Thinking Holistically

How to Work with a Business Mentor

Over the past month, we’ve shared our thoughts on why entrepreneurs need mentors and where you can find a mentor for your small business or startup. This week, we’re sharing some tips on how to get the most out of the relationship with your mentor.

Understand Your Mentor’s Role

While your mentor is part of your team, they are not there to do the work for you. A mentor’s role is to provide guidance, perspective and feedback. A good mentor will leverage their own experience, professional expertise, and insights from their successes and failures to help you think strategically about your business. But ultimately, the work of executing the strategy is up to you.

Establish Your Goals

Your experience with your mentor depends a lot on what you are looking to gain from it. It’s important to identify what success looks likes for you and your business and establish business development goals. Also, identify the type of mentor relationship you want to have, whether that’s hands-on or an occasional sounding board. Knowing what you want to gain will help your mentor determine how they can support you in accomplishing your goals.

Agree on Expectations

Having a mentor doesn’t mean you have someone on call to help you with all your business problems. It’s important to have a discussion with your mentor about expectations early on. Know the areas where your mentor is capable of providing guidance and support.

Be clear about what each of you are looking to get out of the relationship.

Establish the frequency and method of communications and meetings.  Also, as you work with your mentor, be aware of how much you are asking of your mentor – try not to overburden them with requests.

Cultivate a Relationship

Good mentoring relationships don’t just happen; they take some work.  It takes time and effort to get to know each other and build trust. Be open with your mentor about what’s happening with you and your business. But, don’t just treat your mentoring communications as transactions where all you do is ask for advice or dump your problems. Nurture your relationship with your mentor. Remember your mentor is another human being that you are getting to know and trust, too. Simple things like asking them how they’re doing and what’s going on in their life will help ground your relationship.

Honor Your Commitments

Your mentor is setting aside time to support you and your business. When you have a meeting scheduled with them, be on time and prepared. Avoid canceling appointments, especially at the last minute. During your meetings, stay present and eliminate distractions, such as checking your texts, emails, or social media. Also, be sure to follow through on any leads given to you by your mentor. They have opened up their network to you, and by following through, you build trust with them.

Listen and Learn

Your mentor is there to give you honest feedback and advice; sometimes it’s positive and sometimes it’s constructive criticism.

Their feedback may even push you out of your comfort zone.

Rather than ignoring or explaining away the feedback you don’t like or don’t feel comfortable with, listen to what your mentor has to say, identify what you can learn from it, and consider how you can use it. Even if you don’t end up using the advice right now, it’s important to listen.

Express Gratitude

Your mentor is investing in you through their time, advice, and contacts. Always thank them for their support. Let them know what actions you plan on taking based on your conversation with them.  And, consider following up with a short note to let them know what the results were—even if they don’t have time to respond, they’ll appreciate the update.

Exercise Reciprocity

Think about ways you can help your mentor. If you see an article that is relevant and interesting to the work they do, send it to them. If you have a lead that supports their work, connect them.

If you’re asked to evaluate your mentor, provide detail on your experience working together.

And, if you’ve had a good mentoring experience, be sure to talk them up in your network as someone who really contributes to the success of entrepreneurs in your community.

If you’re looking for a mentor to help you develop your freelancer, small business, or startup business, you may be interested in our accelerator programs or business advising services in San Francisco or Oakland.