Recently I heard from an old business contact of mine, Pat Denzler, who spent 30 years in the hospitality sector owning a succession of restaurants and a country hotel in Scotland.  Although she probably never realised it, Pat was instrumental in helping me get my business up and running almost twenty years ago.   What Pat did was provide inspiration, support and encouragement which caused me to think bigger than I would have done otherwise.

Role models can have a significant impact on what we believe is achievable, and mostly they remain unaware of what they have done.  They are vital at the early stages of business start-up when we need inspiration.   Sometimes we are lucky that the right people come into our lives – but don’t leave it to chance!  Be proactive and seek out those individuals that inspire you.   It could be reading their biography and finding out what makes them tick, or listening to a podcast interview or TED talk.  I really enjoyed the Diana Nyad talk on the theme of “never give up”.   Something that entrepreneurs need to hear during tough times.

Sue coaching a client

One way that you can find encouragement “on tap” is to have a mentor.  Someone who has been down the path before and can help you avoid making the same mistakes they did or can give you access to their little black book of contacts.  Here are some points to consider when selecting a mentor:

Who inspires you in business and why?

A mentor does not have to be in the same industry as you are, but they should have experience or knowledge that you think will be of value to you.  You might consider finding different mentors, one to help you with business strategy, another to offer insights into marketing as its unlikely that you will find all the experience you need in one person.   Think about why they inspire you – normally its not about “what they do”, but more about “how they have done it” as we tend to be inspired by shared values and beliefs.

Whats in it for them?

Often we shy away from asking someone we admire to be a mentor because we can’t afford to pay them, or worry that it would be an unfair relationship.   But never forget that you have something to offer a mentor too.  It does not have to be a one-way street.   People love helping others, and a mentor can get a lot of personal satisfaction through seeing the entrepreneur flourish.  You have to be prepared to commit to put the work in on your side as there is nothing more frustrating from a mentor’s perspective to have a mentee who is unreliable or who does not take the relationship seriously.

Do what it takes to build a strong relationship

Mentors can be a fast track route to contacts, resources and support – but they have to trust you.  No one is going to open their black book of contacts if they think you will not respect them.  I recently mentored a business owner and suggested she get in touch with a couple of my business contacts who could have introduced her to key people in her sector.   I made the introduction and left it to her. She never followed up, which left both me and my contacts wondering why we have made the effort.  Sometimes your mentor will not give you the full picture as to why they introduce you to a specific person, and it’s down to you to do the legwork and get to know the person.   So make the time and follow up on any contacts they introduce you to. That way you continue to build trust with your mentor and when they observe that the relationship is working, they are likely to want to help you even more.

Sue Stockdale is a motivational speaker, author and coach.  She inspires people to achieve more than they imagined possible. Twitter @suestockdale www.suestockdale.com