In this weekly column, CEO of The DEC Network, Bill Chinn, interviews a “celebrity mentor” that is currently participating in the organization’s Fast Start Mentor Program. The program matches tenured business leaders who have handled crises before to small business owners struggling to navigate the COVID-19 crisis.
This week, Bill Chinn spoke with Mary Dee, CXO Advisor of MadLove Agency, to get actionable advice for small business owners and entrepreneurs including being candid if you have a bad mentor, letting your good mentors know they are appreciated and meeting your mentee where they are at and providing them with a vision of what is possible.
Bill Chinn: First things first, why did you choose to become a mentor and why is mentoring important to you?
Mary Dee: In my early days as a young entrepreneur, I was fortunate enough to have both good and bad mentors. I appreciated the experience because it actually helped me to understand the difference between the two. I feel like it was a good Cliff Notes version of Business 101 that I never learned in school. It provided me with frameworks and advice I could use in the real world and in doing real business, not just fluff or hypothetical examples. There are lots of businesses going through a bit of a whirlwind right now and entrepreneurs are trying to keep their dreams afloat—it’s a lot to navigate through. The bigger your organization, the bigger the life raft you need, so getting insight from someone who has been there before is a great way to shorten that learning curve and the pain that can come along with it. I was definitely one of those that benefited from that early on in my career as well.
Chinn: That’s a great point you mentioned about bad mentors. If you get a mentor that’s not a good fit for you, what do you do?
Dee: The best thing to do is to just be candid and honest about it, and I think that there is a very professional way to do that. Just being candidly honest and saying, “I appreciate your time and I’m looking for something a little different right now, but thank you for being willing to invest in me.” That’s nice and simple, and that keeps it clean.
Chinn: That’s great advice. Tell me a little bit about your mentoring experience—is there a mentoring relationship you’re in right now or a previous one that has been really fruitful and worked out well?
Dee: I have so many great mentorships happening right now. I can say that I am blown away at the quality of businesses and entrepreneurs that are out there seeking mentorship and advice, and I love being on both the giving and receiving end of that. As a mentor, being able to see clients through an obstacle and helping them deliver a framework or a strategy into a solution, then watching them take action and taking it full circle has been amazing. It’s almost like planting a seed, watering it and then watching it grow into this big behemoth that you get to re-plant into a bigger pot because it’s overflowing. I think that’s the most rewarding part of mentoring and why I love doing it.
Chinn: I love that. What advice are you giving to the people you’re mentoring about getting through this crisis?
Dee: In general, one of the biggest things for anyone out there is to take inventory. I literally mean, go through your bank statements, go through your payroll, and look at all of the transactions. For example, if you are paying for your team’s gym membership, that is clearly not a necessity right now and it’s also wasted money as a good portion of gyms are, unfortunately, filing for bankruptcy or closing across the country. That would be an example of taking inventory of where you can actually look at your costs and extra spending you were doing that you weren’t paying much attention to. You may not have been worried about making payroll or your revenue numbers when things were pre-COVID whereas, right now, it’s really important to take that inventory.
The second piece of advice is going to be rightsizing. I think rightsizing is really important for businesses right now. I don’t necessarily mean to go in there and fire everybody, but take a look at your team and take a look at your business. If you had certain numbers you were performing at before this pandemic and now, you’re making some pivots around this really funky transitional time, just know that coming out of this it’s also going to look very different. We don’t have a crystal ball to see what that is going to look like, but we can probably take some educated guesses. If right now is the time for you to reduce staff, then it’s a good idea to look through your staff and say, “Who are my people that I really love and enjoy, and are the right fit for the core values of who we are as a company?” Even though you may not have a job to offer them right now, you may have one for them in the future when things do reopen. You never know what storm people are willing to weather with you. If they’re really on board with who you are and what you’re building as a business, they may be perfectly fine with that and they may consider that a part time job is better than no job at all. I really encourage people to think about rightsizing and what that means for their organization.
The last piece of advice is, strategy is such a big piece of this. We’re all chess masters in this game called life, and for sure in our businesses. We sit down, look at the board, see all the pieces in place and we have to know what the next move needs to be. In this game that we are playing, it’s important to know that for many of these businesses right now, that opponent is COVID-19 and this quarantine. It’s a much different game, so you have to strategically look at your board and make some decisions on how you plan on winning this game. If you don’t have a mentor, this is a really good time to go seek that person out because they can give you insights you didn’t have before, shared experiences and help you get to where you want to go faster and without so much of that big learning curve.
Chinn: That’s a lot of good advice and very insightful. Can you tell me about being a mentee and how you can add value to the relationship as a mentee?
Dee: I would say that vulnerability and honesty are really important as the mentee. Your mentor can get so creative with you with the facts that they have because they can help you better strategize. When your mentor is trying to help you, it’s important that you are open and honest about where things are at, whether it’s a marketing budget or a people budget, or it’s “what I’m doing isn’t working,” or “I think what I’m doing is working but I don’t know how to do the next steps.” As a mentee, I can personally tell you I have received lots of great downloads and information that my mentor might not have mentioned to me if I hadn’t been so vulnerable and honest about what was actually going on, so that’s a big piece of it. Another way to bring value would be to let your mentors know that they’re appreciated—write them a positive review and, of course, pay it forward one day.
Chinn: That’s a great point about vulnerability—often it’s tough to be vulnerable in your organization or in your family, yet this outsider often allows you to be vulnerable. It sounds like you have had some amazing mentors, can you tell me about one of them?
Dee: When I think back to one of my very first mentors who was in financial services, he was able to really give me some insights into life and business that I didn’t realize I needed. Being able to see someone else’s point of view helped me challenge some of my own limiting beliefs and expand my mind in a way that has certainly served me well over my business career. Good mentors, including that one at the time, could come in from a point of view that I just didn’t have—I was fresh out of school, in banking and not in entrepreneurship yet, so to be matched with someone that had been on that level and that had been dealing with their clients one-on-one to understand how to shift that relationship was really important. Mentoring is an opportunity to learn something new, and oftentimes we are also unlearning information to become the best version of ourselves.
Chinn: Why are you an advocate for one-on-one mentoring; why not take a class or read a book?
Dee: Just like we are all unique, our needs in our personal lives and our needs in our business lives are all very different. I’m mentoring a SaaS company and they have different needs than, say, a restaurant owner. They have a much different strategy and much different needs, so having a one-on-one mentor allows every person to really get a customized and individualized level of service and advice.
Chinn: It sounds like your mentoring experiences have been very valuable. What’s the best part of mentoring, in your opinion?
Dee: Being a mentor, the greatest part of that process is being able to meet someone where they are at and still give them a vision of what is possible. That’s probably the biggest takeaway. I hope that everyone will take that to heart and get themselves matched up with a mentor that can help them through these times and, of course, better times in the future.
Chinn: I completely agree with you. Do you have a business book or printed material you’re reading right now?
Dee: I actually have one coming out myself called, How Not To Be A (Bleep)Hole CEO. It’s going to be a good read. That will come out on August 1, so anyone can go subscribe and grab a copy of that when it comes out. One of our groups just launched their ambassador program, so right now we are all reading The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. If you haven’t caught that book, it is a short, excellent read and the four principles in there are excellent advice. If you can keep them front of mind, I think you’ll find that going through business in life will be a little more enjoyable.
Chinn: That’s awesome. What are you watching on television or how are you burning your time during quarantine?
Dee: I did catch the latest season of Ozark, so if you haven’t seen it at all, definitely start at the beginning. It’s got one of those nice surprise endings, which I always love. I’ve probably burned through most of everything on Netflix, so I’ve moved onto Hulu and earlier today, I was looking at Gaia. That one seems like a totally different platform—it has some mind-opening ideals in there so I thought, why not use this opportunity to learn something new?
Chinn: That’s impressive that you made it through all of Netflix. Is there any restaurant in North Texas you’re supporting at the moment?
Dee: My family is a big supporter of Sushi Sam, and personally, anywhere that has a Boba right now, I’m there. If you’ve never experienced a Boba Tea, it’s mind blowing and it will change your world when it comes to teas and smoothies.
Chinn: I love that place, and have been supporting them as well. What’s the first thing you are going to do when they raise the checkered flag and say we can wander around?
Dee: Hugging all of the people, starting with my mom. I actually haven’t been able to see her and that’s been so hard, but this will pass and we will be able to hug all of the people again.
The DEC Network is a partner of Dallas Innovates. The 501c3 non-profit organization drives innovation and economic impact by helping entrepreneurs start, build, and grow their businesses. Through a number of innovation hubs across DFW, The DEC Network provides entrepreneurs with education, mentorship, community, and advocacy. For more information, please visit www.thedec.co.
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