How Business Mentors Work

No man -- not even your boss -- is an island. Everyone needs a little advice on the way to the executive suite.
No man -- not even your boss -- is an island. Everyone needs a little advice on the way to the executive suite.

One of the greatest myths of entrepreneurship is that it's a one-man show. We tell and re-tell stories about successful companies launched in garages by lone geniuses. We like to read about CEOs who pulled themselves up by their bootstraps to become billionaires solely by the power of their personalities and the clarity of their corporate vision. What we don't hear enough about are the influential people behind the scenes whose timely advice and counsel helped shepherd the legendary entrepreneurs in the right direction.

Mentors are essential to the success of a new business. A mentor is an experienced businessperson who has already navigated the treacherous waters of launching and sustaining a profitable enterprise -- including everything from soliciting investors to designing a marketing campaign to going public. But success is not the only qualification for a good mentor. A mentor must have a strong desire to share his or her accumulated wisdom and to give something back to the professional community.

Finding the right business mentor is a long process, and it should be. Think of it like dating. You shouldn't settle for the first silver-haired, six-figure executive that comes along. You need to find an experienced, trustworthy individual who has both the time and inclination to invest in your success. For that to happen, both sides need to get something positive out of the mentoring relationship. You get sage advice, and your mentor gets the satisfaction of grooming the next generation of entrepreneurs.

A good mentor is more professional than a friend, but more friendly than a paid life coach. Needless to say, quality mentors don't grow on magic retired executive trees. You'll need to leverage your network and kiss a lot of proverbial frogs in suits before you find the perfect match. Find out more about choosing a business mentor on the next page.