Travis Steffen is a serial entrepreneur with multiple successful exits and is currently the founder of UP (upshare.co). Travis is one of numerous founders and VCs sharing their insight and advice with other entrepreneurs at MentorMojo--an entrepreneurial e-learning platform. Follow him on Twitter @TravisSteffen.
Having a great mentor can be one of the most powerful success acceleration tactics you try. Having someone who is already where you want to be willing to take you under their wing can easily be 100 times more helpful than the best book or course you've ever taken in terms of benefit to your business and your entrepreneurial growth.
However, notice that I used the word "can." You may have a mentor and never get much of anything out of the relationship if you don't have a calculated, strategic approach to gaining the maximum possible benefit.
Here are nine simple strategies to help you better craft your approach to a mentorship relationship:
- Choose someone you respect. To get the most out of your relationship, your mentor needs to feel as though you're extremely enthusiastic about learning from them. This typically only occurs when you deeply and honestly respect the person you're striving to learn from. Choose carefully.
- Rapidly implement their advice. There is nothing that reinforces the continued offering of high-level advice and insight then a demonstration of exactly how you implemented their prior teachings. It can also help to share the conclusions you came to as a result. Seeing your evolution will inspire your mentor to keep feeding you knowledge.
- Knock the socks off of connections they offer. If you're able to earn your mentor's trust to the point where they introduce you to a highly guarded contact or somebody they respect and admire, treat them with just as much enthusiasm and respect as you treat your mentor. The feedback this person will then bring to your mentor will further fuel their desire to keep teaching you great things, and validate their assumption that you can become great yourself.
- Offer to help without anything in return. Your time is valuable, but your mentor's time and opinion of you is worth more than money. If you think they could use some help with something, offer up your time for free, then work harder to impress them than you would a paying client. This will help position you as a valuable asset in their arsenal.
- Don't ask for the moon. Your relationship with your mentor is one of the most valuable relationships you have, and you shouldn't strain that relationship if at all possible. One of the common mistakes new entrepreneurs make is they ask their mentors for too much. If you're asking for anything other than a few minutes of their time once or twice a month, you're asking for too much. Anything else they give you should be something they volunteer themselves.
- Show your gratitude. Make no mistake--your mentor doesn't have to do any of the things they're doing for you. What's more, most people don't make an effort to stand out from the crowd in the way they thank those around them. I prefer sending something like Edible Arrangements, as it never risks sending an inappropriate message.
- Offer creative ideas and solutions in the form of questions. Your mentor is likely extremely smart and experienced, but don't sell yourself short. You're smart as well, and it's possible that you may have solutions to an issue they are having. However, if you feel you do, it's important to keep the dynamics of the relationship in mind. So instead of saying "Here's a solution," try framing it as "What would the merits of doing something like this be?" This helps ensure you're still seen as trying to learn--even if what you propose isn't something they've already thought of.
- Make it worth their while. We've already touched on the fact that your mentor's time is valuable, so it's important to think about how you can further incentivize their desire to augment and accelerate what you're doing. One way to do this is by offering a seat on your advisory board for a small amount of equity. If they've got an interest in the success of your operation, you may find you get even more voluntary benefit from their end.
- Exceed their expectations. Having a mentor is great. Having a mentor who sings your praises to the other powerful people in their network is life-changing. Under promise and over deliver. If you carefully craft your mentor's expectations, and then make it your mission to blow those expectations out of the water, you'll reap more benefits than you could have imagined.