Small-business mentors can be a key to success for new entrepreneurs, but if you don’t have the right mindset when working with one, you may not reap the true benefits from the experience. We talked to Raj Tumber, who has worked as a Certified Business Mentor with SCORE Las Vegas for six years. Based on his experiences working with entrepreneurs, he offers seven tips to help you get the most you can from your mentoring experience.
1. Understand the Mentor’s Role
Tumber says during the process, mentors become a part of your team, but you shouldn’t expect them to do the work for you. Instead, their role is to guide and teach you. Mentors are passionate about coaching, he says, and they use their experience, expertise, personal success, and wisdom to help entrepreneurs approach their endeavors, but ultimately, you will have to do the hard work of starting or running your business.
2. Commit to the Process
According to Tumber, the primary challenge most business mentors face is a lack of commitment from their clients when it comes to formal business planning. And that’s a problem, he says, because two of the most important traits that entrepreneurs should possess are commitment and adaptability. You should enter the mentoring relationship prepared to commit to every part of the process.
3. Be Prepared to Do the Hard Work
A good mentor will do more than encourage you with motivational talks. Effective mentoring comes from practical coaching that helps entrepreneurs develop the confidence and discipline needed to perform every business function, from starting up to operating your venture. Remember, Tumber says, mentors have been there multiple times, and have experience with both successes and failures. When mentors assign mentees a difficult task, it’s probably because they know the mentees need it for their development and improvement.
4. Don’t Only Rely on Email Alone
Tumber says many people prefer to conduct their mentoring sessions via email, but he believes it’s more beneficial to have an initial face-to-face meeting or phone call with your mentor. He says you can use a combination of email, phone calls, and face-to-face meetings. He recommends basing the type of meeting on the topics to be covered in the session. For instance, email is fine for general advice and getting questions answered, but a more personal approach is better with more in-depth topics.
5. Courtesy Goes a Long Way
It’s important to remember that SCORE offers mentoring at no cost, Tumber says, and the mentors are volunteers who dedicate their time to serve the community and entrepreneurial development. Mentors are often booked for days or weeks ahead, and unfortunately, they sometimes have clients who don’t show up for their mentoring appointments. Tumber says it’s important to let mentors know when you can’t come to the meeting because they can use the time to work with another mentee.
6. Keep Expectations Realistic
Just because you have a business mentor doesn’t mean you’re on the way to financial independence, or that you’ll get special considerations from a lender, Tumber says. Rather, business mentors act as catalysts that can help you initiate a plan of action, and guide you as you take the sequential steps toward the completion of your plan. You should view your mentor as an educator and someone who can help you achieve your goals by sharing their specialized knowledge.
7. Come to the Process Ready to Learn
Finally, Tumber says, some entrepreneurs come to the mentoring process with a mindset that they’re already a success, and are disappointed when they learn that getting a business off the ground is a long-term process that includes discipline and formal planning. Instead, he says, to get the most from the experience, you should come to a mentor in a learning state of mind. Then, you’ll be more open to hearing the wisdom your mentor has to offer.
If you think you might benefit from working with a business mentor, you can sign up for a free in-person meeting, or send email questions to a mentor on the SCORE website.