As you work to build your business it is 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. As I did some reading on the subject of mentoring I found the 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!) While a business coach can help keep you focused, move you forward and help you make decisions outside the scope of your expertise, a mentor has been where you are.
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.
There is value in wisdom from multiple vantage points
Finding a like-minded colleague should not be difficult as you navigate networking groups, membership associations and other professional organizations. You want a mentor you 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 aspire to.
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.
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. An accountability group provides 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. Delineate 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.
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 that mentor. 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. As needed mentoring often dies on the vine, so a set meeting time helps avoid these issues. A scheduled meeting also provides a time to celebrate success – something we often do not, but definitely should, make time to do. When was the last time you called a colleague just to say you were doing great? And yet it is those celebrations that will give you the energy to fight through the tough times.
Evaluate and adjust:
I would like to claim success with every mentoring match I have put together or observed, but the truth is that there are times when they don’t work out. Sometimes personalities just don’t gel. For this reason it is 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 is important to realize that a failed mentoring relationship is not a negative reflection on either party, it is 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. 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 offering 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.