In the world of entrepreneurship, consistent evidence demonstrates the importance of mentors to entrepreneurial success. Mentors provide coaching, guidance, and can even be champions at critical moments during the entrepreneur’s journey. In fact, according to an article by Lisa Calhoun of Valor Ventures, almost half of female founders (48 percent) cite a lack of available mentors or advisers as holding them back.
SCORE, the nation’s largest network of volunteer expert business mentors, released a report earlier this year that looked at the impact of mentoring on business success and found that:
There are plenty of articles on the importance of mentorship, but how do founders find and keep engaged mentors? It takes a lot more effort than scheduling a monthly meeting after finding a startup supernova at a local networking event or conference. A meaningful relationship, where the mentor provides sound business advice and coaching, requires that the entrepreneur be both prepared and committed in order to keep the mentor interested in continuing that support. Here are five pieces of advice for entrepreneurs who want to find, and keep, a mentor.
The number one way entrepreneurs kill their chances to build solid relationships with good mentors is by not being prepared. Schedule meetings ahead of time and send an agenda—in addition to any major updates, give enough notice that mentors can review and prepare. Good mentors who are interested in an entrepreneur’s success will review an agenda and do their research, including asking their network for advice if there is a challenge their specific skill sets do not address.
When a mentor reports that they are unsure whether they have been helpful to an entrepreneur, it is typically a polite way of saying that the entrepreneur did not ask questions specific to their area of expertise. Mentors want to help, so ask for it—but ask them for guidance and information around challenges that they have a depth of knowledge around. Do not simply ask them to retell their startup stories.
Keeping important people in the loop without inundating them with emails is easy. At the beginning of each month, send stakeholders a company update—note the milestones and the successes—identify challenges mentors might be able to help with. These simple, regular email updates give an opportunity to reconnect and keep mentors in the loop on how a business is growing. They also can chime in and provide support if an entrepreneur is facing a challenge that they might be able to help with.
Even when mentors do not have the answers to a problem, they may be willing to open up their Rolodexes and make introductions to people who can help. When this happens, entrepreneurs must respond quickly to set up a time to talk at their convenience. Then they must do the homework to understand who this person is and how they can help. That way, entrepreneurs are not only utilizing this new contact’s time effectively, they also are not wasting their own. Once the meeting takes place, let the mentor know and identify how the new contact was helpful.
A handwritten thank you note may not always be necessary, but an email certainly is. After meetings, especially if in person, send a quick note thanking mentors for their time and expertise. Later on, after successfully implementing specific advice from a mentor, tell them. These individuals want to know that they are being helpful—it also never feels bad to have someone tell you that you were right.
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