The Dos and Don’ts of the Mentor Relationship

"When the Student is Ready, the Teacher will Come"

One of the key relationships an entrepreneur can have during the entire entrepreneurial process is with a mentor. Mentors inspire you to keep working toward your goal and guide you through the inevitable rough patches. You can turn to your mentor for advice though they are not necessarily considered an adviser. The relationship is deeper than that. Over time you will develop a relationship of trust and admiration with your mentor. You can take tough feedback from them because you know that they genuinely care about you and your business.

seattle rtThe best mentors will ask you penetrating questions that force you to really think about your answers. They do not tell, they ask. They share their wisdom without preaching to you. Often they know your strengths better than you do and will remind you of them when you need reminding. A mentor can be your champion and your advocate. They will point you in the right direction and help you find clarity in what can be a very confusing venture.

During our Seattle Roundtable at Summit Law Group in June 2012, we spoke with entrepreneurs and mentors about key elements of the mentor/mentee relationship. We received advice about how to maintain and foster this important connection.

DO have a specific ‘ask’ when talking with your mentor.
Mentors are busy people. Though they enjoy guiding you through the entrepreneurial process they don’t have time to guess at what you really need from them. Giving them a specific issue to cover will help them help you. For instance, you can say, “You just heard my pitch, can you help me with my tagline.”

DO start with smaller transactions to see where the relationship goes.
An effective mentor/mentee relationship grows over time. If you have someone who you would like to mentor you, begin with an informal meeting for coffee. Ask for an opinion about a particular aspect of your venture. See where it goes from there.

DON’T cold call someone and ask them to be your mentor.
Though some may have found success by doing this, it is not the ideal way to start a relationship. Get an introduction from a mutual friend or co-worker. Think about your own network and who you already know that might be perfect as your mentor.

Do demonstrate positive growth to your mentor.
Mentors want to see that the mentee is actually benefitting from the relationship. They want to know that there is upward movement and change.

DON’T ask the same questions over and over again.
It frustrates mentors when they feel that their mentees aren’t moving forward on a particular issue. Approaching your mentor with the same problem you talked about before indicates that you are either not listening or not acting.

DO demonstrate some level of self-awareness.
Know your core values and be able to express those. Understand that the most successful entrepreneurs are not the ones that come into it to get rich quick. They move into entrepreneurialism because of a passion, not necessarily to make money.

DON’T come to a meeting unprepared.
Do your homework before you meet with your mentor. Don’t be scattered and random at your meeting. Be precise and well prepared so that your meeting goes smoothly for both of you.

DO nurture the mentor relationship.
After a meeting, send your mentor a note with three action items that you discussed. Then get back to your mentor as you fulfill those action items.

DON’T make every transaction an ask for help.
Some people use a mentorship as a front to access capital either from the mentor or from the mentor’s network. Mentors are not walking rolodexes. This is not the purpose of the relationship.

DO make the relationship a two-way street.
You will ask and receive help from your mentor but offer you mentor something as well. Get to know their business and what interests them. Send them articles about these interests periodically.

Being an entrepreneur can be very lonely. Not only do you work long hours by yourself but you constantly have to make decisions on your own often based on minimal experience. A mentor can help you through this long, arduous, yet very fulfilling venture. Take the time and effort to find someone to be your mentor and then when you’re ready become a mentor yourself.

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