As in all aspects of life, with experience comes wisdom, and that’s where a business 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 sports coach, or some leader in the community. These influencers were probably our first experience with mentors early in life, even though they were probably not formally chosen for that role. 

But now you are a small business owner or are about to launch a startup. Seeking a mentor to guide your journey can profoundly impact your professional growth and success. But where and how to start?

Read our guide for finding the right mentor for your small business:

Find a business mentor in Canada

Mentor or Coach: What’s the Difference?

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 or leaders in a business that interests you. They are generally relationship-oriented and less structured for meetings and advice. 

Coaches often make a career out of coaching itself. They may have formal training programs and will set up a structured plan for you.

What Is a Business Mentor?

A mentor is a businessperson who has been where you are now, has gained relevant experience that is of value to you and offers their time for free. They want to share their knowledge with aspiring entrepreneurs and business leaders and help them learn and grow.

You may choose to have multiple mentors, depending on which areas of your professional knowledge or abilities you want to get feedback on or strengthen. 

Mentors can be great storytellers and positive role models, and sometimes, hearing about their biggest failures can be the most helpful information of all.

What Is a Business Coach?

Similarly, a business coach can provide helpful advice and guidance for business owners, but they typically charge a fee for their services.

A business coach will provide a structured approach to reaching goals, focus on skills development, and help you come up with solutions to challenges versus giving advice.

7 Ways a Mentor Can Help You Grow Your Business

Working with a small business mentor can save you time because they’ve already been through many ups and downs. They can be invaluable for advice to small business owners and entrepreneurs. Here are 7 ways a mentor can help your business:

1. Sharing Experience

Understanding where your business is now, the challenges you’re facing, and determining which direction to go next comes with experience. A business mentor has been through all the ups and downs and can share their knowledge to help steer you in the right direction.

2. Determining Achievable Goals

Reaching the goals you hope to achieve means identifying achievable and realistic ones. A mentor can help you define your short- and long-term goals and how to get there in a reasonable timeframe while holding you accountable.

3. Avoiding Costly Errors

You’ve heard the expression “failing forward”. Knowing how to deal with setbacks and embracing failure as a learning opportunity can help you achieve success in time. The right mentor has endured such moments and can guide you on improving by applying what you’ve learned from failure to position yourself to do better in the future.

4. Growing Your Network

Business mentors typically have extensive networks of professionals they’ve amassed over the years that may prove invaluable to you as you go along. They can introduce you to people who can help your business grow and open the door to opportunities that didn’t previously exist, be it through other experts or helping you find potential employees and new customers.

5. Helping Solve Problems

Every small business owner or startup encounters tough problems that can tie them in knots. An experienced mentor can help untie those mental knots and provide guidance on how to deal with issues that crop up effectively, be they financial or operational, and offer practical advice to address them and move forward so you can come to the right conclusion.

6. Encouraging Professional Growth

Skills development and learning are essential for everyone, and that includes business leaders and entrepreneurs. A good mentor will challenge you to up your knowledge and skills and help foster an environment of continuous professional growth.

7. Serving as a Trusted Advisor

Everybody needs someone they trust who will listen to them, offer practical advice and solutions for resolving difficult situations, and lend a fresh perspective to daunting issues. A quality mentor is a trusted advisor to business owners to encourage and support them.

How to Find a Mentor for Your Small Business or Startup

Start by thinking about the most critical areas of your immediate growth and identify what gaps or types of support you need. Then, list 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. You often need to seek out and formalize the mentor relationship. However, it’s also possible to find and forge new mentor relationships without first knowing the person or by joining paid programs. Here are a few ideas to get you started: 

  • Social media. Contact people on LinkedIn or X (formerly Twitter) whom you admire and think can help you. Tell them your story and ask if they would mentor you.
  • Networking events. Seek out specific people and conversations at professional meetups and events, 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 recommend for business. 
  • Your professional network. Consider the professional connections you’ve already made and the people you’ve met. 

Mentorship services are 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.
  • Futurpreneur Canada is a national, non-profit organization that provides various programs and services for entrepreneurs and startups, including connecting aspiring business owners with experienced business mentors.
  • Women in Biz Network connects Canadian women entrepreneurs with experienced women business owners and professionals to grow their leadership and business skills.

What to Look For in a Business Mentor

It’s not just a question of finding a mentor, but rather, finding the right type of mentor for your business and knowing why you want and need one. 

Don’t be afraid to engage with several possible candidates before choosing. After all, you need to partner with someone who has the right attributes and experience to suit your needs. Look for someone who:

  • Has the time and energy available to serve as your mentor
  • Is full of positivity and instills confidence in you
  • Is open-minded and encourages you to find the answers
  • Has excellent communication and interpersonal skills
  • Regards and treats you as an equal and backs you up when you need it
  • Offers honest feedback and advice without reservation
  • Is compatible with your values and goals

Here’s Valuable Advice: Get Business Liability Insurance

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 a mentor, remember to protect your finances and company with a comprehensive business insurance policy. 

Zensurance can help you with that. Our low-cost, customizable insurance policies are designed to protect small businesses and startups and help preserve their financial wellness.

Fill out our online application for a free quote and explore your options. 

Let our knowledgeable insurance brokers find an affordable policy to protect your assets from our vast insurer partner network and answer your questions so you can focus on achieving your business goals and serving your customers.

– Updated March 18 2024.

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About the Author: Brandon Bowie

Brandon Bowie is a Team Lead, Professional Lines at Zensurance.