The best way to find a business mentor is to get out there and network. Start by combing through your connections on LinkedIn or searching the online alumni directory at your alma mater [source: Hughes]. You'll have a better chance of making a solid connection if you already have friends, colleagues or colleges in common. Local mentors are best, so consider joining the local chapter of the Rotary Club, Toastmasters International or Entrepreneurs' Organization [source: Lowe]. Attend some meetings, identify potential candidates, and start asking people out to lunch or coffee.
There are also national small business organizations designed to help connect entrepreneurs with resources and mentors. The National Association of Women Business Owners and the National Federation of Independent Business are good places to start. The U.S. Small Business Administration partners with a Web site called SCORE.org, which connects small business owners with online mentors. There are also regional SCORE offices across the country where you can seek out offline mentoring relationships.
What characteristics should you look for in a potential business mentor? First, your mentor needs to have experience with your exact business situation. If you're trying to raise venture capital for a tech start-up, find someone who's successfully funded and launched a profitable start-up (or six). The important thing is that your mentor has done what you want to do and gone where you want to go [source: BusinessWeek]. Otherwise, you might get a lot of good general business advice, but nothing you can apply directly to your current situation.
Secondly, your mentor should have an established network of industry contacts. This is one of the greatest benefits of having a mentor -- instant access to a Rolodex of savvy investors, trustworthy vendors and potential partners. For this reason, a business mentor doesn't necessarily have to be older. It's his or her years of experience in your field that matter most.
Thirdly, your mentor should actually care about you. Your mentor needs to be someone who is deeply invested in your success; not financially, but intellectually and emotionally. If your mentor truly cares about your success, he or she will be more committed to regularly scheduled meetings, feedback and networking on your behalf. Of course, a crucial aspect of caring is honesty. The best mentor shouldn't be worried about hurting your feelings. Your mentor should tell it like it is, pointing out the weak parts of your business plan along with the strengths.
Now let's look at the flip side of the mentoring relationship. Do you think you're experienced and knowledgeable enough to be a mentor yourself? Read more about becoming a mentor on the next page.