Mentorship and Moving Your Business Forward
As a business owner, the most important thing you can do (other than being willing to put in the work) is finding experts in the topic areas that you need help with. If you are smart and self-aware, you will find you need help in every area. This is not to say you don’t know how to figure things out, but that you can always find someone with a different perspective who can share their life experience with you. Mentors are there not to run your business for you, but to help you think outside the box and implement ideas quickly, and it all starts with your willingness to be coachable and take constructive criticism.
For me, being able to apply expertise and advice to my business is what has made it survive through the tough times and ultimately continue to grow. Entrepreneurship is never easy, but when you put in the work and have the right people supporting you, it makes the journey of learning really fun. This blog post isn’t going to help you find the right mentors, but hopefully it gives you some easy action items on how to prepare for mentor meetings, take conflicting advice and continue moving forward.
Preparing for Mentorship
We’ve all received that incredibly general advice before that was meant to be helpful but was something you’d heard about 10,000 times already. If you want to avoid it from happening again, please read on:
Plan Time Accordingly
Keep in mind that most mentor meetings are about 1 hour. Make sure you are being conscientious of the time allotted and come prepared with an appropriate amount of topics/questions to discuss.
Consider the Location of the Meeting
Meetings today are sometimes in person but can also be done via phone or video call. Dress appropriately and print out the information you want the mentor to look at or send information to discuss over to them in advance.
Understand Your Audience
Your mentor most likely has a specific topic they like to focus on. Find out what it is, and make sure you keep your meeting focused on their expertise. Mentors want to be helpful. Do not waste your time or theirs by asking questions about topics for which they have no interest.
Context is Key
Be articulate with where you are at with your business. In order to get advice that is applicable, make sure you are explaining the context of the situation so that the mentor can have enough information to give you an educated opinion.
Send Information Early
If you want specific advice, then you need to make sure the mentor has time to review the options available and can understand what you have already done to try and figure out a solution. It is your job to make sure they understand the groundwork you have already done so they don’t backtrack what you have already thought about.
Listening to Your Mentor
One of the biggest complaints I’ve heard from mentors is after they’ve tried to give helpful advice but the mentee doesn’t follow through. Do not be this person. If you have done the items above in preparation, then you should be getting sound advice. If you don’t use the advice then you are wasting both your time and theirs. Use the following tips on how to listen and develop through your mentor.
While there are some people out there with magical memories, don’t count on remembering everything you hear. Take notes on your action items at the very least. It shows the mentor that you are paying attention. Furthermore, it will keep your next steps clear in your mind.
Thank your mentor for their time either via email or, even better, with a handwritten note. Almost no one does this anymore. It makes the mentor feel appreciated and that you value their time.
Hopefully you got some awesome ideas from the meeting. That is great! If you said you were going to try something, then get started as soon as possible, and let the mentor know how it goes. If you need help with the next phase of the project then ask for another meeting. Rinse and repeat!
There will be times when you get advice from more than one of your respected mentors. While having multiple ideas can be beneficial, it can also be overwhelming. Knowing how to move forward so you don’t offend or disregard one over the other is imperative to being coachable. Here are some of the options that I use most often in this type of situation.
Select the Advice You Like Best
Pro: You can act quickly and see how it goes.
Con: You will risk offending the other mentor by not using their advice.
Use Both Ideas
Pro: You get the benefit of trying multiple ideas at once. (This works really well with marketing ideas because you can implement more than one idea at a time.)
Con: This isn’t always an option when you need to move forward quickly in one direction.
Create an Email Outlining the Conflicting Advice
Pro: This option is my favorite because it becomes a group effort. It allows you to define what you like about both mentor ideas and how you would like to move forward. It makes sure you aren’t burning a bridge with either mentor and shows that you want to make the best decisions for the company. It allows the mentors to see each other’s advice, too, which can create even more synergy and lead to a better third option.
Con: It takes a little bit longer to make the decision and act on the item.
Remember, ultimately you are the decision maker. You are the one that needs to move the ideas forward. If you have prepared for your meetings well, each mentor should have been able to give you sound advice. You are the expert on your business, so be confident in choosing the best path forward!
Looking for tools to help grow your startup or small business? Visit the Small Business Resources Hub to find the information you need or sign up for Mentor Connection to build relationships with a trusted group of mentors.
Lana Fox is an Iowa native now residing in Greater Des Moines (DSM) with her husband and a baby on the way. She is the president of ClinicNote, an electronic medical record made for therapists to utilize in private practice clinics and in university teaching clinics.