamin Graham with helping to shape him into a savvy investor.
- Richard Branson says his uncle Jim taught him how to harness his eccentricity into entrepreneurial endeavors.
- Oprah Winfrey recognizes the influence that poet Maya Angelou had on her, not just through her writing, but as a friend and mentor.
In fact, according to a survey of over 180 business owners conducted by UPS, 70% of the entrepreneurs that underwent mentoring had businesses that survived for five or more years. That’s double the rate of businesses that didn’t have the advantage of a mentor. According to data compiled by the National Mentoring Day organization, 55% of businesses also feel that mentoring has a positive impact on their profits.
Perhaps most important to note is that a mentor isn’t a consultant. A true mentor won’t charge you a fee for their advice. Nor will they do the work for you. A mentor, in an ideal situation, becomes a valuable friend. They see you as a good investment of their time because they see value in you as a person, and vice versa.
That’s because mentorship is part of a cycle of good karma that involves giving back to those who would walk a similar path because someone did the same for you.
Anyone who’s achieved some success in life will likely reflect on their journey and wish they knew back then what they know now. And while time traveling is off the table, imparting those experiences and lessons to the next generation is a nice alternative.
Qualities of a good mentor
When you’re looking for the perfect mentor for your startup or to reach specific career goals, there are a few traits you’ll want to consider.
- Is a good listener. A trusted adviser should be a good listener. It would be hard to give you guidance without listening to your entrepreneurial challenges. Good mentors know the balance between listening and giving the right advice during a mentoring session.
- Questions everything. My mentor, Steve, was constantly challenging me by questioning my thoughts and statements. It was kind of annoying sometimes. But little did I know he was showing me the right way to think outside the box and become a good mentee.
- Is willing to share skills and expertise. A good mentorship relationship should be honest and transparent. Look for a mentor that treats the engagement as a two-way street, with both of you sharing knowledge, experiences, and skill sets.
- Takes an interest in your professional and personal development. A good mentor doesn’t need to know everything about your personal life, but they should help you set goals in life and tie them into your profession.
“Everyone needs a mentor in their career, just like you want friends that inspire and support you in your everyday life,” says Trilce Jiron. “Most people think you should follow a mentor in their footsteps, and that’s just not true. Your method is your own.
“Find a mentor who is constant in your life and can give you advice on things you’re not good at,” she adds. “I’m horrible with business administration and finances, so I found a mentor who guides me through those topics each week.”
7 places to find a good mentor
There are a ton of different ways to go about finding a good mentor. If you’re lucky, you’ll find one or two over the natural course of your life’s journey. But if not, you can hopefully find one with the experience you can tap into in one of the following ways.
1. Get to know experienced entrepreneurs at meetups
The internet has done a great job of drawing passionate people with shared interests into online and offline networking events. You can find these events on sites like Meetup or Eventbrite and sign up for the ones that are relevant to you. Be sure to check out these networking tips before you attend.
2. Hop on a Clarity call
While Clarity isn’t exactly a mentorship platform (you have to pay to speak with these mentors), it does offer on-demand consultant calls with experienced professionals and entrepreneurs.
It breaks experts out into specific areas of business (business development or pitching to investors) for focused phone calls that cost anywhere from $1 to $10 a minute.
There’s also a place where you can post your questions and get answers from knowledgeable entrepreneurs, similar to Quora.
3. Look in forums and online communities
There are also plenty of online communities for experienced and new entrepreneurs to talk about their businesses. These forums are a good place to seek out mentors directly, as long as your post communicates your promise as an entrepreneur and you put yourself out there in the right places.
Reddit is home to all manner of subreddits where you can look for mentors, including r/entrepreneur or r/smallbusiness. Do a search for “mentor” in these subreddits for examples of how others have asked about mentorship opportunities in the past.
If you’re a Shopify store owner, there are also plenty of Facebook groups you can join to ask for feedback or casual mentorship, including:
Be wary of any offers you find through these channels. Sometimes they’re consultants who only want to offer you paid services. Other times, they might not be as experienced as the image they like to project.
But I have seen fruitful mentoring relationships come out of asking questions or for feedback in these places.
4. Connect with potential mentors on LinkedIn
LinkedIn should be a fairly obvious avenue for connecting with potential mentors. With more than 774 million members in more than 200 countries and territories, you’re bound to find a potential business mentor.
LinkedIn profiles let you search for specific skills or experience that you’d want in a mentor. If you find someone you like, you can reach out to them directly with a connection request, even if you don’t have their email.
Try searching for mentors through hashtags like:
These hashtags will keep you informed about mentorship opportunities. You can even follow the hashtag to stay up to date on the latest posts and motivational quotes from groups and people.
5. Find mentors on Twitter
Similar to LinkedIn, you can find potential mentors on Twitter. The social media platform has half the amount of users as LinkedIn, around 300 million, but is still a great place to start conversations with industry leaders.
If you have a Twitter profile already, look first at the people you follow. Who is your role model? Who do you want to learn from? Send a direct message to their inbox and ask if they’d be interested in mentoring you.
Don’t have a profile just yet? No worries. You could also browse hashtags like #MentoringMonday, #mentors, or #mentorshipmatters to find mentorship opportunities.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re an experienced mom entrepreneur or a first-time store owner, you can find a good mentor on Twitter.
6. Form a mastermind group
Entrepreneurship can be a lonely adventure of lifelong learning, but with a mastermind group, it doesn’t have to be.
A mastermind group is a form of peer mentorship. It’s an ongoing support group of like-minded people working on their own projects while helping each other out, sharing experience and talent, and keeping each other on track with regular meetings.
To learn more about forming your own mastermind group, be sure to check out our article on the topic.
7. Find a volunteer mentor on SCORE
SCORE matches you with an experienced mentor to receive free advice for your business, in person or online. Many are successful small business entrepreneurs themselves, openly sharing their real-world experiences and knowledge to help you run your business.
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Tips for finding the right business mentor
Mentorships are formed in all kinds of ways—there’s no single method to follow.
However, a mentor should ideally be someone whose work or career you genuinely admire. The mentor-mentee relationship, after all, needs to be built on mutual respect.
A great mentor:
- Has a visible, verifiable track record of success in the area you want to grow in
- Is open, friendly, and appreciates curiosity
- Is passionate about their field and craft (this often translates into a desire to teach)
- Has a great work-life balance and can spare a few moments to chat with you on a regular basis
- Is thoughtful and considerate and doesn’t make up assured answers to questions just to appear knowledgeable
- Has been mentored in the past and understands how valuable mentorship is to someone who’s just starting out
Many mentor relationships happen organically, starting off as friends, colleagues or teachers. Sometimes the mentor sees potential and promise in a mentee and believes it’s worthwhile to cultivate it by offering advice or a sounding board for their ideas. Sometimes, the mentee has to actively seek out the experience and advice of the mentor.
But it’s also possible, through networking and cold outreach, to forge these relationships from scratch yourself.
Using cold outreach to find a mentor
Cold emailing or messaging is a good way to network, create partnerships, and develop your business. But it’s also a good way to seek out advice from experienced strangers.
Here’s a template you can adapt that’s based on cold emails that have both worked for me (looking for career advice) and on me (people asking me for career advice).
Hi [FIRST NAME]!
I stumbled across your profile on [WHERE YOU FOUND THEM] while I was doing some research into [WHAT YOU WANT TO DO]. I really liked [COOL WORK THEY DID].
I’m looking to [YOUR GOALS AND WHAT YOU’RE DOING NOW TO ACHIEVE THEM] and would love to learn more about how you [WHAT THEY’VE DONE].
If you have some time this week, even if it’s for 15 minutes over a Zoom or phone call, I’d love to meet you.
Have a great week!
Ideally, you’ll want to get some face time with a potential mentor—whether it’s in person or over Zoom—so you can establish a better connection with them and show them that you’re serious about success.
Keep in mind that these people, due to their own success, likely have an inbox full of people asking them for things. So try to be as accommodating as possible.
Here are some tips for entering into your initial conversation with a potential mentor:
- Prepare a list of specific questions about both their story and your business.
- Start by telling them about yourself so they have context around your pursuits and your problems.
- Be conscious of their time and express your gratitude toward them (if you’re meeting them offline, offer to pay for the coffee, drinks, or food).
- Toward the end of the conversation, ask them if it would be OK if you stayed in touch or if you could shoot them questions if you ever have any.
But above all, get a sense of how much you can be yourself around your potential mentor. A good, lasting mentorship is built on a solid foundation of friendship and openness and a mutual interest in a particular field.
Maintaining a relationship with your mentor
One of the common misconceptions about mentorship is that the structure of a mentor and mentee relationship is like that of master and student (think Yoda and Luke Skywalker or Batman and Robin).
But that puts the responsibility on the teacher’s shoulders.
Instead, look for mentorship opportunities where friendship, honesty, and mutual respect can co-exist with a large gap in experience between you and your mentor.
According to Lois Zachary, author of The Mentee’s Guide:
“We’ve come a long way from the mentor as the sage on the stage. Rather, the mentor is the guide on the side that asks questions that take people to deeper places of insight. It’s a dance, it’s a partnership, and a mentor should not be giving the answers, they should be raising the questions and should be helping the mentees to seek answers to their own questions.”
Don’t expect your mentor to do anything for you or even show you how to do something (there’s Google for that). Instead, rely on your mentor to check your own gut, validate your work, and learn how to think about your problems.
When you’re learning, you’re not supposed to look good. Be vulnerable and be curious. Mentorship is all about asking questions.
Often, the most stupid thing about so-called “stupid questions” is not asking them.
It can be hard to gauge how much commitment you’ll get out of a potential mentor. Some will offer you a more structured relationship where you regularly meet to check in on how you’re both doing. Others will offer the occasional advice when you ask for it or help you out over a Google Chat when you get stuck.
Whatever the case, the relationship should be founded on friendship and a common passion. Don’t ask for too much from your mentor, but if you’d like a bit more structure, ask in a considerate manner that respects their time: “I get a lot of value out of these conversations. What do you think about making this a regular thing—maybe once a month?”
The opportunity to watch you grow and develop and realize your ambitions is the main reason a mentor will give you their time. But you should also try to offer them something in return—whether it’s to contribute one of your skills to their project or just to spread the word about their latest venture. Even a thank-you card or email is a nice token of appreciation.
Mentorship: a cycle of learning and giving back
There is no cutting corners when it comes to becoming an entrepreneur. You need to throw yourself into your problems and figure things out as you go. But you can accelerate your growth by finding a friend in a mentor, gaining access to free experience they already paid for themselves with time and effort.
You don’t need to rely on a single mentor either. As long as you’re curious and put yourself out there, you can learn from all kinds of people with different experiences that you don’t have yet.
Those who benefit from mentorship also tend to be compelled to give back. I’’e found this to be especially true within the Shopify community. Maybe you will too. And so the cycle continues with today’s entrepreneurs helping tomorrow’s see their own version of success.
Illustration by Mikyung Lee
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Finding a mentor FAQ
How do you find a good mentor?
- Meet experienced entrepreneurs through free meetups.
- Join a paid mentorship program.
- Ask around in forums and online communities.
- Connect with mentors on social media.
- Create a mastermind group.
Where can I find a mentor for free?
- Free mentoring programs
- Professional network events
- Online communities
What are some qualities that make a good mentor?
- Good listener
- A willingness to share skills and expertise
- Takes an interest in your professional and personal development
- Questions everything