How to find a Business Mentor?

Maxim Atanassov
8 min readDec 11, 2023

Starting a company is very hard. You have to be comfortable with the unknown. Being able to jump into areas that you don’t have expertise in and figure it out quickly. Or acquire the expertise externally to help you move forward.

Why do you need a Business Mentor?

As the saying goes, “There is no substitute for experience.” Therefore, if you do not have a lot of experience in a given area, you may not know what decision to make or, at the very least, want to soundboard and check your thinking and decisions with an external, independent party.

That is why having someone by your side who has already fought the same battles is always advisable. A person who can bring her/his experience and knowledge to help you see what lies around the corner and evaluate a decision with all risk factors in mind.

A Business Mentor will be your greatest ally, not only to develop your leadership capabilities and elevate your performance in the role but also to develop your business further. With a mentor, you can lay the guard down, s/he is not a Director and is not evaluating your performance.

However, finding and choosing a Business Mentor is no easy task. It must be someone you trust, someone with the right experience, and someone who can commit the time to see you succeed.

In this article, we will not only talk about the ideal characteristics that a Business Mentor should have but also explain the benefits to your business of partnering with a business advisor and the steps to do it.

What is Business Mentoring?

Business mentoring is a relationship between you and a person with extensive experience and expertise in a given area: be it running or scaling a business, subject matter, domain area or core skills expertise. This person will offer you advice, guidance and support in the different phases of your business.

Meetings with a mentor can be face-to-face, video calls or a combination of both. The key is that each of these meetings gets you closer to your defined goals and objectives. A good mentor will work with you on establishing your goals and objectives and keep you accountable to execute to the achievement of the same.

Differences between Business Mentor and Business Coach

Although they may seem to be the same thing and can sometimes be confused with each other, the reality is that there are some major differences between a Business Mentor and a business coach:

  • The biggest difference is that a Business Mentor focuses primarily on the mentee, the “racecar driver” and not the racecar. Strategy cannot succeed without culture and execution. On the other hand, business coaches primarily focus on developing and optimizing the business.
  • Another big difference is the time they can work with you. If you have a good relationship with a Business Mentor, they can help you throughout the life of your business. On the other hand, business coaches usually set a limit of 1 year.
  • Also, while Business Mentors are most driven by the mentee's development, business coaches are driven by the performance of the business.

But the lines are often blurred. How do you separate the leader from the business? They are so often intertwined that business mentors guide business decisions occasionally, and business coaches focus on the individual to drive the achievement of a business outcome.

What are the characteristics of a good Business Mentor?

While finding a Business Mentor may seem easy, it’s much harder than you think. If you want to forge a long-term relationship with a Business Mentor who can help you scale new heights and be successful, here are some of the characteristics that they should possess:

  1. Enthusiasm

One of the main characteristics to look for in a Business Mentor is the enthusiasm to help. The best mentors will tell you through their actions and commitments to you that they are truly excited to see you grow and succeed. They derive gratification from your success. It is their way of driving impact on those around them.

2. Active Listening

A Business Mentor is not an expert in everything. S/he may not know the market that you are in or the domain in which you specialize. A good Business Mentor is not someone who is set in her/his ways and ideas but one who asks insightful questions that leverage your own knowledge and thinking to get to the right answers. There is a mastery to being a good listener and asking the right questions.

3. Honest Feedback

A good mentoring relationship is forged based on trust and empathy. For that reason, a good Business Mentor should work collaboratively with you to arrive at the actions you should take to improve. A mentor tells you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear.

There is nothing more caring than providing radical candour. But while this sounds simple, it is not. How feedback is given is also important. A Business Mentor should help you see the “so what” and unlock the value behind a desired change. Instead, the feedback should be focused on preventing certain mistakes or implementing actions to help correct them. They often roleplay specific conversations with you to help you get through difficult situations.

4. Accountability

Developing a close relationship over time is inevitable. But a good mentor is the one that keeps the mentee accountable to:

  • Send the agenda in advance
  • Come prepared for the conversation
  • Define actions and outcomes
  • Provide updates on progress
  • Recognize and celebrate progress.

5. Great Motivator

Entrepreneurship is like a rollercoaster with lots of highs and lots of lows. And as anyone who has embarked on this crazy journey knows, the “highs” are really high, and the “lows” are really low. A Business Mentor should be someone who can motivate you to set new goals for yourself and for the company through association. A great mentor is like a mirror for her/his mentees, allowing them to reflect on themselves and learn from the mentor's experience.

Steps to find a Business Mentor

1. Characteristics of your ideal Business Mentor

While we already talked about the ideal characteristics that a Business Mentor should have, you should also think about what characteristics best suit your startup type. Some aspects you should consider are:

  • What market should your Business Mentor have the most experience in?
  • Are you seeking someone with experience managing companies, an expert in a specific domain or a leadership coach?
  • How often do you want to have meetings with your mentor?
  • Do you want to work with a person with whom you can have face-to-face meetings, or do you prefer virtual meetings?

2. Identify your potential mentor

Knowing where you are going helps you get there faster. Knowing what kind of mentor you are looking for is a very important step, but so is knowing who your potential mentors are. Nowadays, there are different resources you can use to get in touch with potential Business Mentors:

  • Your own network
  • Personal or professional referrals
  • Professional associations
  • Accelerators
  • LinkedIn
  • Thought leaders in your industry

As you find Business Mentors who might be a good fit for you, we advise you to add them to a list, as this will be a great help in the next step.

Refer to the Business Mentorship Programs and Organizations article for a list of potential programs in Canada.

3. Contact potential Business Mentors

This step is very important, as it will determine whether a Business Mentor wants to work with you. Research, research, research. Then, ask a friend or a business acquaintance for a referral. A warm referral is far more likely to open doors. If that is not possible, we advise doing it the old-school way: picking up the phone and calling. You are far more likely to create engagement and gauge sentiment over a call than over email. Entrepreneurs usually receive hundreds of emails per day. Therefore, do whatever it takes to stand out in a good way.

Contacting them through social networks to coordinate a meeting is an option. LinkedIn and Twitter remain the two best options. However, to pique the interest of a Business Mentor and have a real chance of accepting to work with you, you need to take into account certain key aspects:

  • Don’t bombard them with calls or messages. Chances are they have so many messages that they may not have been able to check yours. A good strategy is to contact them once, then two weeks later and finally once a month.
  • Be prepared. Once a potential Business Mentor responds to you, you should be ready to convince him or her that working with you is a good idea so as not to waste his or her time. A good idea is to have some specific questions ready that he can answer in a meeting.
  • Try to adjust to their time. If a potential Business Mentor offers you a specific day and time to meet with you, make every effort to be free at that time. That way, the mentor won’t have to fit into your personal schedule.

4. Agree on the expectations with your mentor

If an expert agrees to be your Business Mentor, you will have taken a big step toward elevating your performance. But before you can start working together, it’s a good idea to discuss some formal details of mentoring:

  • What are their expectations of the relationship? What would a successful relationship look like for them?
  • How will the mentoring take place? Virtual, face-to-face or a mix of both?
  • What media does your mentor usually use?
  • What are your and your mentor’s expectations about the mentoring?

5. Maintaining the relationship with your mentor

Finding a mentor is great. However, the key to successful mentoring is coachability. The Business Mentor is taking you on because they see potential in you. The surest way to destroy a mentoring relationship is not to heed your mentor's advice and to not be accountable. Here are some tips on how to drive a successful relationship:

  • Be flexible, be receptive and pay full attention to the advice. If an expert has decided to work with you,, the least you can do is to heed to the advice he or she gives you.
  • Respect is key. Always make sure to stay true to the expectations that have been set before the mentoring begins. It may seem basic, but it can often happen that because the startup founder has asked for many more meetings than agreed, the Business Mentor decides not to continue with the mentoring.
  • Try to add value to the relationship. Even though your mentor may be more experienced than you, you should always ensure that he or she can also take something of value away from the mentoring. Give back generously every chance you get!

Final Thoughts

Finding a Business Mentor is hard work, but they could be a catalyst for success. Remember that maintaining the relationship with your Business Mentor is as important, if not more important, than finding him or her. Therefore, you should be respectful, curious, coachable and always deliver on your commitments. And give back generously. This way, both of you can build a mutually beneficial relationship.

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Maxim Atanassov

Serial entrepreneur, founder, investor, board member with a passion to support founders who are hell bent on defining the future.