Coaches.  Role Models.  Mentors.  Trainers.  Teachers.  Advisors. We all have them. As business owners, we need them even more, for more than one reason.

Clara Barton has always been a woman I admire. I read about her as a young girl and have always thought her a brave and highly intelligent woman.  In a time when women were highly undervalued, she knew her abilities and pursued her passion.  She didn’t stop at what she could do, she grew her dream to inspire people to do it as well.  In perspective, this is what most of us hope to do with our dreams as well.

It was when Clara was spending time in Europe that she was first introduced to the Red Cross.  She brought their ideas to America to develop the American Red Cross. This bright lady surrounded herself around like-minded people, asking lots of questions and watching growth and challenges before formally forming the American Red Cross.  Her story is a powerful example of why we need mentors in our lives.

It’s easy to find a book, a blog or a podcast to follow.  They are informational and inspirational, both equally necessary to the success of growing any business.  They offer information on topics you didn’t even know you needed to know. They inspire you in a few short words and can create incredible paradigm shifts.  I don’t want to take away from the importance of these resources but I do want to stress the need for a conversing mentor.

Mentors help inform, inspire and problem solve.  Mentors help you brainstorm ideas.  They challenge you to think outside the box.  They can share experiences of what worked well, what didn’t and why.  The remind you why you do what you do, see what your strengths are and celebrate your successes. They look for opportunities in your failures and do overs.  They listen to you rant about deadlines and clients and finances and miscommunication and employees and contracts and everything else.

When looking for a mentor, I have a couple suggestions. You don’t want an equal, you want someone wiser, more experienced, successful, has the time and most importantly, genuine.

With experience, comes wisdom.  A great mentor has experience. They have experienced hard times, struggles, and learned to overcome obstacles.  They also have achieved success and are proud of all they have done. They are aware of what it took and the realities of perseverance and commitment. Starting up a new venture or growing an existing one creates lots of forks in the road, lots of opportunities and decisions.  Find a mentor who is aware of what it took, why he or she did what they did, what they learned, what they wish they would have done differently and what decisions they are most proud of.  They should be able to look into your future and help predict obstacles.

A mentor should have a library of success stories!  These can be regarding clients, finances, inventions, projects, conversations, relationships and much more. Little successes lead to the big ones.  They will be able to tell you the things they did right in order to land the big contract, to woo a client, to create the perfect protocol or art, or have so many returning clients, the work feeds itself. They can share prioritizing time, how to have difficult conversations, what to look for in employees, when to borrow and when to save, how to analyze the market, when to press on and when to walk away. It really is the little things and you want someone who lives that.

Finally, you want someone who has time to chat and who is genuine.  They need to care about what you do. They need to believe in what you do.  Meeting with your mentor can be formal but most good conversation happens informally.  It happens without prompting and lots of time unintentionally. You want someone who can see humor, possibilities and the light at the end of the tunnel.

The last piece of advice I want to give you is to find someone outside your current circle of influence. A mentor should be someone specific to your business, not to other areas of your life. You could have a family, hobbies, organizations you work with, and even a day job.  Those areas, at times, can affect what you’re trying to do. It’s important to not be confused by the overflow of one into the other. Its hard work to not let the emotion of other areas impact this one. You need an unbiased, unemotional, unvested person to speak to this one area.  You don’t want someone afraid of hurting your feelings or damaging the relationship between the two. It can be a challenge understanding friendship and mentor lines.  They blurs easily.

I wish you luck on your journey to find a mentor!  Visit your local Chamber, Rotary Club, or any civic organization to find a whole slew of successful people. And remember, pay attention to what works. Someday, you may become someone else’s mentor.

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