First off, let’s start with a definition: a business mentor is a professional figure who decides to put her knowledge at the disposal of those who ask for it. A mentor acts in the best interest of a less experienced person (the mentee).
To be a business mentor, it is not mandatory to be a thought leader in your field. however, it is necessary to have gained some years of expertise in a particular industry, holding one or more functions and some practical knowledge. Business mentors voluntarily share their competencies without being paid: mentoring is an outright form of volunteering, one of the best as based on well-grounded giving back to society.
Coaches are also another relevant figure you can turn to when looking for advice, but they are different from mentors in many respects. Indeed, business coaches are usually paid for their help. Moreover, business coaching relationships tend to last a maximum of 1 year, while collaborations between a mentor and a mentee usually last longer – at least 1 year or 2.
Another key differentiator is that a coaching relationship is more formal and structured if compared to a mentorship program. While the former is articulated in a series of well-defined and coordinated meetings, where the agenda has been co-decided at the beginning with a strong focus on performance, the latter is more occasional, depending on the needs of the mentee.
Additionally, the mentor usually has a more holistic, development-driven approach, thus a focus on the overall progress of the business; conversely, the coach tends to focus on performance-related aspects, with respect to which achievements are also more easily measurable.
Have you ever thought about how your startup could improve with the help of a leading professional in your industry? Recent research from TechCrunch shows that startup founders who are mentored by great entrepreneurs and industry experts are 33% more likely to become top performers and achieve their business goals.
There is a lot of evidence in support of mentoring programs: indeed, they improve any startup business’ profitability, boosting their chances of success and increasing their lifecycle. A business mentor can provide her mentees with business acumen, valuable information and thoughtful guidance. But the benefits for mentees do not end here.
Being professionals who have usually gathered many years of experience in the field, business mentors come with their own network to share. This is a huge benefit, as you might start collaborating with some other mentors to face each and every challenge you might encounter in your business venture, and avoid failure.
Another real perk of relying on a business mentor, possibly obvious but often overlooked, is the opportunity to learn from a sort of “older brother (or sister)”. Indeed, a mentor is not your parent: they will not tell you what to do and ask for your obedience. Rather, like older siblings, they will give you their advice in your best interest, hoping that you will be able to learn from their past mistakes and accomplishments.
On the other hand, the mentor themselves will also gain more than just “something” for their own career and personal life. Indeed, a study conducted between 2010 and 2015 at Sun Microsystems showed that those employees that engaged in mentoring activities were no less than 6 times more likely to be promoted than those who didn’t mentor, and 20% more likely to get a salary raise.
Moreover, mentoring will naturally expand the knowledge of those who engage in it, giving them access also to fresh ideas, new perspectives on their industry of belonging and a chance to train their emotional intelligence – a factor that is proven to be a key differentiator in career advancement.
Networking is another undeniable benefit coming from mentoring, and it is of a twofold type too. Not only the mentor will consolidate already existing professional relationships with the other mentors they already know, but they will meet other new mentors who can become important acquaintances for their own job.
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Dealing with some evidence, there is a study on chief financial officers in the USA which found that 62% of them had served as mentors. Among those who did, 38% said the greatest benefit was the opportunity to improve their leadership skills (even more than the 29% who said the top benefit was the personal satisfaction of helping someone). Indeed, mentoring also allows people working in corporate companies to develop the skills they need to conquer leadership roles.
Last but not by importance, there is another benefit mentors can extract from their mentoring activities. There are many examples of mentors who have also become financially involved in the startups they have been following.
Indeed, there is no rule forbidding mentors to become also investors. And actually, given the great knowledge mentors have acquired of the startup company they have been advising, it is more likely that they will know when the right time to invest comes, and may be able to enter the firm with overall very advantageous conditions.
But let’s now talk about the steps that you, an experienced businessman or newbie in the industry, should take to select the right mentor for your company.
In a famous quote, the billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson says that he has different mentors for each of the projects he has launched. And here we go with the first aspect to pinpoint: there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach when looking for the right mentor for your business. Therefore, before starting to reach out to potential mentor profiles, be sure that you know what it is that you want from your future collaboration.
Moreover, the communication style of your mentor is also something you want to think about. People are different and express themselves in multiple ways. Try to select someone that communicates the way that best works for you and your team – you will understand that after a first chat together.
You should look for someone who has experience in your industry vertical. Indeed, although a professional with general expertise in a given function may still turn up being useful for your business purposes, it is likely that there will be a lack of nuances in their advice. However, considering that success is your objective – not an easy one – just aim at someone that could provide you with the best possible solutions to overcome some problems she might be familiar with.
Having a glance at the resume of your future mentor is a necessary step to take. Since the business mentor, you are going to bank on is a person you need to fully trust with their competencies, be sure that they are very good at what they do. This will be a trust booster, making the mutual collaboration hyper-productive since the beginning.
If having a different mentor for each and every activity of your startup may become too troublesome, selecting even one single fit for your business might entail some brainstorming at first. The functional area to be covered needs to be clear from the beginning, as you should think about getting on board a person that has a strong skill set in an area that is not fully covered by your team.
For instance, if nobody in your startup has a digital marketing background and you feel you might need some advice in that area, you might look for someone who’s proficient in it.
While it is important to have seamless communication in this two-way mentoring relationship, it is also crucial that your mentor tells you exactly what she thinks about how your business is doing and where it should improve. If the objective is bringing your business to its full potential, getting things straight and knowing the truth is exactly what you need, so as to decide where to push harder.
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Don’t be shy, we are waiting for you! If you are eager to share your experience and knowledge with entrepreneurs and startuppers while getting to know about the new trends in the industry before everyone else, join our Mentorship Program. You will meet many enthusiastic people who will further increase your passion for what you do every day, boosting your skills and resume!