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We’ve been taught from a young age to learn from our mistakes, but considering almost a third of Canadian small businesses won’t survive longer than two years, more entrepreneurs should also consider learning from the mistakes of others.

Finding a knowledgeable mentor is as important for a startup as securing capital. Over the years I’ve spoken with hundreds of small- and medium-sized business owners, and many credited their success to having a mentor. A recent UPS study found that 70 per cent of mentored businesses survive more than five years—double the rate of non-mentored small businesses.

These results shouldn’t be surprising. After all, if you’re driving somewhere you’ve never been before, why not ask a person who knows the route? Mentors have likely already taken wrong turns and run into the odd dead end, so they can provide the directions you need to get to your destination faster.

While you may think you alone know what’s best for your business, it’s good to occasionally let your ego take the back seat and draw on the advice of experts. Here are five qualities you should look for in a mentor.

Meshes with you

Before you formally pair up, set up a few meetings to make sure you and your prospective mentor work well together. Just because you respect your mentor as a business person doesn’t mean you’re going to like them, or they’re going to like you. For the relationship to be beneficial, you need your mentor to be personally invested in your success, and that’s not going to happen if you don’t get along.

Possesses a different skill set

You’re good at what you do. That’s why you started a business. There’s no reason to double down on skills you already bring to the table, so seek expertise in an area where you lack knowledge. For example, you may be passionate about what your company has to offer but have no experience creating a business plan. A mentor can help guide you through the process, keeping you on track and in check.

Brings experience from other industries

It might seem strange to seek advice from someone who has had success in a completely different industry, but the language of business is universal and you might be surprised how much you’ll learn from hearing an outsider’s perspective.

Tells you the truth (even if it hurts)

You know when you’ve been looking at something too long and need a second pair of eyes? Having a mentor is the best way to avoid a severe case of tunnel vision. Remember, you’re not looking for a “yes” man who’s supportive of every idea that bubbles up in your head, you want someone who can identify areas of improvement or opportunity for your business.

Keeps you on track

While your mentor might be in a different industry, they should still be able to connect you with investors, clients, and contractors that can help take your business to the next level. At the very least, you want a mentor who acts as a good sounding board, constantly reminding you of the goals laid out in your business plan.

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A business mentor who hits all five of these key attributes will likely have a meaningful impact—perhaps just the angel your business needs to get to the next level.

David Borrelli is Salesforce’s AVP of Commercial Sales for Canada.

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Have you ever had a great mentorship relationship? What made your mentor/mentee so special? Let us know using the comments section below.

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