Game changers: How mentors help maximize startup success
You’re stumped on a development problem, are in need of some advice, or don’t know where to turn to grow your business. Who better to turn to than someone who has been exactly where you are?
Having someone who is objective in your corner, brings vast experience, and is knowledgeable about your business is exactly the type of relationship every entrepreneur can benefit from.
Mentors can be an absolute game-changer for founders and their employees. They provide wisdom you gain only from experience and time – two pieces that founders lack early on in their careers.
From universities to accelerators, many organizations tout the benefits of mentorship for entrepreneurial success, and research strongly suggests they’re not wrong. A 2014 study by the MicroMentor program noted that mentored businesses increased revenue by 83 per cent, while companies without mentors only saw an increase of 16 per cent.
Mentors – particularly for startups – can help early stage founders avoid the same mistakes they’ve made in the past. Sharing hard lessons learned can provide invaluable insights to founders and their employees at every stage.
We pulled together a few tips to help you make the most of your mentor-mentee relationship.
Know what you need
Before seeking out a mentor, start by reflecting on the type of expertise your business needs. Evaluate your current business problems and your team’s skill set. Look for mentors who have experience that complement your business without creating too much overlap in skills and knowledge.
A mentor-mentee relationship means that both you and the mentor are committing valuable time. Setting clear expectations upfront about what you’re looking for in a mentor will help you both avoid wasting time in the long run.
Make the ask
Finding a mentor can be tough, but it is even more difficult if you don’t know how or when to make the ask. While some mentor relationships can fall into place naturally, that isn’t always the case.
Asking someone to be your mentor can be a big commitment and is a question you should never put someone on the spot with. Instead, try asking someone to meet for coffee. Get to know your prospective mentor and come prepared with questions about their experience. Be sure to keep it conversational – no one needs to feel like they’re at a job interview during what should be a casual chat.
After your meeting, consider how you interacted with the person. Did they inspire and motivate you? If you feel like there’s a connection, follow up to let them know you appreciated their time. Then, set up a plan to continue nurturing the relationship.
If, after a few meetings, the person seems like they would make a great mentor, explain to them that you value the relationship, and ask if they would be open to a mentor relationship.
If you want to make the most of your relationship with your mentor, you need to be a great learner – one who picks up on lessons quickly. This will ensure that you maximize the opportunity to learn from your mentor. Mentors want to know that you will retain and leverage the knowledge they share with you, and they certainly don’t want to teach the same lessons over and over again. Learning quickly and applying what you learned will show your mentor their advice is being put to good use.
There are a number of techniques you can use to improve your ability to learn. One thing you can try is taking notes during or immediately after a meeting with your mentor – but be sure to use a pen and paper instead of an electronic device. Despite being a slower method, the act of writing information on paper can help with retention and comprehension.
Speaking of taking notes, your note-taking skills will impact your learning ability. Strategies to improve your notes include listening first and then writing notes in your own words, leaving space to circle back and add information to key ideas, and developing a consistent system for abbreviations and symbols.
People appreciate those who follow through on things they say they’re going to do, and this is especially true for mentors. Every time you meet with a mentor, you are taking time from their day. They are not meeting to simply share career stories with you, they’re meeting to provide information that you can turn into action.
Mentors want to know you are making meaningful progress in between meetings. One thing you can do to demonstrate your efforts is providing your mentor with brief progress reports when you meet. This shows you listened to their advice and – more importantly – that you acted on it. If you decide not to take their advice, be sure to provide solid reasoning to support your decision.
Share your gratitude
Whether someone helps you with a small problem or helps you meet major milestones for your business, be sure to share your appreciation and let them know how valuable their insights were.
Greeting cards, thank-you notes or plants are small gestures with big meaning. Show your appreciation and never forget to do so.