Don’t try to go it alone – learn from those around you on the path to success through seeking a mentor who is at a different career stage than you are.

As you work to build your business, it’s important to stay connected with colleagues who can keep you on the right track. You won’t get bonus points by going it alone, you’ll just make it harder on yourself. As I did some reading on the subject of mentoring, I found this great description:

A mentor “will cheer you on when your journey gets tough. But they can also be that person who looks you in the eye and tells you the hard truth that you may not want to hear.”  (Thank you Wayne Sutton!)

Mentorship isn’t a one-size-fits-all deal.

There isn’t any one kind of mentor relationship, every connection you make will be different. While a business coach can help keep you focused, move you forward and help you make decisions outside the scope of your expertise, developing a mentor relationship within your workplace or professional community can help you develop situation-specific skills and attitudes. In a more traditional mentor relationship, you might find someone who has advanced farther on your career path than where you are now. They’re seasoned, and have “been there done that,” making them an ideal professional to help you grow and improve.

However, a reverse mentorship is not always a bad idea, either. By partnering up with a more junior colleague, you’re opening up the opportunity to learn new skills that they may be familiar with – whether that’s social media, new technology, or even a newer method of doing an everyday task that will save you time and energy. Through shared ideas and differing generational insights, you’ll be expanding your skillset while helping a junior colleague learn the ropes. This creates a mutually beneficial partnership…which is exactly what you want!

As you search for a mentor keep a few things in mind. You want someone like-minded about your industry and supportive of your dream for your business. You want honesty, openness and a clear understanding of your relationship.

Finding a mentor doesn’t have to be complicated.

You may be asking yourself, “This all sounds great, but where do I find this mystical person who I can develop with?” It can be a stressful concept – reaching out, being vulnerable, and trying to establish a connection. But it doesn’t have to be! There are so many places and different ways for you to connect with likeminded professionals. 

Starting with the basics, check out FPAConnect MentorMatch and NAPFA Mentor Engage. These fantastic resources completely take the stress out of finding that perfect mentor. There’s no guesswork, all you do is enroll as either a mentor or a mentee. These are both free resources available to members of the respective organizations, so take advantage of them!

If those systems aren’t working for you, or you’re just not finding the kind of connection you need, you can always look at your current network. Do you know any likeminded advisors, or is there a group in your community that gets together regularly for networking events? You could find the perfect person to connect with right in your own backyard! 

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There is value in wisdom from multiple vantage points, so seek variety in your mentorships.

Finding a like-minded colleague should not be difficult as you navigate networking groups, membership associations and other professional organizations. You want a mentor who has built what you are working to build. Not necessarily in revenue, but philosophically. Geography is not as important as emotional connection. You look for a mentor not only serving clients in the manner you wish but also relating to staff and structuring their business in a way you admire and to which you aspire.

As you grow your business you may find a need for a variety of mentors along the way. Often we like to focus on a mentor who is at the peak of their career. They have all that we hope to build in our business. There is a wealth of wisdom you can gain from that traditional type of mentor. In addition to working with someone who has that breadth of knowledge there is also value in working with colleagues who can easily remember what it was like to be where you are. They know the challenges you are facing. There is a great difference in looking back to a difficult time over 4, rather than 24, years.

By seeking variety in your mentorships, you’re opening yourself up to multiple viewpoints, different ideas, and a wider breadth of creative solutions. Options are never a bad thing, and having people you can relate to in different ways who each bring their own experiences to the table opens up your opportunities for idea sharing and support.

Accountability – have folks the walk the path with and call you out when you need it!

Another aspect, or perhaps first cousin of mentoring, is accountability. I strongly urge my clients to join or create an accountability group, a small group of colleagues at a similar stage of practice development. Even if you’re not currently in the market for a mentorship, an accountability group provides a lot of benefits and a chance to connect with a professional community.

An accountability group offers commiseration when you need it, but also an honest assessment if you are avoiding your challenges. It is wonderful to have a group that grows with you so that as your big issues of signing that first client give way to how to handle too much growth or hire your first employee you have others facing the same issues. Be sure you have colleagues with whom you can share concerns and develop solutions.

Establish boundaries, set expectations.

It is important that both mentor and protégée set clear expectations at the beginning of the mentoring relationship. A good starting point is working out a schedule and sticking to it. Be on time for meetings, send check in emails or get on the phone when you said you would. A mentorship meeting may feel like a luxury when you’re strapped for time and in the trenches of day to day work, but it’s not. It’s a necessity. By staying true to your previously agreed upon goals and meetings, you’re investing in yourself and your practice, as well as being respectful of both your time and your mentor’s.

Next, focus on delineating the scope of your relationship. Are you discussing only client related issues, or all business management? Is marketing help part of the equation as well? Some mentors are very comfortable with any practice management questions you could think up, but don’t feel marketing is their strong suit and don’t want that focus in the relationship. I have also had new members who are surprised at the marketing pressure they get from their mentor, expecting the mentor to let them grow the practice at their own pace, but be available for questions on particular financial planning topics. There is no right path, but clarifying expectations will help minimize misunderstandings.

Schedule the time. Don’t leave it to chance.

I am a proponent of scheduled mentoring contact. My experience has been that as folks most need that mentoring kick in the pants they are most likely to hide from their mentor. “Call me when you need me” just doesn’t foster the same bond you need when trouble arises. There is also sometimes a perception that the mentor agreed to be a mentor, but they really are much too busy and important to bother with your trivial issues.

Having a set meeting time helps to avoid these issues. A scheduled meeting also provides a time to celebrate success – something we often do not, but absolutely should, make time to do. When was the last time you called a colleague just to say you were doing great? It’s those celebrations that will give you the energy to fight through the tough times, and who better to cheer you on than your mentor?

Finally, be open to what your mentor has to say. You might feel like a piece of advice they’re focusing on isn’t relevant to you yet, or that you don’t feel comfortable being pushed to market yourself and grow your practice, but they’ve decided it’s important to impart that specific piece of knowledge to you for a reason. Open yourself up and allow them to push you beyond your comfort zone, that’s what they’re there to do!

Evaluate, adjust, and repeat.

I would like to claim success with every mentoring pair I have put together, but the truth is that there are times when they don’t work out. Sometimes personalities just don’t gel. For this reason, it’s important to have an exit strategy. Set a time perhaps 3 or 4 months into your relationship to have a review. At this time, each of you can decide if you want to move forward.

It’s important to realize that a failed mentoring relationship is not a negative reflection on either party, it’s just a mismatch of personality or goals. No right or wrong. Revisit the parameters of your relationship annually to determine new strategies and plans moving forward. Now is a good time for you to evaluate what you want to get out of your mentorship. What do you want to learn? Are you growing in the areas you had hoped with this mentor? Whatever your answers are, evaluating whether or not you’re using your time with your mentor wisely is a good way to check in.

You will reach a time when you no longer need your mentor and it will be time for you to be the mentor and pay it forward. Hopefully by this time you and your mentor have grown close and developed into colleagues on more equal footing. Your relationship will move onto a new stage, and offer new opportunities.

As you move along you will find your flow through a variety of mentoring relationships – some more formal than others. Be aware of the types of support you need over the years and make sure you are developing the connections you need to move forward.