Mentors play important roles in our lives at various stages.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have had many great mentors during my life — as a student, corporate employee, attorney, author, and business owner.

In these turbulent times, if you’re struggling to grow your business and you don’t have a mentor, then you are missing out on a significant competitive advantage.

Many entrepreneurs don’t know how to go about finding a mentor. So here are a few tips to help you not only find a mentor, but make the relationship beneficial for you both.

1. Make a List.

Identify the people you admire and who have been successful in their careers. Then create your “wish list” — those people who you think could provide the greatest assistance in helping you achieve your business goals. Many of the small business organizations offer formalized mentoring programs too.

For example, the National Association of Women Business Owners or the Small Business Development Centers offer excellent opportunities to find a business mentor.

2. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask.

Successful people typically have a generous spirit and want to see others succeed. And believe it or not, they are flattered when you ask them to be your mentor.

Of course, that doesn’t mean they will automatically say “yes.” Much depends on their current situation and whether they have the time to share.

So don’t be offended if they turn you down. There’s someone out there who will say yes.

3. Be Prepared.

When you first meet with your mentor, be prepared to explain what it is you need from the relationship. Come equipped with background material on your business so they can understand your current situation.

Keep in mind, mentors are not there to solve problems for you or be your Fairy Godmother. They are there to help guide you by asking questions and offering recommendations.

4. Listen and Keep an Open Mind.

A mentor isn’t your therapist or your business coach. Participate actively in your mentoring sessions and listen openly to your mentor’s feedback. They may not always tell you what you want to hear, so don’t be defensive.

One of my first career mentors was extremely critical of my writing style. Finally, one day in tears, I almost quit my job. He explained he was being tough on me because while he thought I was a good writer — he wanted to make me a great writer.

I am very thankful for the time he took to help me grow.

5. Be Accountable.

A mentor will quickly lose patience if you take up his or her time, and then never act on any of the growth strategies you’ve discussed. Rehashing the same old issues time and time again causes a mentoring relationship to quickly fail.

So be accountable to your mentor. Follow through on action steps you agree to take.

Now be a mentor for someone else

If you’re already fortunate enough to have a business mentor, congratulations! And here’s my challenge for you.

Pay it forward.

Take time to mentor someone else. Spend time with a young person or someone in career transition, and help them avoid the pitfalls on their journey to success. It’s rewarding and worth the investment of your time.

Do you have, or have you ever been, a mentor? Share your experiences with us in the comment field below.