Working with a mentor is a key component of the continuous learning process for advisors, and a strategy that can help you grow your business by avoiding the mistakes that others have made.

“[Mentors are] giving you hands-on knowledge of the pitfalls they want you to be aware of,” says Joanne Ferguson, president of Advisor Pathways Inc. in Toronto.

It is hard to go wrong when you are following the example of a successful advisor you know and admire.

“I think I heard advice very early in life to find someone that’s doing what you’re doing and model what they’re doing,” says April-Lynn Levitt, a Toronto-based coach with the Personal Coach. This will “help you speed up the learning curve.”

A mentor can be valuable whether you are new to the industry or celebrating your 10th anniversary as an advisor.

Tami Romanchuk, an Edmonton-based advisor and owner of Innovative Financial Management, says her mentors act as teachers and a support system in an industry that she says can feel isolating.

“There isn’t a lot of support to help you grow and train and develop,” she says.

The key to a successful mentorship experience is finding the right mentor. Levitt suggests looking for someone who is more experienced than you are and has achieved some of the goals on your to-do list. For example, if you want to focus on advising women and you know a fellow advisor who does so and is also a frequent speaker at events targeting women, this person could be the perfect mentor candidate.

When assessing potential mentors, identify two advisors you admire and take them out for coffee. Prepare for that conversation by being ready to share some information about yourself and having one specific topic in mind, Levitt suggests. After all, some people get approached frequently and their time can be quite valuable.

“They can’t always meet everybody and rather than saying, ‘I just want to pick your brain,’ it’s better to go with a specific question,” she says.

You can end the outing by telling the advisor that you enjoyed listening to his or her thoughts and asking whether he or she would be interested in meeting again.

Next: Be clear about expectations
Be clear about expectations

Should the relationship progress, be clear about your expectations and ask the mentor how comfortable he or she is with certain scenarios, Ferguson suggests. For instance, would he or she consider it reasonable to go out for coffee or lunch once a month? Can you attend the advisor’s client events or sit in on a team meeting? If you called on the fly with a question, would the mentor be OK with that?

If you’re uncomfortable with the idea that you’re constantly taking advice from your mentor without giving back, keep in mind that does not have to be the case. In fact, Levitt says, the best mentoring relationships she sees are those in which there is some give and take.

“If you had a younger advisor right now dealing with a more mature advisor,” Levitt says, “[the younger advisor] might have some ideas on social media and technology or how to use things that they might bring to the relationship.”

Romanchuk can relate to that. She often shares technology tips with her mentors, who in return share their experience and resources with her.

Another way to benefit from a mentoring relationship is to learn from someone who does not work directly in the industry. Levitt knows some advisors whose mentors are family members and friends who are business owners in industries other than financial services. Because they are close to you, they want to see you succeed.

Mentors in other industries can provide you with a different perspective on some of the challenges you face. They can also introduce you to their own contacts, who could become prospects.

This is the second article in a three-part series on continuous learning in 2014.

On Thursday: Fostering other skills to become a better advisor.