Take Five Minutes: Organise a meeting with a mentor
When you can turn to a mentor for advice, it will speed up your business and your career immensely. Here is how to find a mentor and how to make the relationship as productive and enriching as possible.
What is "Take Five Minutes"?
In this series I want to encourage you to take just five minutes out of your busy day to set yourself up for bigger, better success.
People wonder how they can make their dreams come true: very often, it's a matter of working out a way of making a small dent in a big ambition, putting the right systems in place, and making sure that it's easy for these systems to work.
I will share my own systems, so that you can test them and see whether they work for you.
If you want to share a five-minute system with my readers or indeed give me feedback on how this is working for you, tweet me @SusanHayes_
Remember, it only takes five minutes, right now, to change the course of history - your history at least!
Organise a meeting with a mentor
A mentor is somebody who can give you guidance and who takes an interest in how you're advancing. It's very reassuring to know somebody is at your side. Having a mentoring relationship can speed up your success and make you accountable - you're much more likely to respond to stretch deadlines when "reporting back" to somebody.
I've sought out mentoring from the very beginning of my career and I will continue to do so all the way through.
Mentoring can be a very businesslike relationship, in which you ask for specific advice about a certain issue. It can also be a more nurturing, less formal relationship with somebody you trust and who is an excellent listener, reflecting your doubts back to you and helping you gain clarity. (Read more here about my "board meetings")
You might have several mentors for the different kinds of guidance you need: sometimes you need industry-specific "troubleshooting" advice, and other times you need "softer" or wider-ranging life advice.
A mentor could be anybody you look up to. A mentor is not necessarily somebody who follows you through the years. They can also be a person who checks in regularly for a definite period of time, while you face a certain issue or experience a certain phase.
That's why a mentoring relationship can be as light as a very specific question once every few months - and then once in a while a longer heart-to-heart. But you don't need to formally ask somebody "Will you be my mentor?" for them to become a role model and a trusted advisor.
Why do it
Having a win-win relationship with a business mentor who takes interest in your career is one of the most impactful actions you can take: it will accelerate your business and career. A mentor who has "been there and done that" can save you so much time. They can open you up to new ideas and opportunities as well as help you avoid pitfalls. It's personally enriching, not to mention highly motivating, to know that somebody else is also curious about what you find exciting, and that they want you to succeed.
"I don't have a mentor - who would want to mentor me?"
Many people choose to mentor other entrepreneurs because it's a pay-it-forward exercise. So if you think you have "nothing to offer" in exchange, or if you believe you're not the kind of "promising bright young thing" people want to invest their time in, forget these ideas.
People will want to help you because they were helped once - and you in turn will help somebody else when the time comes. That's how the business world works: on goodwill and trust.
And as they say, "When the student is ready, the master will appear".
"How do I find a mentor? Is there a good way of approaching a potential advisor?"
There are a range of mentoring initiatives in place where you can get funding for paid mentoring sessions. The Local Enterprise Office offers a Mentor Programme that will match you up with an experienced business practitioner, after a business needs analysis.
Learn to ask for help effectively. Think about what you want out of the session: it works best if you have pointed questions.
Approach your mentor with a very specific, very well-defined problem that shows that you have already taken action. Tell them "This is what I've been trying, it hasn't worked as evidenced by A, B and C, and I'm trying to decide between X and Y - can you see something that I'm not seeing?"
Think through what you would do with the answer once you get it. For example, you are wondering how to recruit your first employee. What will you do with the knowledge? Do you have an interest in actually recruiting someone very soon, or are you more interested in simply listening to another person's stories? Be clear on which one you want.
Ideally, you will walk away from a mentoring meeting with some actionable steps and you will be willing to test out some ideas before the next session.
Here is how to make the most of a mentoring relationship
1. Prepare for each meeting thoroughly.
After an initial catch-up, settle into a conversation about a specific problem you're experiencing or a brainstorm around a key project. Enjoy showcasing how you've arrived at this point and then elaborate on what it would mean to you if you could get to a workable solution.
A mentor is going to expect that you report on your findings from experience, as much as you are asking them for guidance. Leverage these meetings to hold yourself accountable.
2. Be very open.
It's important to put your cards on the table and be very honest. It's the only way you will get the most helpful guidance.
Sometimes honest, useful guidance may not be what we want to hear. The purpose of the conversation is to discuss how to move towards a solution: remember that, if you find it difficult to listen to the advice. It's not about you, it's about the issue at hand.
Don't sweep issues under the rug to make a better impression. Be ready to receive the help somebody else is ready to give, even if you find it unpleasant for any reason. This meeting is about actively solving problems for the betterment of you and your business.
An experienced mentor is expecting you to have questions, not to be perfect. Be prepared for critical analysis: it is designed to speed you up and not slow you down. That's the only way your mentor will be able to help you.
Take five minutes today to seek out a mentor, to cultivate your relationship with them, or to follow up on the advice they shared - it can be an amazing use of five minutes!