If you’re in the startup phase of your business, you’ll have quickly learned that you simply can’t do it alone.
Even if what you’re doing is a sole endeavour, you’ll need help from someone who’s been there, bought the t-shirt and made every mistake going.
Such confidants are usually referred to as ‘mentors’, and they will quickly become your most trusted allies as you build your business.
But once you’ve found your mentor, how do you make the most of them? In this post, we aim to answer that question, but we’ll start by defining the qualities that make a great mentor.
Your mentor will be…
…Someone who’s a great fit for you
It’s important – although not vital – to find a mentor who has some experience in your industry, but you shouldn’t look past the importance of finding someone with whom you click immediately.
You’ll potentially be spending a lot of time with your mentor, therefore if you end up with someone who grates on you, that time won’t be in the least bit productive.
…Someone who’s always there for you
Ok, so we all have our limits, and it’s unlikely you’ll find a mentor who will literally be at your beck and call constantly, but the best mentors are the ones who will be at the end of a phone line or message chat when you need them most (even if they have to ring you back after returning from the beach!).
…A great listener
As you get to know your mentor, you’ll discover that the 80/20 rule absolutely applies when it comes to the weight of the conversation.
Despite your mentor’s considerable knowledge and experience, you’ll end up doing most of the talking, because they will be fantastic listeners. They’ll ask questions, digest your answers and provide easy, actionable advice that will make a difference.
…Open-minded and positive
For your business to be successful, you ned to surround yourself with positive people, and that includes your mentor.
It’s vital they’re open-minded, too, because some of the ideas you have might even take them by surprise and require a significant degree of lateral thought to assess their likelihood of success.
…Capable of treating you like an equal, while not pulling any punches
Although your mentor will be considerably more experienced than you, that doesn’t mean you can’t operate on the same level. In fact, they should treat you as an equal at all times, because they’re not your boss – they’re a confidant and source of inspiration.
Mentors are also at their best when they avoid pulling punches and get straight to the point. Often, that means you’ll have to take on board feedback that is hard to bear, but the right mentor will have no qualms about telling you when you’re headed down the path to failure.
6 ways to make the most of your mentorship
So, we’ve learned what makes a great mentor, but how do you make the most of them once they step into your world?
We think it boils down to six key tactics:
1. Start early – don’t expect to be spoon-fed
You might not think it, but the process of being mentored starts long before the mentor enters your life. You need to start early by preparing yourself to be mentored. That means wanting to learn and being proactive in discovering your craft and industry on your own.
When you bring in a mentor, that person won’t spoon-feed you with advice and business tricks that will make you an overnight success. On the contrary, they’ll expect to see a willingness in you to better yourself and ask the right questions, which brings us onto point 2…
2. Come prepared – know what you want
At which stage of the startup journey are you currently? What kind of person are you now? Where exactly do you want to take the business?
These are all questions you need to be asking in order to be prepared for the arrival of a mentor. You could find the best mentor on the planet, but if you’re unprepared and don’t have a clear idea of who you are or what the business needs, you’ll waste valuable (and, often, expensive) time.
3. Get ready for an unexpected lesson or two
If you’re a confident individual (and we’ll assume you are, given your entry into the startup biz), you might fall into the trap of assuming that you have a pretty good idea of the lessons your mentor is going to teach.
You may have identified failings within the business and your own shortcomings, but you’re confident you already know the answer. The purpose of a mentor, therefore, is to simply confirm you’re on the way to hitting the nail on the head – right?
This is rarely the case; most mentors will deliver some very unexpected lessons during their time with you. Their experience and knowledge will uncover answers to problems that you simply would never have thought of – but that’s why you’re using them!
Go in with an open mindset, and never assume you already know it all. Because you probably don’t.
4. Drop your ego
As a startup entrepreneur, it’s easy to inadvertently develop an ego. This isn’t a bad thing on your part – it’s your business after all – but it can prevent you from getting the most out of a mentor.
Instead, enter this particular relationship in as humble a fashion as you dare. Remember – a mentor’s role is to provide insight – not stroke your ego.
5. Don’t dispense with your manners
Whether you’re lucky enough to find a mentor who is willing to offer their services for free or have to dig deep into your funds to pay for their time, you should never forget that the person in question is taking time out of their own business and life to help you.
Regardless of the commercial arrangement you may or may not have with your mentor, the fact they are willing to share with you countless years of experience and gained expertise is incredibly generous.
Manners mean everything in all walks of life, and the same goes during a mentorship. Be gracious with your thanks and do everything you can to illustrate how valuable the mentor is to you – because the more you do that, the more value you’ll get from them!
6. Don’t wait to be told it’s OK to proceed
The main thing your mentor will do is provide actionable advice. And ‘actionable’ is certainly the key phrase, because you’ll actually need to do something once you’ve benefitted from their insight.
While that might seem obvious, far too any mentees wait for the go-ahead before committing themselves, and waste valuable time in the process.
Avoid this by acting when you feel it most appropriate to do so. Equally, if you don’t think the mentor has provided advice that’s in your company’s best interests, tell them so, rather than leaving the point dangling needlessly within your corporate strategy; there may be another way.
A brilliant mentor can be the difference between a startup that ends prematurely and one which surpasses all of its goals.
Working with mentors isn’t easy. It requires a thick stomach and more of a proactive mindset than many think. Use our tips above, and you’ll make the most of someone who may well transform your business and make your big idea a stunning reality.