Traditionally, mentors volunteer the wisdom of their experiences to help others who wanted to follow in their footsteps. These days, many people have learned to appreciate the value of a good mentor.
Therefore, we see messages on discussion boards asking, “Would someone be willing to mentor me?” Total strangers call, asking, “Will you be my mentor?”
You may get lucky. You begin a series of one-to-one conversations with someone you respect. Soon, the relationship has evolved into full-scale, helpful mentoring, with no effort on your part and no fees to pay.
However, you may find yourself paying in other ways. Mentors sometimes seek rewards not from money but from the satisfaction of seeing their protegés (“mentees”) flourish.
They may become frustrated because, “You’re moving too slowly!” or, “You’re not following my suggestions!” And they may be reluctant to see you fly off on your own.
Regardless, just because someone’s been successful doesn’t mean she’s the right mentor for you. Many resources are better at teaching than doing and vice versa. Some of the most successful professionals cannot articulate why they achieved so much and the path they followed may be closed to you.
Before you begin your search, ask, “What do I want from a mentor? Information? Moral support? Ongoing encouragement? And can I obtain these benefits by paying a coach or consultant? If I stumble across a mentor, will she be able to provide these benefits in a helpful way?”
And are you prepared to be a good mentee? Will you listen carefully, act on advice (or be prepared to explain why you won’t), and express appreciation to your mentor? Will you avoid making unreasonable demands?
These days, mentoring tends to come with a price tag, and the service may be labeled “consulting,” “coaching,” or even “counseling.” For example:
“Mervin” wanted to open a retail toy store. “Gwen” had found success with a similar store in a nearby town that resembled his own. Mervin offered to pay Gwen a thousand dollars to learn the business. Gwen accepted. Mervin now has his own successful store and he remains friends with Gwen.
“Hilary” wanted to set up a life coaching business. She found experts who would not be competitors and paid them for mentoring. There was a fine line, she says, between coaching and mentoring, and she paid the equivalent of coaching fees.
“Reginald” found a mentoring service that charged a monthly $200 fee, giving him access to experts who normally charged $500-$1000 per session.
These stories exemplify the New Mentoring, usually more effective than asking for help from strangers. A proactive approach allows you to identify the service you need, assess the would-be mentor’s ability to deliver that service, begin and end when you choose, and avoid hidden costs. Focus on the benefits you receive, regardless of the label, and the value you receive, not the total dollars.
All too often, free advice is worth exactly what you paid for it.