Mentoring is something I’ve found incredibly valuable throughout my career, and as the current Brand Expert in Residence at the Sydney Startup Hub, it’s easy to see just how beneficial it can be to people in every stage of their business development. For me, mentoring is incredibly rewarding and humbling. I think I get more out of it than the people I’m mentoring.

There are many things to consider when choosing a mentor, and this starts with distinguishing mentoring from coaching and other types of career guidance programs. Something I’ve noticed is that people tend to use the terms coaching and mentoring interchangeably, but while these practices are similar, there are some big distinctions. Inspiring Rare Birds is one of the mentoring programs that I’ve been participating in this year, helping female entrepreneurs grow their businesses. Inspiring Rare Birds offers some great insight into the distinction between being a coach and a mentor:

The biggest parity is the focus on the quality of the learner’s thinking, and on guiding them to be able to shift their mindset in a way that is conducive to achieving their goals. The mentor or coach needs to use their experience to facilitate a conversation of powerful questions, to get the mentee thinking about the future. Some of the biggest learnings from these sessions actually occur when the mentee is in reflection, discussing the progress they’ve made and the challenges they’ve overcome - this is the case for both mentoring and coaching scenarios. The ultimate goal of both endeavours is to help the mentee succeed, and providing them with this sense of achievement is an important part of the duty of care involved with being a mentor or a coach.

I have been a mentor in the Remarkable accelerator program for the past two years, as well as coaching in my own Be Your Brand programs. There are some very clear differences between these two roles. Mentors will share their experience and introduce you to their network. This is not generally the way with coaching. Mentors should support you with building your network, introducing you to valuable new contacts.

While mentoring is focused on business and career development, coaching is more goal-specific, and tends to be a short-term or medium-term arrangement, aimed to enhance a certain skill or work on taking the next step. Coaching is also more likely to be paid and often a central part of the coach’s own business, whereas mentors typically participate on a volunteer basis, on top of their own work obligations.

Choosing Your Mentor

A mentoring program can be valuable for everyone involved, which is often why mentors mainly participate free of charge. However in order to make this experience as good as it can be, it’s crucial that you pick the right mentor for you. David Clutterbuck offers some great insight when it comes to choosing your mentor, and his biggest piece of advice is to choose someone who has experience in the specific areas you are lacking. Whether this is strategic branding, sales, product development, finance or franchising, it’s vital that the mentor you choose can fill in the gaps in your learning. Ideally this mentor will be an expert in their field, and will have been recognised for their work. His second piece of advice is to look for someone well connected. As I mentioned above, one of the benefits of having a mentor is being able to make the most of their connections, so choose someone who has lots of contacts and is willing to share them!

Making the most of your mentoring experience

There are a couple of things you can do to ensure you have an amazing mentoring experience, so I’ve compiled my top 3 tips below:

1. Prepare

Once you know who will be mentoring you, do your research on your mentor. You can stand out from 95% of other people by doing your background research on the mentor before you meet them. So have a look at their LinkedIn, blog posts, and latest tweets. Check out the website for their business and familiarise yourself with who they are and what they do best. It’s also a great idea to make a list of what you want to achieve before you start the program, this way you can share your goals with your mentor and you can work together to achieve them throughout the program.

2. Contextualise

When you’re meeting up or having a conversation with your mentor, make sure you provide context to what you’ve been up to. It can be easy to assume that others know your business as well as you do, but your mentor will likely be very busy with their own business too. So at the start of every session brief your mentor, reintroducing your business and what you’re up to in your journey. Keep mentors in the loop on what you’re up to and your successes - at the end of they day they will be your biggest advocates.

3. Use your time wisely

While mentors love to share their experience, no one likes to waste time. By coming to your meetings prepared you can get more out of the relationship, and your mentor will know you’re serious about achieving great things. So be organised, prompt, and polite. Always remember to say thank you, and even give them credit when possible.

The hardest part of mentoring is making the decision to take part, but every time I have it’s ended up being an incredibly humbling and rewarding experience. So get involved! Either get out there and mentor or find someone to mentor you. You won’t regret it.