Taking over a business, whether planned for years or, in my case, unexpectedly, is a difficult challenge. I couldn't have done it alone, and thankfully, I didn't have to. My employees helped me learn the inside of the business, and I sought experienced entrepreneurs and business leaders to grow the business externally. Local and national conferences and seminars took me on monthly trips as I learned and networked. By far, the most valuable aspect of these events were the people I met, and the mentors I've gained.
One of the great people and mentors I've met over the past several years is Tasty Catering CEO and Chief Culture Officer Tom Walter, whose catering company was recently listed on Forbes list of best small businesses. I met Tom and a few of the entrepreneurs that power Tasty Catering at an Inc. event and have kept in touch ever since. "When I started, the word entrepreneur was not in the common business vocabulary. It was very difficult to find mentors in academia or business. My thoughts at the time, were to one day break that cycle. Helping others is natural at my stage of life. If sharing my acquired wisdom will help others conquer the pratfalls that confronted me, then I have purpose - I matter," says Walter.
I spoke with Tom about mentorship and how someone can prepare to be mentored; getting the most out of a mentor while providing value back in return. By making yourself mentorable, you increase your chances of getting the help you deeply need, because mentors can't help everyone who they cross paths with. "There just doesn't seem to be enough time for all of the mentoring possibilities," says Walter.
Based on his perspective as a mentor, and mine as a mentee, here are three ways you can prepare to be mentored.
Know Who's Mentoring You
Learn who you're speaking with before you ever actually speak to them. Outside of vetting who you're going to take advice from, you should know their strengths, weaknesses, hobbies, and passions. Regardless of how big or small the problem you're facing is or what you're requesting of the person you plan to reach out to, you need to have a firm understanding of who they are. Also, mentoring is not one-sided. Each conversation should be in part about them as well. You wouldn't partner with a business you know nothing about, so don't reach out to a mentor until you have a firm understanding of who they are.
Mentors have worked hard to get to where they're at, and they are rarely bored and or in need of more things to do. Wasting their time or showing them a lack of respect is a sure way to lose out on potential help from them or others they may know.
"My expectations are for mentees not to waste my time," says Walter. "Time is valuable and not replaceable. It can't be bought; it can't be prolonged. Meet me prepared with discussion bullet points rather than to embark on rambling discussions about a 'vision,'" he continued.
Respect is not limited to just being prepared or showing up on time. To make sure you're being respectful, here are some additional tips:
- Follow up: If your mentor gives you opportunities to follow up with them or touch base a month after you meet, set calendar appointments to follow up with them. If they care enough to meet with you once and you're respectful and prepared, following up in a timely way is a great way to continue to build a beneficial relationship.
- Thank them: I write thank you cards to show people that I truly appreciate their time. Always thank them outside of the time you meet. Showing that you value them is a vital part of respecting them, their time, and their help.
- Don't only contact when you're in need: If you only contact a mentor when you need something, you don't have a mentor -- you have a vendor you're not paying money to for free business help. Respect them by getting to know them personally and reaching out to them even when there isn't something you need. Wish them a happy birthday, comment on an article they shared on social media, and look for people to introduce to them that may help their business or related efforts.
- Pay it forward: Don't use the time of others without the intention of paying it forward (or back). If you plan on getting help from others, plan to give your time to others.
Be Ready to Act
A misuse of a mentor's time is posing a question or scenario that you have no intention or the means to execute. "In return for my time, they have to understand that they don't know what they don't know and will take action on suggestions made. And if not, explain why," says Walter. A good mentor will understand if you go against their advice, but you owe it to them to explain why you made a different decision.
Want a mentor to move your business forward? Act now by getting prepared to be mentored and seek out someone who can help you move your career or business from where you are now to where you want it to be.