What is a business mentor and how do you find one?

January 30, 2024 | 13 minute read

Rieva Lesonsky

Written by
Rieva Lesonsky
President and CEO
GrowBiz Media

Rieva Lesonsky is president and CEO of two companies focusing on small business and entrepreneurship—GrowBiz Media and SmallBusinessCurrents.com. She’s a nationally-known speaker, best-selling author, award-winning journalist, and authority on entrepreneurship who has covered the industry for more than 40 years.


A business mentor is someone who has typically experienced the challenges you’re facing as you start or grow your small business and can offer valuable insights, guidance, advice, and a fresh perspective based on that experience. Your mentor can help you avoid common pitfalls, make smart strategic decisions, and navigate challenging situations.


That may sound similar to what a business consultant offers, but mentors and consultants often differ in their approach, focus and scope of services. Mentors are typically in it for the long haul, offering ongoing support and guidance based on their real-life experiences, while business consultants provide specialized expertise and solutions to specific business challenges on a project or contract basis. However, both can be valuable resources for small business owners, depending on your specific needs and goals.


How a mentor can help your business succeed

Finding the right business mentor delivers benefits beyond what you can get from a consultant. Typically, mentors do more than provide business advice. They also offer the emotional support and encouragement that so many small business owners need.


In fact, the American Psychological Association says having a mentor can be “life-changing.” And it pays off. According to Bridget Weston, the CEO of SCORE, the country’s premier source for free business mentoring and education, “[Startup] entrepreneurs who work with a mentor are five times more likely to start a business than those who don’t have a mentor. And small business owners who receive three or more hours of mentoring report higher revenues and increased growth.”


Plus, running a small business can be lonely, and having someone in your corner who understands what you’re going through can make a huge difference. Mentors can help you stay motivated, hold you accountable and celebrate your successes.


Here are some additional benefits of finding a business mentor:


Leadership and guidance

For new entrepreneurs, it can be challenging to adjust to being on your own. While the concept of not having a boss is enticing, reality can be quite different when there’s no one to offer advice or direction on a project. A mentor’s job is to do just that—to guide you through the unknown.


Mentors don’t tell you what to do but help guide you to make the right decisions. Every small business owner needs a sounding board, someone to run ideas by and commiserate with when things don’t go according to plan. And a mentor can help you regroup.


Similarly, solo entrepreneurs often miss having employees to brainstorm with or offer different perspectives when problem solving. Having experienced what you’re going through, your mentor can help broaden your perspective by challenging your assumptions so you’re not just relying on your own knowledge and experience.


Avoid common mistakes

Chances are your mentor has made plenty of mistakes on their success journey and can help you avoid making similar errors on yours. For example, new small business owners often take on too much, overextending themselves and in turn, don’t deliver on their promises. A good mentor can point out when you’re taking on too much, how to pace yourself and why sometimes the best thing for your new business is knowing when to say “no.”


Build community

Finding a mentor not only offers you immediate guidance but can have lasting ramifications as well. Through your mentor, you’ll gain access to a broader network you can tap into. Your mentor may introduce you to potential partners, customers, employees, professional service providers like accountants, lawyers, and even additional mentors.


A mentor from your local community will also have a vested interest in seeing your small businesses succeed. These mentors have faced similar challenges, overcome likely obstacles and are now ready to give back to their community by sharing experiences with new business owners.


Develop a lasting relationship

The key to having a successful mentor/mentee partnership is to maintain an ongoing relationship with your mentor, even if you’re not actively working with them. Keep them updated on your progress.


Mentors are not one-size-fits-all. Some may specialize in a specific field or business function. For example, you may find the mentor you worked with during your startup phase isn’t the right fit as you scale. Or, if you worked with a mentor to create a marketing plan or some other specific action item, they may not be able to help you plan your HR strategy.


But if you keep your mentor in the loop, they may introduce you to a new mentor with the expertise to assist you in this new phase of your business. So even if you’ve not currently working with your mentor, meeting for an occasional lunch is a smart idea.


Your ultimate goal is to build a long-term trusting relationship with your mentor, so you can continue to tap their knowledge and expertise.



Another challenge for many small business owners is that they don’t have anyone to hold them accountable. At first, you may find it liberating not to have someone looking over your shoulder to make sure you’re on the right path to accomplishing your goals. But accountability is a good thing. It helps you focus on your goals and determine what steps to take to meet them.


Being accountable to someone helps you keep striving and feeling accomplished and confident when you do meet a goal.


Saving money

Most mentors consider what they do as a way to “pay it forward.” They’re not in it for the money but for the satisfaction of helping an entrepreneur accomplish their goals. So unlike consultants and coaches, mentors typically don’t charge for their services.


If the mentor you’re working with tries to sell you their products or services or push you to use certain products, they may be in it for the wrong reasons. So, move on at any point that you feel uncomfortable with the relationship.


Qualities to look for in a business mentor

One of the challenges when trying to find a mentor is knowing precisely what you’re looking for. What characteristics and qualities do you want in a mentor?


Good mentors are not only motivational, but they should inspire you to aspire to be like them. If your mentor reminds you of the person “you want to be when you grow up,” you’re on the right path.


Here are some qualities to look for when finding a business mentor:


Expertise, experience, and knowledge

Look to find a mentor with relevant experience in your industry or in the specific aspect of work where you need help. But your mentor should also know that times and circumstances change and that what worked for them will not necessarily work for you today. So, look for a mentor who can combine their real-life experiences with current business and market trends.


Direct and honest communicator

You want a mentor who can be direct, open, and honest with you. Offering someone false hope when they’re on the wrong path is not helpful. The best mentors can tell you what you’re doing wrong and what needs to be corrected without belittling you and your accomplishments.


Good listener

Mentors must be active and effective listeners. If all your mentor does is pontificate, they’re not right for you. Instead, you want a mentor who asks questions and listens to your answers before offering advice.


Shared values

You and your mentor should share a similar work ethic and values. If you’re committed to being a socially responsible business and your mentor is not, they will have a harder time understanding your motivations and actions.


It also is critical to have similar approaches to setting goals. People have different motivators. Some respond best to setting stretch goals because they work harder to achieve the virtually impossible. Others work best when their goals are aggressive but reachable. But if your mentor believes in stretch goals and you respond better to attainable ones, you’ll likely get discouraged or give up altogether.


Asking your potential mentor how they achieved their goals will give you insight into whether you’re on the same wavelength.


Lifelong learners

SCORE says mentors should “not be afraid to learn and use new software and applications. Mentors should be intellectually engaged, active, self-motivated, and interested in keeping their business skills ‘sharp’ and lifelong learning.”


Good mentors are innately curious and frequently ask questions.


Where to find a good business mentor

Now that you know what to expect and look for, it’s time to find a mentor. There are several places you can find them.


Check your network

You may already know someone who could be a perfect mentor. Consider former bosses, professors, colleagues, or even family members. Are there small business owners in your community you admire (not direct competitors, of course)? Even if you’re not directly connected to an appropriate person, someone you know may be.


Let your friends, colleagues, and family know you’re trying to find a business mentor. If you’ve lost touch with a past co-worker, try connecting with them on social media. LinkedIn or Facebook are your best chances to make a professional connection. Your university’s alum program is another great way to reach out to potential mentors.


Social media

LinkedIn and X, formerly Twitter, are both excellent channels for connecting with industry professionals. You can search candidates based on your industry or area of interest. LinkedIn profiles let you search for specific skills you’d value in a mentor and both platforms allow you to search using hashtags, such as #mentors, #mentorship or #careeradvice. If you find someone you think would be a good match, send a direct message and ask whether they would be interested in mentoring you, or at the very least connecting.


Trade associations

It’s a smart idea to join your industry’s trade association. Being a member offers educational and networking opportunities. In addition, some associations have formal mentorship programs. Even if yours doesn’t, you may meet a potential mentor at an industry conference or trade show. 


In situations like this, where you don’t know the person, it would be awkward to approach a stranger and ask them to be your mentor. Volunteering for committees at these associations allows you to build organic relationships first, and then you can approach someone about being your mentor. Then, of course, you can ask them questions, which may signal that you’re looking for an ongoing mentoring relationship. Just let it unfold naturally.


Local organizations

Joining local organizations like a leads club, your chamber of commerce, or a chapter of a national organization like the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO), EO (Entrepreneurs’ Organization), or Alignable may offer meaningful connections that could lead to a mentor/mentee relationship.


Government organizations

Several departments within the federal government, like the Small Business Administration (SBA) and the Commerce Department, offer mentoring opportunities.


  • The Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA): The MBDA is part of the U.S. Department of Commerce and offers minority-owned businesses access to business experts at their centers nationwide. Locate an MBDA Business Center near you.
  • SCORE: Partially funded by the SBA, SCORE is a nonprofit program that connects small business owners with its vast network of volunteer mentors. SCORE mentors offer advice, resources, and insights to guide small business owners. SCORE has more than 10,000 mentors across the country who offer free one-on-one mentoring, workshops, and other educational services. You don’t have to live in the same city as your mentor; online counseling is available. Find a SCORE office near you.
  • Small Business Development Centers (SBDC): Also partially funded by the SBA, the nearly 1,000 SBDCs across the country offer free business consulting and at-cost training assistance to small businesses. Find an SBDC near you.
  • Veterans Business Outreach Center (VBOC): The VBOC program provides entrepreneurial development services, including business training, counseling, Boots to Business classes, and resource partner referrals to transitioning service members, veterans, National Guard and Reserve members, and military spouses interested in entrepreneurship. There are 22 organizations serving as VBOCs.


    For its mentorship program, VBOCs conduct on-site visits and review monthly financial statements to ensure clients follow their business plans. They also provide assistance and training in international trade, franchising, internet marketing, accounting, and more. Find a VBOC near you.
  • Women’s Business Centers (WBC): The WBCs provide free-to-low-cost business counseling and training for women who want to start, grow, and expand their small businesses in their centers nationwide. Find a WBC near you.


Getting started

Once you find a business mentor, what’s next? Here are some tips for getting your mentorship off to a solid start:


Meeting your mentor

Tell your mentor what your goals are as a mentee at your first meeting. What do you expect to learn from them, and why do you think having a mentor will help you grow? Do you want general advice or need help with a specific aspect of entrepreneurship? Are you looking for a long-term commitment?


Establishing clear expectations and boundaries from the start is important, so you both know what to expect from the relationship.


Establish communication guidelines

So you don’t impose on your mentor, you need to create communication standards upfront. For example, how often will you meet? Will those meetings be in-person, online, or a combination? How will you communicate in between meetings? What if you have an urgent question? Does your mentor prefer to communicate via phone, email, text, or FaceTime?


Be professional

Treat meetings with your mentor like important business meetings. Dress appropriately. Don’t cancel your appointments. Be on time and prepared. If you got a “homework” assignment from your mentor, make sure it’s completed.


Remember, it’s your responsibility to maintain the relationship. That said, if you reach a point you think you’ve outgrown your mentor, you’re not gelling, or not getting the help you need, don’t hesitate to end the relationship. And if you still need help, you can look for another mentor.


What to ask your mentor

Finally, the big moment. The hunt for finding a mentor search is over, and now you’re meeting them for the first time.


Questions for your first meeting

This will likely be a “getting to know you” meeting, so the questions may be more general than targeted. Hopefully, you covered the most basic questions, such as, “Do you think you can help me?” and “What’s your relevant experience?” before setting up the meeting.


Early-stage questions

Questions to consider asking at the beginning of your mentor/mentee relationship:


  • Do I have all the required permits and licenses?
  • What business structure is best for a business like mine?
  • Is my business plan on track, or should I rewrite it?
  • Do you think my marketing budget is sufficient to help get us noticed?
  • Is my brand (logo, website design, etc.) on point? Does it accurately convey who we are and what we do?


Questions to go deeper

As your relationship with your mentor deepens, you can ask more targeted and future-thinking questions.


  • How do I know when it’s time to hire more employees? How do I create a company-wide salary structure?
  • Do I need additional business insurance?
  • Is it time to enter new markets?
  • How can I eliminate seasonal cash flow deficiencies?
  • Do we have the tech to get us to the next stage?
  • Is it time to raise prices? And, if so, how do I keep my customers?
  • Will our current strategy take us into the future, or do we need to pivot now?


The power of mentors

It’s impossible to overstate the power that mentors have to help you launch or transform your small business. Mentors can offer more than valuable insights and emotional support. The right mentor will challenge your assumptions, help you develop new skills and encourage you to take risks. And they can push you to achieve things you never thought possible.

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