I have a special place in my heart for mentors…because I was there once. I was 17, on my own, living in my car. I also have bad ADD, and could never seem to do anything right, and always seemed to be a failure. A mentor took me into McDonald’s one day and bought me sausage biscuit. He told me “See that person working the drive-thru? You’re not going to turn out like that”. He was no one special, just an old entrepreneur that ran a commercial real estate development company. I’ll never forget the day, because it was the first time in my life anyone ever thought I would make something of myself. As the years went by, I started to learn about who I was, and started to create my own path. Then when I started Synergy Hub and Plan to Start, the first people who came out to help me where…mentors.
So I thought I’d write something about mentors today, with a different twist. Instead of writing about your problems today, I’m going to write about their problems (as mentors), and what as an entrepreneur you can do to help them.
Here are 5 things Entrepreneurs should remember about working with mentors:
1. You’re Not Entitled to Anything
This is an issue alot of mentors experience from entrepreneurs, and even anyone like myself, who blogs for entrepreneurs or helps entrepreneurs. For every person thankful for your help, there are two more that have a sense of entitlement beyond belief.
Remember, no one has to help you; good mentors are not sponsored by the government, they are not paid by a non-profit, they aren’t even paid at all….other then to hope one day their good work will change the course of someone’s life. They do so out of their own compassion for what you are going through. So drop the ego trip. The more people running around out there snapping at our mentors, the more our mentors…don’t want to mentor.
But just because you need help, or guidance, doesn’t mean you have an ego trip. What we are talking about, are the entrepreneurs that feel they have the right to come out and say things to mentors like “I hate you” or as we see one Entrepreneur’s comment in the Startup Foundry’s post: “You can’t see how great our app is because your head is so far up your ass”.
The problem is alot of Entrepreneurs will automatically view mentors as people that told them “you’ll be a failure”, or “no, don’t do that” back in their childhood. You’ve got to let the past go, and accept people that just want to help. Understand you are just different (and there is nothing wrong with that), but it can be difficult for people to understand how to work with you. You’ve got to help them understand you.
2. Be Respectful of Time
Again, let’s remember mentors have to survive because they don’t get paid for it. This means they most likely run another company, or many companies, as well as probably have a family. Try to pay for coffee, lunches, whatever you can. They probably won’t let you pay for it, but it’s the gesture that counts. Try to go where your mentor is, and be respectful of their time and schedule.
3. One at a Time
Don’t be mad if a mentor can’t dedicate time to you. Many mentors are one-on-one type coaches, and can only handle one (or two) Entrepreneurs at a time. Once you answer a question, or sometimes two questions, you are pretty much bonded to that Entrepreneur. You become someone they trust, and you can’t break that trust. They’ll return to you again, and again, for questions and resolutions to their problems. This is great…it’s what mentors love helping with. But just understand, mentors have to commit fully to you…or not at all.
Mentors usually decide within the first question or two, if they are going to commit to you. On the flip side, it’s ok to have more then one mentor. Often, a mix of different types of mentors can give you a whole outlook on situations. But don’t get too many to where the “voices” stress you out more than help you. Focus on the one or two you resonate most with.
4. Give Back the Mentoring
If you’ve been fortunate enough to have been saved by mentors, go back to mentor. You also don’t have to make it all the way through before you start giving back. Sometimes, it can help other entrepreneurs to go through experiences together (like I’ve been doing here ). Although, the grey beards, as my friends calls them (saying this kindly), tend to have more time on their hands to help you.
5. Don’t Complicate Things
Your situation is complicated enough. Don’t overload your mentor with legalities like NDA’s, non-competes, etc. This is a trusted relationship. If you don’t have enough trust in your mentor to not flip out NDA’s….then the mentor/mentoree relationship isn’t going to work. Most mentors have their own companies as we talked about above. This does mean with any mentor you can run into potential competition, but mentors have high personal values (if they didn’t, they wouldn’t be mentoring in the first place!) to not use your information for their benefit…and 99% of them won’t respond, or even read your information, if they feel they could be potential competition. So in short, don’t worry about it.