Google “get a good mentor” and you’ll find articles with five tips, eight tips, 18 tips –- all sorts of tips -– on developing a meaningful mentor relationship. We’ve done the reading for you and think you can benefit from just four tips, at least until your mentor relationship is growing on its own.
1. Do your homework.
Know what you want out of a mentoring relationship. Know who might be able to help you in that way. Find out everything you can about the person or people who might be good mentors for you in your particular season of your entrepreneurial career.
“See if you can find others who have worked with this person as a mentor. All this legwork at the front end will save time and energy at the back end.”
“Ask mutual acquaintances. Ask others in the business community,” said Jeremy Vickers, executive director of the Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at The University of Texas at Dallas. “See if you can find others who have worked with this person as a mentor. All this legwork at the front end will save time and energy at the back end.”
It does no one any good, including any potential mentor you might meet, to find out halfway into your first conversation that your prospective mentor really doesn’t understand or want to understand your field or that he/she doesn’t have the time to commit to the mentorship. It can be worthwhile to join organizations, such as the Venture Advisory Services at UT Dallas’ IIE, that help facilitate mentor/mentee relationships. Those working through IIE’s programs at UT Dallas have an opportunity to connect with 20 executives who are willing to help entrepreneurs.
2. Have a plan and stick to it.
This is covered in every single tip guide we found online. What does having a plan look like? Figure out what your first conversation will be about. It’s helpful to create an outline or agenda and think it through long before you meet — not on your way to the appointment.
Decide how much time you’ll need, set the expectation when scheduling the meeting and don’t go a minute over when the meeting takes place. Make sure you allow plenty of opportunities for the mentor to make comments or provide input.
Next, plan the “after meeting” steps you’ll be taking, so you can tell your mentor what to expect. For instance, “I will be sending you an email with my personal contact information. I’ll be sending a sample of my product to your office. Or, I’ll be emailing you at the end of the month to set up another meeting.”
And then make sure you do it!
3. Be respectful.
You might consider this the golden rule of mentorships. Do to your mentor what you hope one day, if the positions are reversed, someone will do to you and for you. Again, almost every mentoring blog mentions this, so apparently young entrepreneurs don’t take this to heart.
“Pay attention when your mentor talks, maybe even take notes,” Vickers said.
Leave your phone and your watch in your car if you have a habit of randomly checking them.
If you say you’ll need 15 minutes of a mentor’s time, respect those 15 minutes.
If you get a face-to-face meeting, be on time, and be well-prepared.
Don’t ask questions that can easily be answered with a Google search. (See tip No. 1: Do your homework.)
“Do” their work. In other words, offer a time and place that’s convenient to their office or offer to meet the person at his/her office.
Be quick to pick up the tab for their coffee.
If you have five documents you promise to email the mentor, do it promptly but boil down what’s in those five attachments into a short bullet list in the body of the email. (How many people really enjoy opening five separate attachments?)
Thank your mentor for their time and advice. Really, saying “thank you” matters.
“In the end, a good mentor relationship is part chemistry and lots of work.” Jeremy Vickers
4. Mentoring is not a one-way street.
While most of the information is flowing in one direction, make sure you engage your mentor in ways that benefit that person as well. Offer to introduce your mentor to other people you know.
Ask if there’s a project your mentor would be interested in getting your input on, often there’s an age disparity between the mentor/mentee and sometimes older executives want to plumb the minds of younger entrepreneurs. Invite your mentor to events that are intellectually interesting. Ask if they’d like to volunteer as a mentor in another way, such as with the UT Dallas Venture Advisory Panel.
“In the end, a good mentor relationship is part chemistry and lots of work,” Vickers said. “Make sure you’re willing to put the work into the relationship to give the chemistry a chance to happen.”
Follow UTD Naveen Jindal School of Management on Twitter @jindal_utdallas.