This blog post is being brought to you by Visa Small Business.
Wouldn’t it be amazing if your life were filled with wise, intuitive, smart-hearted people who could point you in the right direction?
Well, obviously, right?
Each and every one of us could probably benefit from some learned-the-hard-way advice and insight when our professional future is a bit foggy.
Enter: the powerhouse mentoring team.
Yes, that’s right. Not just one mentor but a team. It makes sense, right? It’s not fair to pin all our dreams – professional or personal – on an individual, so why are we looking for a sole mentor to guide and advise us? It will do you good to get advice on social media, publishing, brick and mortar business, and philanthropy – all from different people.
I think one of the most common misperceptions of a mentor is that he or she is someone you’ll meet with weekly and they will hold your hand through achieving your goals. That’s a coach, not a mentor. I’ve discussed this whole idea of what mentorship is with Arlene Dickinson, star of Dragon’s Den in Canada. Arlene is super busy and not someone who has time for hand holding, but she supports me when she can. Even if I could only connect with her a couple times per year, I consider her a mentor.
Sometimes mentorship happens within a more formalized relationship, and other times it’s just a single session or meeting. For example, I had the privilege of sitting down with Arianna Huffington as the recipient of America’s Most Inspiring Young Women. She gave me a lot of great advice in a short period of time, and I consider that mentorship.
So where should you start?
Nail down your goals
You need to know what you want in order to get it. Do you want advice on making Big Deal connections? Do you want constructive criticism on your business model? Do you need feedback on your presentations? Figure out where you need help, what you want to accomplish, and go from there. It’s good to be super clear with a potential mentor what you are hoping to discuss with them. I like to focus on 3-5 questions, and show those to my mentor ahead of time so that they see I have a plan for our session and won’t waste both of our valuable time.
Work on your weaknesses
A good mentor is someone who will help you overcome challenges or teach you things you don’t know. If you’re a solid writer but you’re not good at publicity, pair yourself with someone who knows how to self-promote. If you’re struggling with accounting, find someone in your field who understands tax write offs.
Seek honest feedback
A good mentor tells you when you’re making a mistake or when they think you could do better. Of course, it’s not always easy to hear but you can get all the blind praise you need from your mom. The right mentor will (kindly, diplomatically) point out the holes in your plan or ways you can improve your pitch the next time around.
When I sat down with Gina Bianchini of Mightybell (formerly the founder of Ning.com) she gave me the most honest feedback out of anyone else and I really appreciated how she made me rethink what I was working on, and how I was working on it.
Now that you’ve thought about a few great people, let’s talk about care and maintenance of your mentors.
But you knew that already, right? Your mentor is taking time out of their busy life and graciously giving you insights they could be billing for. Send thank you notes, tweet about how much you appreciate their insight, and consider a small, thoughtful gift at Christmas.
Show them how their advice has impacted you
If they told you to join Twitter and it’s now your number one traffic referrer, tell them that. If they introduced you to someone who has become an ongoing client, keep them up to date. No matter how experienced, people like to know that their advice is valued and helpful.
Know when it’s over
If your mentor is becoming increasingly unavailable, if you’re not connecting like you used to, or if you feel like you’ve learned all you can from them, it’s okay to call it. If you want to make things official, you could send them a handwritten card thanking them for their help and say something like “I look forward to putting all that advice into action as I continue in my ventures. Thank you for taking the time to mentor me and I hope that I can do the same someday.”
Lastly, don’t be afraid to trust yourself. You don’t have to do everything your mentors say, especially if your gut is telling you otherwise.
Business changes fast and just because something worked for your mentor, doesn’t mean it will work for you and your clients. If something doesn’t ring true, you’re not professionally obligated to follow their advice.
A good mentor can completely transform your career – just imagine what a whole team can do!
Disclaimer: I am blogging on behalf of Visa Business and received compensation for my time from Visa for sharing my views in this post, but the views expressed here are solely mine, not Visa’s. Visit http://facebook.com/visasmallbiz to take a look at the reinvented Facebook Page: Well Sourced by Visa Business. The Page serves as a space where small business owners can access educational resources, read success stories from other business owners, engage with peers, and find tips to help businesses run more efficiently. Every month, the Page will introduce a new theme that will focus on a topic important to a small business owner’s success. For additional tips and advice, and information about Visa’s small business solutions, follow @VisaSmallBiz and visit http://visa.com/business.