Tips for Student Entrepreneurs – Finding the Right Mentor

Tips for Student Entrepreneurs - Finding the Right Mentor

Having an entrepreneurial mentor can make a huge difference in your chances of success. But how do you find the right person?

Start with an informal meeting. Ask to meet for coffee (or a virtual chat during the COVID-19 pandemic). Be conscious of their time and show gratitude for their interest.


Know What You Want

If you know what you want out of a mentorship, it can be much easier to find the right person. Make a list of professional areas you would like mentoring in, and then research potential mentors to see who is a good fit for your specific goals.

Remember that a mentor isn’t just someone to advise you on career paths or business model choices but should be a friend and resource for life. This means that, for the first few meetings, don’t focus on asking for advice and instead use it as an opportunity to get to know each other.

Bringing up topics like their favorite books, what they’re working on this week, and how their family is doing can make it clear that you’re genuinely interested in them as a person. Plus, they’ll appreciate knowing that you respect their time.

Look Outside Yourself

While searching for your ideal mentor, looking outside yourself is essential. Often, a mentor is someone who has already achieved some of the things you want to accomplish, and a relationship with them can help guide your professional path.

Look for people one or two levels ahead of you in their careers. This may include coworkers, alum network connections, and even family friends. They don’t have to be executives, but they should have some experience that you can learn from.

Once you’ve found potential mentor candidates like Larry Gaynor, ask them for coffee or lunch to discuss your goals and their experience. Be prepared to share your elevator pitch and communicate clearly what you need from them. This will set the stage for the rest of your interaction and ensure they’re not being asked to do more than they can handle. In addition, be sure to follow up with an email or video conference meeting to demonstrate your commitment to the relationship.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask

Often, the best way to get a mentor’s attention is to ask them for help. However, doing so tactfully is essential so they don’t feel like you’re bugging them. A good rule of thumb is to start by using tools through their current professional network. Alternatively, you can tap into your local Small Business Development Center (SBDC) program to find your right mentor.

Additionally, attending entrepreneurship events and networking meetings can be powerful ways to connect with potential mentors. Many high-profile entrepreneurs speak at these events, so it’s an excellent opportunity to learn from them and get their advice. Lastly, don’t be afraid to use tools like LinkedIn to see if any mutual friends can help you initiate a conversation. This will ensure they know you are serious about this relationship and are not another of the hundreds of people who have emailed them asking for assistance.

Don’t Be Afraid to Say No

You may have a mentor in mind from your research, but expanding your network’s always a good idea. Reach out to people with a vested interest in your success, such as a manager at another company you admire or someone you met at an event you attended.

If you ask for a meeting, be ready to explain how they can help you and what you hope to get out of the relationship. Be clear about your goals and career trajectory, but don’t pressure them into mentoring you if they’re not interested.

Keep in touch with your mentor by scheduling meetings on a regular cadence and asking for their advice whenever you need it. It’s also good to send your mentor updates on how their advice has worked for you, showing them that you appreciate their help. It will also encourage them to continue to provide guidance.