In the business context a mentor is a particular type of trusted business advisor, very often whose counsel and advice is freely given. Many entrepreneurs find mentors and use them for multiple purposes. Sometimes mentors can be a substitute for professional business services, although sometimes a mentor’s help is something that money can’t buy. Free mentors are generally associated with accelerators, and are also available through SCORE in the US.
Unlike consultants whose professional relationship is centered around a project with a beginning, middle and end, mentors form long term personal relationships with founders. Often the goal is to help a business owner grow, personally. Asking the right questions in the right way at the right time is often at the core of mentoring. Other times, mentors’ specific experiences in an industry, or general experience with common business issues, can help younger entrepreneurs accelerate learning.
Mentors Don’t Do Professional Services
Mentors can help bootstrapping startups minimize professional services costs, but they are not a complete substitute. For examples, lawyers’ code of ethics does not allow them to provide true legal advice outside of a paid professional relationship. Similarly you should not expect mentors who are accountants, social media professionals, human resource consultants, or other similar professions to actually do the work for free that they typically do to generate income.
Instead, you can ask mentors who provide professional services high level strategic questions relevant to their expertise. And, you can ask them how best to manage someone providing such services. Finally, consider such mentoring a “try before you buy” opportunity to get to know and, hopefully, trust someone who can help your business move forward in the future.