I recently read an article about the finals of the 2nd annual Samuel Adams Brewing the American Dream Pitch Room contest. It’s a national contest for small business owners in the food and beverage industry and the prize is a $10,000 grant, extended coaching & mentoring from Boston Beer Co. founder, Jim Koch and other senior executives. The winner also gets an opportunity to pitch their product to a panel of retailers and buyers.

Some of 2014’s finalists were asked what they’d do with the grand prize. In a Fox Business Small Business article by Gabrielle Karol. Click here for the article. The answers focused more on the value of the mentoring aspect of the prize than the cash.

“Christine Welch, founder of Coffeecake Connection, said the $10,000 would help her pay down some business loans – but the mentoring would likely be even more valuable to her.

‘We’re planning to announce a name change and rebrand … Mentoring would make sure I’m on the right track,’ Welch said. She added that she’d also be looking for help with some of Coffeecake Connection’s distribution challenges.”

“Another competitor, Joos’ Chief Joos Officer Laurie Meizler said the mentoring and the funding would help the company grow even faster.”

They’re right. Mentors can help you whether you’re just starting your restaurant or looking to move your business to the next level.

Here are four benefits to having a mentor

1. Experience – a good mentor has already built a business or achieved the goals that you’ve set for yourself. Having paved that road, your mentor can help you avoid making mistakes that could cost you time, money and other resources. They can also help you think through your planning and strategy because they’ve reflected on how they did things and lessons that they learned from successes and failures. They can also help you set milestones and metrics for your own business.

2. Perspective – when you’re in the day-to-day grind of building your restaurant, you might lose sight of the big picture. Or you might get stuck on a problem because you’re only looking at it through one point of view. Your mentor can provide a different perspective and help you to shift yours. Sometimes that’s all it takes to tackle a big problem. Mentors are also wonderful sounding boards. If you have some new ideas for your restaurant, or questions about the big picture and long term plans for your business, run them by your mentor before putting them into action.

3. Network – your mentor will likely have a vast and deep network of people that he or she has built relationships with over the years. These connections can be invaluable. Having an experienced, well-respected person who can vouch for you may open some doors and get you opportunities that you otherwise wouldn’t have access to.

4. Personal Development – not all mentors can help with this, but if you’re lucky, yours will be curious about you beyond your business side. He or she may help you amplify your strengths and work on your weaknesses. If you’re extremely capable in running the business side of your restaurant, but not as strong in the leadership department and people management side, your mentor can help you identify ways to improve. This also goes with the previous point about networking, your mentor can help you find partners if you need them. Finally, and this might sound silly, your mentor might even help you on the personal side – helping you become the best version of yourself.

However, mentorship is a two-way street. Here are some tips for being a good mentee.

1. Find the right mentor – start by figuring out what your stumbling blocks are and what you need to learn. Do some research to find someone who has experience in this area and either has mentored others or has expressed an interest in doing so.

2. Listen – your mentor is further down the restaurant business road than you are and they’ve made some mistakes and learned some important lessons. A good mentee is humble and able to ask good questions, keep an open mind and admit that s/he doesn’t know everything.

3. Grow – take the valuable lessons, advice and constructive criticism and apply them to your restaurant. A good mentee will show their mentor that they appreciate their help by putting it into action and getting results. If you’ve ever spent time helping someone who has asked for your advice or guidance only to watch your words go in one ear and out the other or have them blow off a meeting you’ve set up with a colleague then you understand how frustrating this can be for a mentor. Be a good student and grow. This goes hand in hand with the next point.

4. Respect –remember that your mentor is taking time from his or her life to help you. Be respectful of their time and any boundaries that they’ve set in place for your relationship. For example, if you’re going to meet once a month, come to your meetings prepared and don’t hound them with calls or emails in between times.  Respect also extends to anyone that they introduce you to or connections that they make on your behalf.

5. Give back – even though your mentor is likely more experienced than you are in one particular area, you may have knowledge or connections that can be helpful to them or someone that they know. If there’s an opportunity to give back, do it!

Now you’re probably thinking, those are great reasons to have a mentor, but I have no idea how to find one.

Finding the right fit mentor takes time, as it does finding a business or romantic partner. You’re probably not going to meet someone and ask, “hey, will you be my mentor?” The more likely scenario is that you’ll meet someone and the relationship will develop into a mentorship over time.

Always seek to help before being helped. This means that you find ways to be of service to a potential mentor before asking them to help you. You could answer a question, share a resource or make a connection for them.

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You can be proactive and look through your network starting with friends and family to see if they know someone who might fit your needs. Keep extending your search out from there. Include looking in your local business community, restaurant and hospitality organizations. Use social media and online networks to find people who’ve written about mentoring or being a mentee and connect with them – remember your first contact should be one in which you are helping them. It is possible to have a long-distance mentorship through phone, email and Skype.

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Finding the right person may take some time, but as the restaurant owners from the 2nd annual Samuel Adams Brewing the American Dream Pitch Room contest said, the mentorship would get them much further than any cash prize would.

Have you had a mentor or mentored someone else? We’d love to hear about your experience.

Do you have a question for us? We’d love to answer it here on the blog. You can email us jring[at]restaurantbrandingroadmap[dot]com or reach us on our Facebook page or Tweet us.

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