How To: Find and Work With a Mentor

by Amy Swift, Chief Product Officer, Ladies Who Launch
Illustration by Barbara Hranilovich

Dozens of women approach me with the question, “How can I find a mentor to help me with my business?” This is a common request because not everyone has a sister who’s a legal eagle or a father who works as an international advertising executive. As entrepreneurs, we want someone we can call on to ask a quick question but also someone to sit down with to discuss the longer, more arduous details of a deal or overall business strategy. And we don’t want to pay for any of it.

Many people who think they need a partner or vendor would actually be better served by a mentor. A mentor is seasoned in the business you’re in; they have wisdom and experience in your particular area and a vested interest (not monetary) in helping you achieve your goals. But mentorship is a two-way street. There are people who love to give advice and support to those who need it, but there are limits to how you can use a mentor relationship.
Here are some tips:

1. Finding a mentor. A mentor is generally someone who has a personal investment or interest in you. You can find a mentor through SCORE or StepUp Women’s Network, but the best kind of mentor is going to be someone who already knows you (or loves you!) and wants you to come out on top. Seek someone near and dear; if you don’t have anyone (even a friend of a friend) in your wider Rolodex, then pursue a formal relationship through a mentoring program.

2. Set reasonable expectations. A mentor is not going to solve all of your business woes. They should be used for periodic counsel, but they are not there to offer in-depth business advice (unless they offer that). Set your expectations accordingly.

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Stephanie Dickerson

Atlanta Business Women and Incubator Member

Member of the Atlanta Incubator

My business is … Hug Your Hero Gifts, Inc., which is all about giving thanks and hugs to heroes of all kinds—military, teachers, firefighters, police officers, veterans, and breast cancer survivors—through the signature “Have you hugged a hero today?” shirts and product line.

My dream is … to be a successful entrepreneur, mother, and mentor/leader to those who are in need. We have plans to expand to two nonprofit organizations, one to help those who need any kind of help and the other to assist visually impaired people gain their independence by providing transportation to and from doctor’s appointments, errands, and grocery stores.

I launched because … I wanted to be empowered to be what I have the full potential to be. I wanted the freedom to be able to raise my 6-year-old daughter, work with her class, attend field trips, and work on our long-term family goals on our own time and not someone else’s time schedule.

One day you’ll see me … all across the nation, doing fundraisers, benefits, raising money for those in need, assisting our military and their families and spreading hugs across the nation.

Ladies Who Launch has helped me … understand that I don’t have to do this all by myself. I now have a network of wonderful, talented, and experienced friends to help me down the road to entrepreneurship. Ladies Who Launch has been the best thing in starting my business: I have received a lot of wonderful advice, found great new friends, and business partners. It’s a great family and I love them all.

Want to connect with this member? Then join our free online Social Network!

Jen Groover

Innovative entrepreneur, product and concept developer.

CEO, Jen Groover Productions

Don’t try to put Jen Groover into one business category—it’s just not possible. Jen spans multiple brands, products, media, and markets. She says she doesn’t want to fit into one box—she wants to thrive in all of them. And she manages to do just that.

Jen has already developed such products as the Bulter Bag (a compartmentalized handbag), one of the fastest growing handbag companies in history; product lines that include accessories, dolls, clothing, parental aids, and games; and mentoring blogs. She also has a television program slated for the fall and a book launch in 2009. Her enviable publicity record includes ABC’s “Money Matters,” CNBC’s “The Big Idea With Donny Deutsch,” O, The Oprah Magazine, Success, Entrepreneur, and Redbook.

While in a Ladies Who Launch Incubator, Jen observed how many women with multiple passions felt they had to choose just one. Her advice—you don’t have to. She encourages women to join LWL Incubators to identify their passions, and then find a way to live all of them.

What we learned from Jen: “No matter what stage of the game you’re in, you still have those days that challenge your fortitude, perseverance, and strength. They are your tests—if you don’t pass those tests, you don’t get to the next level.”

Slip Into Something Less Comfortable

“My mother was a woman ahead of her time. She would always push me out of my comfort zone. I will do the same thing with my daughters. I do it with my employees. If you didn’t feel uncomfortable today, you didn’t grow.”

From the Classroom to the Boardroom

“I graduated in December of ’95 with a degree in education and psychology from Kutztown University. I didn’t want to be a teacher in the traditional classroom sense. Throughout college I had always been an athlete, and got into fitness as a full-time career. I co-owned a successful gym in Wilmington, Delaware, called the Groove Shop. We also did corporate wellness programs and lifestyle management with companies like MBNA and DuPont.”

Hitting the Wall

“I was a fitness competitor working many hours, over-training and teaching three to five aerobics classes a day. When I was 27, I got really ill and my kidneys, liver, and heart starting shutting down—basically I had a ‘come to Jesus’ moment where I had to look at who I was and what I was doing. My doctor said you need to change your life or you’re not going to have children and you’re not going to be healthy.”

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