For freelancers and small business owners, mentors can help take your career to the next level. In this guest article, we asked business bank Tide to explain what to look for in an ideal mentor and how to find and approach one in the right way.
Firstly, mentorship is often confused with coaching, but there’s a stark difference between the two:
• Coaching is a short-term relationship with a structured and formal approach. The goal of coaching is to improve specific skills and achieve immediate goals. For example, a leadership coach can help a professional develop better leadership skills. Here, the outcome of the relationship is well-defined and rarely extends beyond the predetermined scope.
• Mentoring is a long-term relationship that thrives on mutual respect and trust. The mentor is essentially a professional role model to help the mentee develop and grow as a person.
Liza Haskell, Interim VP of People and Culture at Tide, explains: “Mentoring can be a powerful tool to help you enhance and optimise your professional skill-set and acumen. Small business owners, and especially young entrepreneurs, are often on the lookout for someone who can guide them through their professional journey.
“The role of a mentor isn’t just limited to a professional capacity. As well as helping mentees in career progression, confidence-building, and skill set enhancement; mentoring can extend far deeper into the realm of character-building. Teaching skills like effective communication, professional ethics, diversity management and a myriad of other general soft skills are all part of being a mentor.
“To find a suitable mentor you need to understand your own needs, identify people who can help you cultivate and nurture the skills you need to achieve your goals and, most importantly, give them a good reason to mentor you.”
Before reaching out to potential mentors, ask yourself these three questions to better understand what your ideal mentor looks like: what are your goals; does their business journey align with yours; and do they have the right skills and personal qualities? Unique qualities people commonly look for in mentors include leadership skills, positivity, effective communication, technical know-how and business understanding, as well as honesty, approachability, and good listening skills.
Once you have found a potential mentor, it is important to approach them in the right way.
5 top tips on how to approach a mentor:
1. Take things slow
• Don’t make the big ask straight away
• Avoid using the word “mentor” in the beginning, as they might perceive the task as too big a commitment and responsibility
2. Choose the right channel
• Depending on your existing relationship with the mentor, the best channel will vary. Use:
• Email – to lay the groundwork
• Social media – to engage and show your interest
• In person – to build the relationship further, and get into the detail
3. Lead the conversation
• Leading the conversation helps you effectively convey your expectations, the kind of advice or guidance you’re looking for and even the current status of your business
• Bring up topics of discussions, ask questions and listen closely to what they have to say
4. Offer something in return
• Before you approach a mentor, think about what you can offer them in return – for example, can you add value to their skill set?
5. Respect their time and decision
• Be courteous if they say no. If they’re available in the near future, they might reach out to you themselves or suggest a replacement