Successful entrepreneurs and business owners know that now, more than ever, a seasoned mentor can mean the difference between business success and failure. Having been there and done that, an experienced mentor can provide objective, unvarnished advice — whether it’s guidance on improving cash flow or simply serving as a sounding board for your next “big idea.”

Start the Mentor Hunt

Plain and simple, a mentor is someone who “has what you want” in terms of knowledge, position, clout and contacts. Truth be told, most successful people are honored to be asked.

As you start the hunt for a mentor, keep these thoughts in mind:

Know what you want (and need). Start with a clear understanding of your purpose and desired result. Then consider which personal qualities you’d find most appealing in a mentor. Likewise, think through the structure of the relationship – will it be a formal, sit-down meeting once a month, or a more casual meeting over a meal and supplemented by regular e-mails? Next, determine what you actually need out of a mentoring relationship with an honest appraisal of your strengths and weaknesses.

“Interview” a few candidates. Find out as much as you can about a potential mentor before scheduling a brief interview by phone. A good approach is to contact a likely candidate with a specific question or need. Alternately, ask for 10-15 minutes just to “pick their brain” on a subject they are well versed in. If it goes well, ask for the opportunity to speak again whether by phone or over lunch.

Establish the rules. Set boundaries relating to confidentiality, time commitments and the areas you mutually feel the relationship can cover.

Where Are All the Great Mentors?

So, where is the next great mentor? Chances are, he or she is hiding in plain sight. Consider these likely sources:

• Business magazines/newspapers (look for profiles of successful business owners and executives).
• Your industry (mine your suppliers, relevant trade publications – even a competitor).
• Your personal network (turn to a trusted colleague, professor or someone at church).
• Formal mentoring programs (check to see if your college alma mater or other organization you’re associated with has a program).
• Online resources (log on to online communities, industry associations and social media sites such as LinkedIn).

Mentor Matchmaking in Nevada

Fortunately, the Silver State is home to plenty of seasoned executives, entrepreneurs and business owners.  The Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE) has 364 chapters around the country where seasoned execs will school you free of charge, including a Northern Nevada chapter (www.score-reno.org) and a Southern Nevada chapter (www.scorelv.org).

Several chambers of commerce in Nevada sponsor leadership programs that provide great networking opportunities, as well as chances to meet senior business leaders in your community:

The information provided is presented for general informational purposes only and does not constitute tax, legal or business advice. Any views expressed in this article may not necessarily be those of Nevada State Bank, a division of ZB, N.A.