Richard Branson: How to find a mentor

Richard and Jo sat on decking next to the sea with laptops
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Natalie Clarkson
by Natalie Clarkson
18 March 2015

How to find a mentor? Much has been said about the importance of business coaching, and why every entrepreneur should find a mentor to help them through setting up a growing business. But how do you go about finding the right person to mentor you in the long term?

This is something that Richard Branson has a lot of experience in. When he was launching Virgin Atlantic, he turned to Sir Freddie Laker who drew on his experiences with his own airline to advise Richard on how to set up the company.

It’s not always easy to find a great mentor though, as the Virgin Founder acknowledges in a recent Daily Monitor blog. “When you haven’t yet met many people in your prospective industry or the local business community, figuring out how to make connections can be daunting.”

Fortunately, Richard has three things you can do to help find the perfect mentor…

Talk to local business leaders you admire 

"When we were starting up our first Virgin businesses, we would simply find someone who was already running a business in the industry we were hoping to enter and ask him if he’d be willing to spare some time to give us advice. It really was that simple. 

Obviously, you shouldn’t pick someone who you see as a direct competitor, but you can try approaching someone who is running a similar business in another location. 

Don’t be shy - people are usually flattered by a request for advice and to act as a sounding board. Since they were once in your shoes, they probably had to seek out a mentor at some point themselves.

If you are enterprising, polite and enthusiastic, you’ll likely be surprised at how happy they are to help out!"

Connect to the support community for entrepreneurs 

"One of the best things about starting up a business now is that a whole support community is readily accessible online and through social media to entrepreneurs. 

YouTube offers some fantastic advice videos, and Y Combinator has an excellent series of lectures available. The various TED and TEDx Talks are an incredible resource too - and I must mention our own Mentor Mondays advice videos on! The forums for entrepreneurs might be especially helpful.

To be honest, it doesn’t matter if you are talking with someone who survived the startup race or with someone whose business is coming crashing down - learning from others’ mistakes can be even more valuable than learning from someone who has yet to slip up. 

So keep browsing online, comment on startup forums and articles and crowdsource when you have questions. If you start speaking up and interacting with other entrepreneurs, you will make contacts and friends, which may eventually lead you to the perfect mentor."

Go to industry events 

"There are start-up events happening in virtually every city around the globe. Check out Eventbrite or MeetUp and search for “start-up” or “entrepreneurship,” and an endless list of events will appear that you might attend. 

This is a great way to learn about your industry or entrepreneurship from the experts, and you can network with the people you meet. Don’t hesitate to ask for advice from speakers who seem inspiring and knowledgeable - you might enter into a mentoring relationship.

It can be difficult to motivate yourself to get out there and start meeting people, especially when you don’t know a lot about the industry yet, but keep forging ahead and be open to constructive criticism. This is all part of the job and the adventure."