A business mentor can be an incredible resource for a young entrepreneur -- but only if you ask the right questions. If there's one cardinal rule for getting the best advice from a business mentor, it's "be specific." Mentors are very busy people who are dealing with their own set of critical business decisions. Signing up to be your mentor means they're happy to help, but they can't make every decision for you. Instead, they can offer an experienced perspective on current issues and future plans.
The specific questions you ask your mentor depend on your career status. If you're just starting out and still drafting your business plan, you might ask your mentor to see a copy of hers to use as a guide. That's something easy for your mentor to share and hugely valuable to you as a real-world resource. Once you've drafted your plan, ask your mentor to read it. Don't expect a line-by-line critique, but encourage him or her to highlight any areas that need work or to suggest alternative ideas.
If you already have a business plan and are looking for potential investors, ask your mentor to suggest some contacts in his or her network. If your mentor believes strongly in your business, ask him or her to call some investors personally to make the initial contact, and then let you follow up to make the pitch. Again, it's a service that's relatively easy for the mentor to perform, but something that would have been very difficult for you to do alone.
At various points in the development of your business, you'll arrive at a crossroads. If you choose the wrong path, it could be costly. Before you invest in expensive equipment, take on new partners or make any other long-term decisions, consult your mentor first. Ask what he or she would do in the situation. Ask about any risks or benefits that you haven't considered.
Lastly, remember to ask, "How can I help you?" A mentoring relationship shouldn't be a one-way street. Just because you're new to the business, it doesn't mean that you have nothing to offer. Maybe you have a special skill -- Web design, social networking or lawn care -- that would be valuable to an older professional. Make a specific offer. "Hey, would you like me to create a Facebook page for your company?" Even small gestures will help balance the relationship.
Still not sure what a mentor can do for you? We'll outline the top benefits on the next page.