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The Best Ways to Find a Mentor as a Solopreneur

Margaret Spencer

Contributing Writer at Fundera
Margaret Spencer writes about small business finance and entrepreneurship. She is interested in financial empowerment for small business owners across industries, and passionate about sharing insights on accessibility and communication to help entrepreneurs grow.

When you’re running a business on your own, it’s up to you to call the shots—from the biggest ones, like securing business funding, to the smaller ones, like deciding on a font for your website. For solo founders, or solopreneurs, there comes a time when having expert advice—or, really, just a little help—can be hugely valuable.

A business mentor can guide you through the challenges of running your own business, and provide a sounding board that you might be missing without a co-founder. A trusted, outside mentor can help you make the most of your own abilities, and give you advice informed by their own experience. Their perspective can be especially valuable when you’re not constantly hashing out decisions with a counterpart who is equally invested—and responsible—for the business.

But how, and where, can you find these trusted advisors? We asked fellow solopreneurs, from diverse industries and backgrounds, to weigh in on their experiences with mentors. These expert solopreneurs also offer up advice for developing your business networking strategies so you can find an ace mentor of your own.

Before Finding a Mentor, Ask Yourself: Why?

Before you start sending out flares to everyone you know, consider what you’d really like mentorship on as a solopreneur.

Try to pinpoint areas of both personal and business development where you could use some outside assistance. For instance:

  • Do you want someone to help your professional development, or do you need a hand improving your day-to-day operations?
  • Are you just getting started and seeking general advice, or are you looking to learn from a specialist, either in your field, or in a certain area of business management?

On the other hand, maybe you can’t answer this question at all—in which case, there’s a mentor for that, too!

Then, you can decide how urgently you need help, and how much you’re willing to spend on finding, and using, a mentor. Those two factors will help you determine whether it’s best to find a mentor through your own network, or if a mentorship program or coaching service would best serve your needs.

The former is free, but it can take some time and patience to find a mentor you click with. The latter can match you up with an advisor ASAP, but that might come at a price. 

Finally, make sure you have the time and energy it takes to commit to taking full advantage of your mentor. Like any other relationship, you get just as much as you’re willing to give.

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9 Ways to Find a Mentor as a Solopreneur

Once you’ve positioned yourself to find the best mentor for your solopreneur project, you can start sending out those flares—intentionally, of course.

To find your dream mentor, follow these nine tips, vetted by solopreneurs in the know. Depending on your needs, which you’ve just defined, you can pick and choose from these mentor-finding tips, or give them all a go.  

1. Start With Whom You Know

This one may seem obvious, but it’s really the best starting point, especially if you’re not willing to spend financial resources on finding a mentor.

First up, scour your own network for potential advisors. You probably know someone who started their own business, even if they’re not necessarily a “solopreneur” by definition. That could be a family member, a friend from high school, or even someone whose business you frequently patronize, like your local coffee shop, independent grocery store, or fitness studio.

Better yet, widen your net to connections of connections. Let the people in your life know that you’re searching for a mentor, and tell them a little about your business if they aren’t familiar. Then, your friends and family can introduce you to professionals in your line of work, or even more-experienced small business owners willing to share their advice.

To Do:

  • If you need to incentivize networking, purchase a coffee gift card for casual meet-ups with friends or professionals in your network.

Try to set a goal for having at least one developmental or networking conversation each week, until you find a mentor relationship that works for you.

2. Use Social Networks

Thanks to networks like LinkedIn, and the growing use of social media among businesses, it’s pretty easy to find other professionals in your area even if you don’t have a personal connection with them. That’s especially true for businesses in the retail and service industries, or other businesses that post frequently on social media.

I am super excited! After seven years as a wedding planner (and even more than that planning other events and doing nonprofit consulting), I’m expanding and launching Lovely Day Strategy to help wedding pros be successful, balanced and have fun in their businesses. Link in bio. Today answering the most common questions so far.⠀ Q: Are you still doing wedding planning? YESSSSS!!!!! And I am super thrilled for the amazing clients already booked for 2018.⠀ Q: What do you do at Lovely Day Strategy? I teach wedding pros (and aspiring pros) the business piece of running their wedding businesses through one to one coaching, speaking engagements, blog posts, online teaching, online courses and more.⠀ Q: Why are you doing this (okay, only a few brave people actually asked this, but I can see everyone thinking this)? The short answer is I love weddings, and I miss working with people in a coaching/consulting capacity. The second part is that I see so much creative talent every day in the wedding industry. Yet, I constantly hear people say they have trouble booking, no business plan, don’t know where to start with social media, they are losing money on weddings and more. I’m here to say it is possible to run a successful wedding business and let me help you.⠀ #newventure #launching #launch #openforbusiness #lovelydaystrategy #weddingpros #weddingvendors #weddingprofessionals #weddingplanner #weddingphotographer #weddingdj #weddingofficiant #smallbusiness #weddingbusiness #weddingbusinesscoach #weddingbusinessconsultant #businesscoach #businessconsultant #weddingwork #entreprenuer #solopreneur #businesstips #strategy #weddingbusinesstips #weddingmarketing

A post shared by Lovely Day Events + Strategy (@lovelydayeventsxo) on

 

The Expert’s Take

Lindsey Nickel, founder of Lovely Day Strategy, an end-to-end wedding planning business, found success engaging with other professionals in the wedding industry via social media.

Think about who you already know in your industry. They don’t have to be in your exact profession. For example, if you are starting out as a wedding planner, think about a photographer or florist that you admire. Make a list of people that you’ve met or worked with. Then, highlight the people that you respect and look up to. Start following them on social media to really familiarize yourself with their work. Comment and share their posts, so that when you reach out to them they recognize you from social media. Invite that person to coffee, explain that you are starting out and admire their work, and ask if you can learn from their success.

To Do:

  • Revamp your online presence. Whether that’s a full suite of social media accounts, or just your LinkedIn, update your information so that when you reach out to other professionals, they get an up-to-date picture of who you are and what your business does.

3. Utilize Free Resources

Depending on your business, you might be able to find a dedicated development program available for entrepreneurs like you.

The level of support is really up to you. Some programs require applications or are by invitation only, while other organizations, like SCORE match small business owners with mentors for no cost.

 

The Expert’s Take

Just one year after starting her handcraft business Stitcharama, Jenn Sturiale moved to a new state. So, Sturiale wanted to seek opportunities for growth—without spending too much money. Getting involved with business development programs helped her face the challenges of owning her own business with a support system, and establish roots in her new home.

Mercy Corps offers a number of small business programs, one of which is Micro Mentors—a global network of business professionals offering help on all kinds of business-related topics. When I was deep in the initial product design phase of my business, I found a design mentor; when I needed help with strategy I found a general business mentor. Each of them was so generous with their time and willing to help a complete stranger—a much-needed miracle for this stressed startup founder!

To Do:

  • If you went to college or university, look into your school’s alumni network, and scout opportunities.
  • Examine free mentorship programs, such as incubators and accelerators. Business incubators are long-term programs that guide entrepreneurs in the early stages of their companies. Incubators do not typically provide cash, and so take little to no equity in your company. Early stage companies are great candidates for business incubators. Accelerators, like TechStars and Y Combinator, offer guidance and a capital investment. In exchange, the accelerator gets ownership of a small percent of your company.

4. Make Your Own, Offline Introductions

Social media is a low-stakes, low-lift way to build a professional network, and find a willing mentor in the process. Sometimes, though, you’ll need to emerge from behind your smartphone and meet your potential advisor face-to-face.

Finding a mentor might seem intimidating if you don’t already have a professional network, because meeting people can be difficult without a personal connection. Trade shows, conventions, and conferences are made exactly for this purpose. They might seem old-school, but you’d be surprised by the variety and frequency of events within your industry.

Keep in mind that offline interactions are equally important for online and tech businesses, too.

 

The Expert’s Take

Don’t be intimidated to reach out to other business owners in person, even if you don’t know them. Tim Brown of Hook Agency, a Minneapolis-based web design firm that creates dynamic sites optimized for user experience and growth marketing, recommends connecting directly to speakers you admire at these IRL events.

I think a great way to find a mentor as a solopreneur is to go to a conference in your industry and frequent as many of the speakers as possible. When one strikes a nerve and has experience doing what you’re trying to do, approach them to see if they’re open to a mutually beneficial or paid mentor relationship.

If you aren’t sure what kind of conferences are relevant to you, try searching broadly for upcoming events in your geographical location instead. The programing at these events, like speakers and workshops, are often universally applicable. It’s worth making a visit to an industry event at least once.

To Do:

  • Research events in your area—if you have an upcoming vacation to a large city, you could even find out if any industry events are happening during your stay.
  • If you’re unable to attend a specific function, trade show and conference websites can be a great resource for online forums, industry news, and other events.

5. Find Investors

The most knowledgeable advisors for your business might be the people who are literally invested in it. If your business is venture-backed, or you’re looking to raise a round of funding, investors can provide much more than capital—many angel investors and venture capitalists (aka VCs) started companies of their own, and know the challenges of being a solopreneur firsthand.

Even if you aren’t ready to raise a round of funding, venture capital firms and investors are interested in providing mentorship opportunities for companies they might invest in down the road.

The Expert’s Take

Cristian Rennella is the founder and CEO of el Mejor Trato, an online platform that allows individuals to find and compare insurance plans, credit cards, and loans, making it easier to choose financial products at competitive prices. In just a few years, Rennella expanded his company to markets in Brazil, Argentina, Peru, Uruguay, Chile, Mexico, and Colombia.

After nine years of hard work as a solopreneur, I can assure you that the best way to find a mentor was looking for investment for my startup. This is how I got to know VCs and angel investors who previously owned their own companies, and went through situations very similar to mine. Some of these people ended up investing in the company, but that was not the most important thing for me as solopreneur—it was the value of having them as mentors along such a lonely and complicated road.

To Do:

  • Listen to an angel investor or VC podcast on your commute.
  • Find out what kind of investors are active in your industry. For funding information, try Crunchbase, which often includes detailed reporting on investors and investments in startup companies, as well as acquisitions. To learn more about individual investors, an AngelList profile enables you to search for investors, or browse companies by industry.
  • If you know any investors personally, ask them if they’d be willing to sit down to chat about your business.

6. Form a Team

A professional coach or expert mentor can provide valuable insights. But working with other business owners within the same space will help you build a network, find long-term support among peers, and even form partnerships that drive business on both ends.

Especially for solopreneurs with a niche focus or entirely original business model,  it can be hard to find professionals who can advise you directly. And maybe you’re an expert in your field, and you don’t actually need outside advice on your specialty. Instead, you might struggle with the day-to-day aspects of business management. A team of expert peers can help fill those gaps.   

The Expert’s Take

For Mark Anderson, the founder and CEO Anderson Investigative Associates, teaming up with other service providers in his unique sector helped drive mutually beneficial relationships. Anderson’s company provides interrogation training for law enforcement, and he found that working with other small business entrepreneurs in the space and independent coaches helped everyone involved pool knowledge.

I’m an expert on my subject matter, but I needed outside advice on running my business. So, I found three people I could collaborate with who were in similar-sized businesses. One is in fraud investigations, one deals with procurement integrity, and another is an interviewing instructor who’s been on his own in the business for 20 years. One of them I knew well, and I developed relationships with the other two by contributing to their newsletter, and inviting one to co-teach with me, respectively. All of these partnerships have given me access to trusted peers whom I can run concepts by, and who encourage me in general.

To Do:

  • Try networking with peer solopreneurs in the same industry who are not direct competitors. You might already have business owners in mind. Or branch out and message people on LinkedIn, or visit your industry’s trade show.

7. Join a Peer Group

Depending on your goals and mentoring needs, you might find the right help and support with a group of other founders, either through a formal program, or among professionals you already know.

The Expert’s Take

Even if you know you’re looking for a one-on-one mentor, there are many reasons to join a CEO peer group. Ben Walker, the founder and CEO of Transcription Outsourcing, LLC recommends finding one—or more—of these groups in your area as a way to kickstart your support network. Your peers can also provide you with recommendations for individual mentors.

I would highly suggest to any new founder or business owner to join at least one, if not two or three, CEO peer groups first. They are a great way to find and connect with other like-minded people and then start asking around for who they use for mentorship. I’m a member of YEC and TEC, and they both have phenomenal communities that help each other and would point anyone asking in the right direction for a coach or mentor.

To Do:

  • Search for CEO or founder groups in your area, through your alma mater, community center, or online. If this isn’t an option, or you aren’t sure what’s available in your area, try calling your local chamber of commerce and inquiring.

8. Explore the next generation of mentoring.

Being a solopreneur can be a round-the-clock job, and you might feel like you don’t have time to visit a trade show, or apply to a business incubator. That doesn’t mean you can’t access great business mentors—all you need is a smartphone or laptop.

 

The Expert’s Take

Seeking to meet a need for accessible professional mentoring, Sacha Irving founded Mavenli, a free app that connects mentors with mentees in real life, via a gamified interface. A social network or app, like Mavenli or Shapr, can be a great way to preview active professionals in your business community. Apps can also facilitate initial connections that can lead to a meet-up, and potentially a mentorship.

Exploring a mentorship through an app is relatively easy, but nothing beats a personal interaction. In addition to using online resources, Irving points out that there are many ways to approach potential mentors.

Go to talks with interesting people, and ask the speakers directly for a coffee or even an intro to someone. Or, you can find people interested in your niche on Linkedin, and send cold messages to a few of them. (Assume about 1 in 10 will reply.)

To Do:

  • If you live on your phone, take a few minutes to check out apps and platforms that can help you get the career guidance or business advice you need.  

9. Stick to Your Values

If you’re seeking a mentor primarily for business advice, your search might be as simple as searching Investopedia. Ideally, though, a mentor should also help you work through the more nuanced challenges of owning your own business—defining values, setting goals, and fostering company culture.

 

The Expert’s Take

Ally Compeau is the proprietor of a successful custom printing signage company, Woof Signs, which specializes in custom handmade signs for commercial and personal use. “I found two mentors who were interested in giving back as well as understood my vision, two key pieces that I believed were very important in a mentor.” Compeau says.

If advocating for your company’s mission is just as important as filling its coffers, you might find the most value in a mentor who’s aligned with that mission—and who can teach you how to promote it, so you can serve the widest audience possible.    

To Do:

  • Write down your company values and mission, and search for other founders who share similar business ideals.
  • Try listening to an entrepreneur podcast or watching a webinar about company values to learn how entrepreneurs balance doing business and serving their mission.

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Access to Mentors as an Entrepreneur of Color

A hard reality of professional mentorship is that these relationships can be harder to find for people who don’t have existing connections to elite institutions or executives.

This can put entrepreneurs of color at a disproportional disadvantage—and for those operating solo, the disadvantage can be even more pronounced. Luckily, many resources exist for solopreneurs of diverse backgrounds and experiences.

And finding a mentor who understands and empathizes with your particular experience as a founder of color can help you overcome specific challenges—in addition to helping you grow as a businessperson.

  • Black Career Women’s Network supports black women in the professional world by providing an online community of mentors and peers, as well as articles and free resources that anyone can use. BCWN provides videos, podcasts, webinars, job listings, funding opportunities, and more.
  • Boots to Business provides training and education for veterans to become entrepreneurs.
  • Catalyst is a nonprofit dedicated to fostering “Workplaces that Work for Women.”
  • National LGBT Chamber of Commerce mentorship program connects LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs with mentors based on their individual business goals.
  • Women Who Create aims to increase visibility and accessibility to opportunities for women of color within the advertising industry.

To Do:

The Best Way to Find a Mentor as a Solopreneur

Securing a mentor’s outside perspective is often a huge advantage. Keep in mind, though, that the best mentors might not necessarily have direct experience in your business. For example, if you struggle with financial planning and quarterly budgets, the most experienced and ultimately helpful mentor might be a financially successful business owner from any industry.

Accounting, marketing, human resources, and legal are other integral aspects of nearly every business, and often the most challenging aspects of starting a new business on your own. Widen your search beyond your particular industry, and include experts from the specific areas in which you need guidance.  

Regardless of which area (or areas) you need help with, your mentor should help you make the most of your expertise by empowering you with business savvy and management skills. Your future mentor may have the business acumen, but at the end of the day, you are the best judge of your needs and learning style. If you find yourself struggling to find time for yourself and your business, a lower-commitment mentor relationship can provide guidance without adding too much burden to your workload.

Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Margaret Spencer

Contributing Writer at Fundera
Margaret Spencer writes about small business finance and entrepreneurship. She is interested in financial empowerment for small business owners across industries, and passionate about sharing insights on accessibility and communication to help entrepreneurs grow.

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