What is a Mentor? Why Do You Need One?
Young entrepreneurs are, by their very nature, bright and ambitious go-getters. The Kantner Foundation respects all the hard work you put into everything you do: school, community, sports, and your business. However, starting an enterprise from scratch, no matter how much research you do, isn’t easy.
There are common mistakes that nearly every entrepreneur makes when they are starting out. A mentor is someone who has been in your field for a while and already knows the ups and downs you will likely face. While no one doubts how creative and smart you are, a mentor has the advantage of age and time.
Even more than experience, a mentor can help you network and make connections, things every young entrepreneur needs. Statistically, having a mentor is more likely to help your business succeed than not having one.
Qualities to Look for in a Mentor
Just because someone has been successful in your field for years does not mean they will make a good mentor. A good mentor is a friend, coach, and teacher, someone with solid instincts and good observational skills. Not only will they teach you the hard business skills you need, but they will help you apply what they know to your unique situation. This isn’t private tutoring; it’s someone taking you under their wing and helping you learn, grow, and succeed.
Here are some qualities of a good mentor:
- Does not charge a fee
- Has proven success in their field
- Listens to your questions
- Treats you as an individual
- Makes time for you
- Offers good advice and constructive criticism
You may already know someone at school who would make a good mentor: a teacher or administrator with whom you have a positive relationship. Below are some other places to look for a mentor, as well as ways of approaching a potential mentor.
Online Mentoring Partnerships
The mission of the site SCORE.org is to help “small businesses get off the ground, grow and achieve their goals through education and mentorship.” Their website has a great big button on the top left that clearly says, “FIND A MENTOR.” Click on that to find a SCORE office near you, or to find an online mentor.
The site MicroMentor.org is a similar mentor-entrepreneur matching service. You can even ask questions directly on the website and sort answers by industry, country, and expertise.
If you haven’t already, consider joining the Future Business Leaders of America. Part of their program is allowing students entrepreneurs to network with “accomplished business professionals.”
The best part about using an online mentorship service is that most of the hard work is done for you: many of these mentors have already been vetted and probably have experience in mentorship. There is no cold approach and a smaller chance of being told “no.”
Volunteering not only adds shine to your resume and college application, but it also makes you feel good about yourself – and it’s a fantastic way to meet a potential mentor. Nearly every field you might imagine has fundraisers and other charity events, such as 5K runs, walk-a-thons, dinners, and auctions.
Besides participating in these events, volunteering to help “behind the scenes” can put you in direct contact with people in your field who have the experience you need in a mentor. There are always things that need to be done to pull off a successful fundraising event; you don’t necessarily have to make cold calls or go door-to-door. From brainstorming to clean-up, there is something you can do to help your favorite charity raise money…and meet some quality people in your field at the same time.
Finding a potential mentor at one of these events works in your favor by showing, in person, how bright and hardworking you are. Mentors already see what you can do and know your value.
Family and Friends
This is probably the easiest way to find a mentor because they are built-in to your personal network. Perhaps a kind and successful friend of your parents has inspired the field you’ve chosen to enter. Maybe your favorite aunt constantly wins community awards for her outstanding work as a cardiologist, and you want to pursue biotechnology.
Before approaching one of the adults in your life to mentor you, try to imagine working together professionally. The potential downside of getting a mentor this way is that the person might say no; make sure you are emotionally strong enough to cope with the rejection without taking it personally or letting it ruin the future of your relationship with this person.
Your Local University
A nearby college or university can provide all kinds of mentors: professors, grad students, undergrad seniors, recent graduates. All of these people are a buffet of untapped mentorship potential because they are right there in the thick of it and can remember exactly what it was like to be in your position. Many of them probably had mentors themselves and are anxious to “pay it forward.” Recent grads who have started a business close to school, in your town, might need interns to help out and are glad to offer one-on-one mentorship in return.
The potential downside of this route is that you will have to cold approach your mentor. This article presents an email template and advice on cold approaching potential mentors, including questions to ask and how to prepare for an initial conversation.
Your Current School and Alumni Network
If you are lucky enough to attend a high school that offers classes in entrepreneurship, finance, or business, your teacher might be a good fit for mentorship. Of course, every other student in your class may want your teacher to mentor them, but it’s worth keeping this idea on the table. Your teacher already knows you well, knows your strengths, and where you need the most help. They are familiar with your work style and home life.
The world is full of successful individuals who publicly thank a particular teacher for guiding them along their path. Why not you and your teacher? At worst, asking your teacher for one-on-one mentorship might result in them saying no because they can’t show favoritism, already mentor a student, or any other reason. At best, you have the perfect mentor built-in to your regular school day.
Check your school’s alumni network, too. There could be recent graduates who have gone into your chosen field, and your school connection is the perfect opening for approaching them. If they now attend your chosen college, even better!
Finding the right mentor for yourself could take some time. You may have to “try on” a few mentors before you find one that truly fits you. But it’s an important part of being a young entrepreneur, and down the road, you’ll have a mental template for mentoring the next up and coming star in your field.
Are you a Florida-based young entrepreneur looking for a college scholarship? Click here to learn more about how the Kantner Foundation can help you!