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The Right Mentor Can Help Make Your Startup Successful. Here's How to Find One.

Right mentor.

Starting a business is a calculated risk. According to recent government data, only about half of all new enterprises remain operational after five years. The longer you remain open for business, the more your odds of succeeding over the long-term improve.

Given this rate of attrition, it's imperative for new business owners to take early measures to improve the viability of their startup. Finding a qualified mentor is an important step you can take.

Why mentorship is critical for success

Business success depends on many factors, but two important ones are judgment and relationships. Money isn't the only reason why young companies compete for the attention of investors; the professional connections these partners have is often leveraged to strike favorable deals, while the wisdom veteran investors have helps young companies develop the right strategic goals.

Mentors can also help fill these key roles. Mentoring has been shown to have a measurably positive effect in a variety of areas, including motivation, relationships, health and career outcomes. These favorable effects are particularly pronounced in workplace and academic settings. One example: A study of the tech industry indicated that access to high-quality mentorship is a powerful predictor of subsequent business success.

While these benefits are quite pronounced, founders should be cognizant that mentorship alone isn't enough to provide a competitive edge. New businesses need the right mentors -- those with high-level industry experience, contacts, expertise and -- importantly -- a willingness to spend the time and energy a true mentor/mentee relationship requires. That means that identifying and connecting with the appropriate person is the first step toward developing a mutually-agreeable mentoring relationship.

How to find the right mentor

The best mentors are typically in high demand, and many of them have very limited free time. That doesn't mean that developing a relationship is too difficult to make the pursuit worthwhile. Consider employing some of the tactics listed below to get your mentor search kick-started:

  • Comb through your own networks. A pre-existing relationship is perhaps the best way to get the attention of a busy mentor, so draw up a list of potential candidates from schools, charitable or civic organizations, industry groups, etc.
  • Ask for a referral. The next best thing to a direct relationship is a referral from someone who knows your prospective mentor.
  • Seek help from specialists. Outside groups such as MicroMentor or the non-profit advisory firm SCORE help connect mentors with entrepreneurs.
  • Make sure your mentor is appropriate for your career station. If you're fresh out of business school, a Fortune 500 C-suite executive is likely not the best choice. Find someone who was in your position in the not too distant past to help you take the next step.
  • Ensure the chemistry is right. If you want to get the most out of this relationship, establishing rapport is important. People who collaborate closely on a voluntary basis should enjoy spending time together.
  • Supplement with your own reading. Sometimes the best business lessons are drawn from published material. Reviewing TED talks or educational programs can help you derive key insights from prominent business thinkers.

The takeaway

The right mentor can offer critical help when turbulence inevitably strikes a new business, and can provide valuable strategic advice to foster growth. By following some of the tips above, you may find the mentor who is perfect for your needs.


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