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The Unconventional Guide to Work

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Do or Do Not - There is No Try: Working with a Business Mentor

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When I first started out as a copywriter working for myself, I felt a bit lost. There were so many different directions my career could go, and I wasn’t sure which one to take. I’d never worked for myself before. It was daunting, and I wasn’t sure where to begin to find answers.

Luckily, at a writer’s conference I was lucky to meet a lady who had been running her own copywriting agency for nearly ten years. She’d been through a lot of the same issues I was experiencing, and her business had come out the other side as a thriving copy shop with a range of awesome local and international clients. I wanted to be her when I grew up.

We got to talking, and I nervously asked her if she’d be available to mentor me through the next six months while I got myself established. She agreed, and it was amazing. We’d meet for coffee or over skype once a month, and I’d pick her brains about strategy, managing clients, doing taxes, marketing, and solving problems.

Having also mentored a couple of other acquaintances who wanted to start their own businesses, I’ve seen the mentoring relationship from both sides, so I’d like to talk a little about what works and what doesn’t work when you’re working with a business mentor.

1. Make it Mutually Beneficial

A mentorship should be a mutually-beneficial relationship. For the mentee, they receive a wealth of advice from someone with years of experience in the business. Having to be accountable to a mentor on a regular basis can also help motivate progress.

For the mentor, the relationship gives them an opportunity to give back to the next generation. Also, it’s nice sometimes to take a break from the daily grind to help someone else move ahead. Make sure your mentor never pays for their coffee/lunch, and that they are able to see you taking their advice and applying it to great effect.

2. Set a Regular Schedule

One of the mentoring relationships I had fell apart after a couple of months because she wasn’t able to commit to a regular schedule. If you’re not making regular progress toward your goals, then you are not yet at the stage where a mentor is going to be useful.

Whether you meet weekly, fortnightly, or monthly, set a schedule you can both stick to. You don’t have to meet in person - a phone call or skype session will work fine. It can also help to set a start and end date for your mentoring - giving you a timeframe for working through your growing pains.

3. Plan Sessions in Advance

Never show up to a mentoring session with no idea what you’d like to talk about. Your mentor has taken the time to see you - don’t waste that time dithering. Come prepared with focus topics, questions, themes and case studies you’d like to talk about.

You don’t need to get stuck with the same format each meeting. Instead of meeting for coffee, you could invite your mentor to a networking event and get them to help you make an impression, or go to their office and shadow them at work. Think radically about which areas you need the most help in and get practical, on-the-spot help.

4. Set Goals, Manage Expectations and Build Trust

Your mentoring relationship shouldn’t just be an open-ended agreement. You need to have specific goals in mind in order to get the most out of your time. Ask yourself:

  • What are your short-term and long-term business goals?
  • Where are you now, and where would you like to be in six-months time?
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses as a company? What about as a person?

In order for your relationship to be successful, you’ll need to have realistic expectations from the start. Remember, a mentor isn’t there to pat you on the back and tell you you’re awesome (although hopefully they’ll do a bit of that!) they will be giving you constructive criticism and digging into the heart of your motivations. Be prepared to be told that you can do things better. Don’t get defensive - get your pen out and take some notes.

5. Express Gratitude

This goes beyond simply paying for their coffee. Take every opportunity to give feedback on the help they are giving you. Acknowledge their assistance in your presentations, give them, and definitely send them a Christmas ham (or a Tofurkey, if they don’t eat ham).

Have you worked with a mentor before, or mentored someone yourself? What helped you nurture that relationship? Share your ideas in the comments below.