Sometimes you are so close to the business/issue that you need an outside perspective—a mentor. Finding a mentor (or two) who can bring some skills and experience to your situation can be helpful. While you might be fortunate enough to find a mentor who is willing to mentor you for free, you may also find value in a consultant. While I was able to find people who had already made their bones, as they say, to mentor me for free, I also spent some money ($5,000–$10,000) for small projects and advice early on in the business. Even though it was compensated work that I paid for, I considered these consultants mentors and people capable of being honest. I also kept in touch with them and occasionally asked their opinions since they had come to know my business.
Here are a few observations on mentors that might help you find the right one. In my experience of using mentors and being mentored, the best mentors exhibit the following:
- They make the time for you. This may sound obvious, but when you have to wait days and weeks for a mentor to get back to you, that is not good. Said positively, a true mentor will make time for you at just about any hour of the day.
- Organize your issues into manageable and prioritized buckets. You need to treat a mentor’s time as very valuable and group your issues into manageable buckets (versus a list of a hundred). You cannot call them many times per day or per week with small questions and be a nuisance. Maybe instead of making it as-needed, you try and schedule time every one to three weeks to catch up.
- Mentors are fully present when you are with them. A true mentor can remember what you have been challenged with from prior discussions and ties issues together. They are really listening and taking your issues on board.
- Good mentors ask good questions before providing advice. They ask insightful questions that, in and of themselves, make you pause, and they ask a lot of them. They want to really assess what you are dealing with before providing thoughts.
- It’s about you, not them! I cannot tell you how many times I called someone for advice and instead ended up giving them advice, never really getting to my issues. Mentors realize it is more of a one-way street; right now, you need their help. This can and should change as time progresses, but, in the early days, you need the help and the mentor, not vice versa.
- They bring real-life, relevant, and recent experiences to your discussions. They can tell stories that have meaning and applicability for you. They can cite successes and failures with great detail that has relevance to your situation. Said another way, be careful that a mentor is not past their prime or has been on the sidelines so long that their experiences are not 100 percent relevant. I have had occasions where I wanted for someone to be a mentor really badly and then came to realize they had lost touch with the business world.
- Relevant mentors can also refer you to other mentors and people who can provide advice or services (lawyers, accountants, bankers, and so forth). They are active and respected in the areas you need mentorship.
- Finally, a good mentor stays in rhythm with your business. They reach out to you to see how things are going or call you to ask the particular results/outcomes on something they provided advice on. I have used the analogy of jogging. For me, to be a good mentor, I need to “jog” next to your business and stay in rhythm with it.
Mentors can help you with an experienced outside-in perspective that is sometimes impossible to get when you are running or starting a business.