Mentoring — Getting Help and Giving Back

By Catherine Lang-Cline    

If you are an entrepreneur, I am guessing that you started your business with a great idea for a good or service that you really believed in. You may or may not have gained some business knowledge along the way before creating your own business but regardless, there is no way you could have been prepared for all of the nuances involved with running a business. So what can you do? You can get help.

The first thing you need to do is admit that you need it. And just so you are aware, everyone needs it. That is why large corporations have Boards of Directors and advisors, they get the expertise they need. And you can too.

To get started, think about where some of your weakness are. These are the first areas that you must seek help for and you could start with finding an advisor, or better yet, create an advisory board for your business. You can ideally pay this board or just buy them lunch, but meet quarterly and discuss the issues of your business and the areas that are not your strengths. Is there someone on your list that you would love to have as an advisor? Ask them. You will be surprised as to how much people are willing to help if you respect their time and their expertise

You can also find a mentor or maybe a couple of them because more than one opinion on something is always better. But a mentor is more like someone you aspire to be like in business, in your personal life or both. They can share how they achieved their status and guide you around some of the potholes that they encountered. There is nothing better than someone who can help navigate you to your goal.

Now that you are well on your way to growth with your new advisors and mentors, start to think about how you can pay it forward. Once you have been in business 5, 10, 15 or more years, your experience to someone that is starting up will be invaluable. And by this time, you really know more than you think. Think that you don’t have time for that? Well, someone else did make time for you and I am guessing that they were busy as well. Which means it can be managed and scheduled a bit on your terms. After all, they are coming to you for help. Maybe you meet with your mentee quarterly to discuss problems and give them a to-do list to walk away with? You will be amazed as to how much you know and how much you can guide them through the issues of starting business. And an added bonus— you just might get a free lunch out of it.

Having done both, I can tell you that the power to give help and get it is incredible. If you start working with a mentor or advisor, be on-time, be courteous, and really listen to what you are being told. Ultimately, it is your business and your choice to move forward with any advice, but really take the knowledge to heart. And if you are mentoring or advising someone, be on-time, be patient, and speak about your own experiences because it is those life-lessons that teach the most.

Mentorship: Ten Tips for a Successful Relationship

By Kristen Harris

Recently I participated in a Business First panel discussion about mentorship.

Here are Ten Tips for a successful mentor/mentee relationship:

  1. Take charge. If you’re the mentee (the person being mentored), you need to take charge of the relationship. Your mentor has agreed to share their time, experience and ideas with you–it’s your job to coordinate meetings and do all of the follow up.

  2. Be flexible. While it’s your job to coordinate, be as flexible as possible. Meet at the best time and location for your mentor, even if it’s less convenient for you. Also be flexible in the content of your meetings. You should have some questions or topics in mind, but if they head off in another direction go along for the ride. You never know what you’ll learn!

  3. Be receptive. Mentors can help you identify issues, problem-solve, brainstorm ideas, make introductions, and so much more. They will also challenge you, question assumptions, and suggest alternatives. Listen and be receptive to their ideas, then filter against what is best for you or your business to make a final decision.

  4. Show up. Figuratively and literally. Always show up for your meetings, don’t be late, never cancel especially at the last minute. Also show up mentally. Be awake, charged up, ready to think, ask questions, and listen. Time with your mentor is precious, make the most of it.

  5. Be appreciative. Whether you use their ideas or not, always be appreciative of efforts to help you. Most mentors do this because they genuinely enjoy helping people. Say ‘thank you’ early and often. Always buy if you meet over a meal (or at least offer every single time).

  6. Give feedback. Let your mentor know how an issue turned out or what decision you made with a quick update at your next meeting. It’s helpful for them to know what happened, and they may have more input based on the outcome.

  7. Ask questions. Again, it’s your job to lead this relationship. Come to meetings prepared with questions, listen to what they have to say, and answer any questions they ask you as well.

  8. Be helpful. Even if your mentor is much more experienced or connected than you, there are ways you can be helpful. Introduce them to new people, share technology or an interesting article, talk about their business or career, invite them to an event...just ask how you can help them too!

  9. Be respectful. Sometimes you won’t agree with your mentor, don’t like their idea, or decide not to take their advice. That’s fine. They’re trying to help, but should have no expectation that you’ll do every single thing they suggest. They’re an adviser, not your supervisor. Always be respectful, consider what they’re saying, and thank them for the advice whether you take it or not.

  10. Pay it forward. If you’ve been fortunate enough to have a mentor, pay it forward by mentoring someone else. No matter your age or experience level, there is someone who could use your advice. Offer to mentor a student, a budding entrepreneur or a more junior person in your company. Giving advice and helping your mentee can be equally as rewarding as getting help from your mentor.

Applying these simple principles to any mentor/mentee interaction will help build trust and mutual respect, leading to a more successful and rewarding relationship.