Seven fantastic mentors and where to find them

Who is your mentor? That was the question I put to the many people who I met last year who were either looking to grow their freelance business into an agency or to leave their employment to start their own business. I’m a true advocate of mentoring in my business and beyond, so I thought I’d share my approach here.

What is mentoring?

Megginson & Clutterbuck (1995) describe mentoring as: “off-line help by one person to another in making significant transitions in knowledge, work or thinking.”

For me, it’s a way to add context to all the ideas and opportunities in my mind. It is a chance to share with people who have no agenda or ulterior motive in your journey. Their feedback is unfettered and invaluable. Mentoring is critical in the changing working environment where we all need to develop and grow to be successful.

How do I approach mentoring?

I have a range of mentors to support me and my business. They’ve fallen into ‘seven types’ so I’m going to share them with you here, plus why they are fantastic and where you can find them:

1. The old school guru

2. The irreverent rule breaker

3. The industry specialist

4. The structured and professional

5. The peer

6. The learner

7. The outsider

So who are they, why are they important mentors and where can you find them?

1. The old school

These are the people who’ve been there and done it and they carry the scars to prove it. Technology may not have been a major factor for them when they started their businesses so in many ways their businesses were more rigorously tested than we are today. They will challenge you and the way you do business. While many things have changed, the way you do business hasn’t. All business is still based on critical relationships. They will help you to make the right decisions that last.

You can find these mentors through some of the traditional mentoring schemes and networks. Such as your local chamber of commerce or reaching out to established angel investing networks or business mentoring services such as the Dormen group in Bournemouth.

2. The irreverent rule breaker

This person has a clear vision of what they want to achieve and no amount of rules, regulations or even basic physics will stand in their way. They turn challenges inside out and solve problems. They can change your perspective completely and bring real innovation to your business thinking.

I often find the rule breakers at events or in completely unexpected places. In a pub, on holiday, waiting at the train station… Going to events, not just your own industry conference but others of interest, broadens your scope and chance of meeting different people from different walks of life. Be open minded, listen and talk to different people who challenge your perspective of the world. They could be your irreverent rule breaker.

3. The industry specialist

There’s always someone in every industry or profession who has a strong track record for success. They can educate you on how your prospective clients will work with you. They can give you insights that you just cannot get anywhere else or from anyone else. Their experience and knowledge is hard earned and high value. When you are lucky enough to find one of these mentors, nurture them and learn from them as much as you can.

I’m still searching for mine, but I know others who find theirs at industry events or proactively targeting people they’ve heard speak or seen quoted in industry reports and news.

4. The structured and professional

In this mentoring relationship the emphasis is on long term, scheduled meetings that hold you accountable to your business vision. I’ve filled this with a formal and structured peer board, which comprises a group of like-minded individuals . It is formally chaired by a professional consultant to hold us all accountable and to provide support between meetings. We meet once a month and bring our challenges and developments to share. We’re held accountable to the actions we agreed to the previous month so it keeps us on track and ensures the time is productive and we’re all progressing.

I’ve found the perfect fit for this mentoring need, with a local service, The Boardroom. Look in your region for similar services or create your own by bringing together like-minded businesses.

5. The peer

There’s always someone who’s in the same boat as you. They may be facing the same challenges of growth, employee relations, market dynamics or more. Your businesses are likely to be at a similar stage and therefore you’ll be experiencing the challenges at a similar time. You’ll both benefit equally when you get this relationship right. You’ll push each other forwards and keep each other grounded as you grow.

You’ll often find these people at local and informal networking events. We’re fortunate in Bournemouth to have a strong digital and creative business scene and a range of different events that bring us together. Find the events and places that your potential peers would hang out in your area and get yourself there. You’ll find that most people are open to the idea of reciprocal mentoring arrangements . These meetings can be really informal, meeting over a coffee or beer and give you the chance to offload your ideas and challenges, often without expecting an answer but the simple act of sharing can help you make sense and put things into perspective.

6. The learner

This relationship is more about you mentoring someone who is keen to learn from you . They may be a school leaver, undergraduate or even your own replacement. Of course this is normally geared in their favour so that they learn from you, just as you learn from your mentors. But there are big lessons for you here too. Learning to listen, to actively listen, and understand the next generation or up and coming professionals can give you invaluable insight into what your business should focus on and challenge your thinking.

Speak to your local university, schools or careers advisors to offer support and mentoring. These arrangements are closely monitored and managed by the third party, giving you the framework to work within and can also help you manage your other mentoring relationships to maximise the effects.

7. The outsider

This mentor is outside of your echo chamber in social media, they are not in your friend group and often the most unlikely match for you. That’s what makes them so good. They have no vested interests in your business or success, they will throw you a curve ball and keep you humble. There’s a great service provided by digital gov that I’ve signed up to (next round starts 8 Feb ’17). It’s called unmentoring and two people are randomly paired to meet up in person or over skype to chat through whatever is currently challenging them. So far, I’ve been paired with fellow digital experts, charity workers and law enforcement.

Anyone can apply to join the unmentoring scheme. If that doesn’t suit your style take to your standard channels of meeting people and see if your contacts can put you in touch with someone outside of your immediate circle to help you to find your outsider mentor.

How often, when and where I meet my range of mentors depends on each of our relationships and what works for us. It may be weekly, monthly, quarterly or more. The length and format of the meetings varies depending on our relationship. Some are very informal over beer in the pub, others are structured meetings with clear agendas. What works for you will depend upon each of your mentors and how you work well together.

If you’re looking for support, get in touch we could help each other out.

I hope you found this useful, thanks for stopping by.

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