How many times have you thought to yourself, “If only I knew then what I know now” when it came to making a major career decision or tackling a new challenge in your small business or startup venture? With experience comes wisdom, and that’s where a mentor can help. 

We’ve all had people we’ve looked up to in our lives and those who have taken the time to guide and teach us and help shape who we are today. Maybe it was a family member or close friend, a teacher, a coach, or some leader in the community. These influencers early in life were probably our first experience with mentors, even though they were probably not formally chosen for that role. 

Fast forward to today. You are running a small business, or maybe just starting one up. The idea of deliberately seeking out a mentor to help guide you may not have even occurred to you.

small business mentor with client

What Is a Business Mentor?

Traditionally a mentor is a businessperson who has been where you are already, has gained some relevant experience that is of value to you and is offering their time for free. You may even choose to have more than one mentor, depending on which areas of your professional knowledge or abilities you want to get feedback on or strengthen. 

 Another way of looking at a mentor is someone 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. Mentors can be great storytellers, and sometimes hearing about their biggest failures can be the most helpful information of all.

 Mentoring could take as basic a form as sitting with a professional for 20 minutes to discuss a challenge you are facing with your business, your suppliers, or your employees. Or even as little as simply exchanging a series of emails or messages about business recommendations. Or, mentoring could be as involved as weekly catch-up calls, meetings and coffee dates, job shadowing, and business feasibility and risk assessment planning. As you can probably already tell, mentoring is not a one-size-fits-all situation. Nevertheless, human connections are at the core of career development and innovation.


What Benefits Can Mentors Offer?

Working with a small business mentor can save you time because they’ve already been through a lot of ups and downs. They can be invaluable for small business owners because you often steer that ship alone and may not have anyone else to share ideas with or turn to for advice.

 Mentors can also hold you accountable (since you don’t have a boss giving you deadlines), provide encouragement, help you solve problems and keep you motivated. They could even give practical advice on setting up your business, reminding you to get small business insurance, and where to go for legal advice.


Is Mentoring the Same as Coaching?

While there is some overlap between mentoring and coaching, and both provide listening and guidance, mentors tend to be longer business relationships (often throughout one’s whole career).

 Mentors are often business owners themselves or leaders in a business you are interested in and generally are less structured for meetings and advice. Coaches often make a career out of coaching itself. They may have formal training and set up a structured plan for you.


How to Find a Mentor for Your Small Business

Start by thinking about the most important areas of your immediate growth and identify what gaps or types of support you need. Then, make a list of who might be the right person – someone with the experience, connections, and answers to the challenges you face.

 Like your earlier life experiences, many business mentor relationships happen organically, starting as friends, colleagues, former bosses, or teachers. It’s often up to you to seek out and formalize the mentor relationship. But it’s also possible to find and forge new mentor relationships from scratch without knowing the person first. Others still can find them by joining paid programs. Here are a few ideas to get you started: 

  • Social media. Reach out to people on LinkedIn or Twitter. Tell them your story and ask if they’d be willing to mentor you.
  • Networking events. Seek out specific people and conversations, and don’t be afraid to ask if they know anyone who can help.
  • Venture capital groups. Instead of asking for money, reach out to venture capital groups and ask what business mentors they may recommend. 

 There are mentorship services available in every province. Some are national in scope; others are provincial. For example, you may also want to try accessing some of the mentor matchmaking services offered by the following organizations: 

  • Ten Thousand Coffees in Toronto is a network-building platform that connects young people with professionals over a cup of joe throughout Ontario.
  • The Mentoring Partnership was created by the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council. It introduces immigrant entrepreneurs to professionals in occupation-specific mentoring relationships.
  • Women in Biz Network connects Canadian women entrepreneurs with experienced women business owners and professionals to grow their leadership and business skills.

Setting up and running a small business is challenging and rewarding, so it’s great to have all the help you can get. In addition to seeking out a mentor, remember to also ensure you are taking all the steps to protect your business. Talk to a Zensurance broker to determine if the small business coverage you have is right for you. 

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About the Author: Gail Balfour

Gail Balfour is a writer, editor, and senior content designer with more than 20 years of experience covering areas of business, finance, insurance, technology, and health care. A former editor of ComputerWorld Canada, she has worked with several organizations and publications, including Backbone Magazine, PwC Canada, and RBC Canada