Actually the long version of the title is: “How to find your Yoda and what are the things you need to do after you find them?”
I have been mentoring different entrepreneurs for the past two years (I’m currently a mentor at ITU Çekirdek, Lonca Entrepreneurship Centre and Workinton). I am trying to dedicate at least two to three hours a week to this subject.
In Turkey, thanks to our culture, sharing knowledge and experience is quite a pickle. Most people refrain from sharing the ‘unique’ knowledge they think they have.
For this reason I believe that any support from the mentors is of critical importance for entrepreneurs. But you need to be able to understand this resource and use it efficiently so it can serve its purpose.
The article will be long, I’ll summarize for the people who won’t read the rest: You need to evaluate your expectations properly and thoroughly analyze the problems you are dealing with to ensure maximum efficiency you’ll get from your mentor.
Now if you’re ready, let’s get into the details.
First question: Will you really benefit from mentoring?
The person who will determine whether an enterprise needs a mentor or not is the entrepreneur themselves. You should not get mentoring for the sake of mentoring.
You need to thoroughly analyze areas where you think you are having/would experience problems in order to understand if it is beneficial for you to get mentoring.
*You can take care of some of the problems you are experiencing by sending an e-mail or getting consultancy; people unrelentingly overlook these options.
- If you are looking for someone to motivate you, make you love your job, you are not looking for a mentor, you are looking for a coach.
- Participating in events and giving presentations rather than seeing mentors for networking would give you more opportunities to make a name for yourself.
- If you are chasing an opportunity for a partnership, you should stay away from mentoring (a mentoring session could create a mutual business opportunity, but that should not be the main objective).
- Maybe you don’t even need mentoring. These are not the mentors you’re looking for. That is also possible.
But if you decide to find a mentor, do not forget: The mentor must be the one who guides you and shares their experiences. Trying to stray from this will give you both hardship.
Critical turning point: Choosing the mentor
You have to examine the potential mentor’s past and experiences very well.
The mentor who will guide you on the problems your enterprise is experiencing should understand these problems and provide different viewpoints. In short, you must have a strong bond and understanding. Otherwise, you can’t have more than just a nice conversation.
A required explanation by the way: The word “problem” is a framework that houses all kinds of questions and suggestions you may submit to your mentor as well.
Let’s say that you are making a new cosmetic product, and you can not figure out how to get into the market. So, to solve your problem, your mentor needs to be someone who has worked in this field and has a new product launch experience. If this person was from the cosmetics industry that would be a plus, but it’s wrong to find a person who’s a stranger to mentoring but familiar with cosmetics industry to do your mentoring.
If you are working together with incubation centers or accelerators, there is a high chance they’d have a mentor pool. There are many mentors who volunteer there. If you have any questions about whether the person you are planning to see is the right mentor, you can contact the person before you hire them and ask if they can help you with your questions.
Do not be afraid to ask questions. This is not solely for mentoring. I expect people who have built their own business to build up the courage or desire to ask questions and reach answers.
Frankly, I have not been in such a situation so far, very few people have had the trouble of telling me why they needed help before the meeting. Almost always they disclosed it while the meeting was taking place.
I tried to direct the businesses I thought I couldn’t help to people I believed could help to my power. But some of the problems they experienced could also be resolved via e-mailing. The time is the most valuable source for all of us; not just only for entrepreneurs. We need to learn to use it efficiently.
If you don’t have a mentor pool present, you can also reach the right people by searching on LinkedIn or through different social media channels.
Many entrepreneurs complain that they can not get a response to their e-mails. The way to overcome this problem is trying to reach more people. It is not right to complain about sending a message to only three people in a month and not getting a response afterwards (I’ve experienced this).
You found your mentor, set up the meeting, then what?
- Start by talking about yourself and what you do
It may be funny that I put this first on the list, but most entrepreneurs are voicing the problems directly rather than telling us what they do. For example, “Hello, we are having problems with payment systems, how can we get a virtual POS?” That’s an honest question but upsetting never-the-less.
- Explain your problem clearly and, if possible, address the solutions you have tried or thought about trying
The person in front of you knows as much as you speak, so, clearly express the problem, the steps and/or situations that have caused it, and what you have already tried to solve it.
As a mentor, I question the meaning of life after I speak for a good 15 to 20 minutes and the people I’m mentoring drop the “we know all of these” or “actually there was something like this” bombs.
An additional note, knowing and having a try at are not the same things. You may know but you can not reach a solution without trying.
- The mentor isn’t a superhero who can get you to make a quick success.
Our people’s thirst for a license to print money makes me sad. Your expectations shouldn’t be to get all the hints that would lead you to success and money in a single meeting.
- The mentor is by no means a shoulder to cry on
Some of our talks lose their meeting status’ and quickly turn into whining sessions. By whining I mean, approaching the problems emotionally and without analytical viewpoints, clogging the solution process with micro problems, and reflecting every suggestion with another would-be problem.
I really think that some people see the mentoring talks as ‘get it off your chest’ sessions. If you are releasing your problems like locusts in the wind and riposting another problem to any suggestion you get, you need to reevaluate your approach. We are not going to hug you all teary-eyed and say “You are right brother, life is tough, I mean what could you do sometimes?” while a sad violin plays in the background now, are we?
- Who said you should change your mentor’s mind?
Mentor is the person who guides you about your problem and shares their experiences. They don’t need to have the same views as you.
For example, because of my personal experiences, I approach campus activities with skepticism (which I express clearly).
A considerable number of entrepreneurs who are moving towards such activities are trying to convince or challenge me at some point.
To lead, to warn about possible problems and to share my experiences is my role, I am not the one to be persuaded, but your investors and potential customers are.
- Question your mentor
You may think that I contradict with my earlier point but I don’t. There are many people who are only trying to make a name for themselves, and/or looking for an initiative they can make a quick buck at. Their approaches may do you harm rather than benefiting you. Unless stated otherwise from the beginning, mentoring talks should be voluntary.
- And finally, analyze your problems thoroughly
Most people think they are having problems with sales and marketing, but I’ve known a lot of entrepreneurs who plainly have problems in user experience, laws and accounting etc. but chose to ignore them. For example, if you have a company that requires personal data processing, your being in the know about legal regulations in this field is more critical than sales and marketing. Or if you’re getting into the e-commerce business, and you are not aware of the existence of something called ‘the right to refund’, my condolences to you…
- And a personal request: Keep meeting notes please
If I remember our previous meeting better than the entrepreneur, I see this as a problem. Moreover, very few people have the good memory to skip taking notes in a meeting. Meeting notes relieve you of the repeatedly talked issues and getting into redundant loops. As I wrote somewhere above, time is important…
However, if you are doing talks that you think will lead your initiative and if you can not find a single thing worth taking note of, then there is a problem with either you or the mentor.
I also see problems such as not giving the mentors any feedback, passing their ideas to others as if you’ve come up with them, being rude to mentors etc. but I turn a blind eye to them, as these problems are not endemic to the world of mentoring. These are ordinary, ‘little’ troubles in our business life.
If you are asking “you wrote about the entrepreneurs, what about the mentors themselves?” The next article will be about the mentors; you know what they say about glass houses and stones…
There are those who claim “People who aren’t entrepreneurs themselves shouldn’t mentor entrepreneurs”. You’re breaking my heart. Of course I don’t care.
I have been working in payment systems, marketing and e-commerce and training people for 13 years. I materialized or helped to materialize countless different business ideas ever since. If you really think people who aren’t entrepreneurs themselves shouldn’t mentor entrepreneurs, you are in the wrong place.