I meet a lot of companies that are allocated mentors through programmes such as Launch.ed or RSE Enterprise Fellowships, but many of them tell me they don’t get much help from their mentors. I also meet a lot of mentors, many of whom say companies appear to have no interest in being mentored (I have been on this side of mentoring myself). This pattern is common enough that I think there are some fundamental misunderstandings about mentorship relationships. Here is how I think young companies can best make use of mentors…
Regularly Set Direction
Arrange time with your mentor (for example over a coffee) on a regular basis to give them an update on what you have done, and what you are planning to do. That way they can give you feedback on what you have done, and help to refine your plan of action. A mentor who is up to date with events and who has input to planning is much more likely to feel involved and useful – and therefore motivated!
Always Ask Questions
When you have any situation that you are wondering what to do about, or that you find confusing, ask your mentor for help. Pick up the phone, and discuss the problem with them. Willingness to do this is why they have become a mentor in the first place.
Respect Mentors Time
Most mentors are busy people, but they are also experienced and outgoing enough that they would rather receive a call and say “sorry, I’m busy right now” than think of you struggling alone. If you think you are calling your mentor too often, just ask how they feel about it. You will probably get a very straightforward answer!
Use Mentors As Connectors
Many mentors have extensive networks which have huge potential value to the companies they mentor. A specific description of skills or experience you are looking for makes it much easier for a mentor to make appropriate introductions. A mentor is more likely to be comfortable making connections when they have got to know you and your business.
Don’t Mistake Mentors for Co-Founders
Co-Founders will share the burden of driving a business forward, and has interests that should be closely aligned with the other founders
Mentors are people who make themselves available to offer advice, help and contacts, usually in response to direct requests.
Mentors are often willing to put in a huge amount of time and effort, but they will expect the mentee to drive the process.
If you have an idea or technology but don’t feel you can drive it forward, you probably need a co-founder rather than a mentor!