Say you scored a mentoring session or some time with somebody who you think can help with your business, excellent and well done – good people are busy people. Whatever you do make it count – a mentoring session isn’t just a verbal website tour or pitch – don’t forget to ask the mentor how they can help. They can only help if you get them fully into the picture.
Talking to people about their business for the first time can be a lot of fun, I often find that I get a good lesson in an area of commerce that I may have never had direct exposure to before. There are some constant fundamentals that are important but not everybody can be an expert in everything, and sometimes an outsider’s perspective is very valuable.
There are some valuable things to make sure you’re prepared to tell the person you’re chatting to. That person is probably hesitant to enter into a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) for many reasons, if you can’t trust them do not talk to them. You need a high degree of confidence and faith in who you’re talking to. If you’re not comfortable do not talk to them.
Whenever I get the opportunity to mentor businesses, I want to know big picture things like:
What does your business do? Why does it exist?
Type of business (Software as a service, app, fast moving consumer goods etc.);
Stage of business maturity (pre-sales, post revenue, cash flow positive, profitable etc.);
Goal – how big do you want this business to be?
I tend to get down into the weeds pretty fast and get a sense of how well you know your business and market. This gives me a good illustration of you – a way to affirm that you are the right entrepreneur with the right mindset and skills.
Whilst a lot will depend on the type of business and its maturity level I usually start with my old favourites – tell me about you, your team, the problem, the solution, traction and other big picture items. Then I follow with lots of boring financial stuff like:
– What does your product/service cost to provide?
– What do you sell it for?
(BTW – if you stumble here get ready for grief)
– How do you find your customers?
– What does it cost you to get a customer to be a paying customer?
– How is your customer churn? (How many customers do you loss versus gain/keep)
– Who are your competitors?
– Why do people buy from you?
– Why do people buy from your competitors?
The list could go on forever but generally any advice I give will relate to the above topics. You are in business – that may be a startup but forget the romantic notion of entrepreneurship and startup – you’ve already made that leap – you now have to make money. If you do not make money you are a charity! Save the startup bravado for the bar or a meetup!
I also want to be sure that you understand the cost to deliver your product or service. I want to know that you know or are in the process of finding out the best way to get customers – the only really hard thing about business is selling (the second hardest thing is collecting the money – maybe for another article).
Understand how to find the customers and what their drivers are. Understand who your customers are – some sectors are amazingly stratified meaning that you may get better success using channel partners, integrators and the like. All of that comes with margin and cost overhead. I want to know that you understand this.
At the end of the mentoring session you need to remember to ask the mentor how they can help further. If you’ve had a productive session and they haven’t been put off by your approach the mentor will most likely ask if there are introductions they could make for you to customers or other stakeholders. Don’t blow your chance to ask for something.
All mentoring relationships start with a first session, some (not many) continue on. Subsequent sessions should be an update, they should also come with a request for more help or introductions.
It is rare that any two mentors will give the same advice in a given situation, everybody provides their own perspective. Before you chat to a mentor, research and try to spend five minutes thinking about their business journey – the advice you get from a successful ex-telecoms entrepreneur will be very different to that of an experienced digital marketer. Not that either are necessarily wrong – they have just been coloured by different journeys.
And the best part is that you don’t need to take any of it. It is advice, not a dictator’s edict. Understand the context, understand how or if it applies to you at all and most importantly – keep listening.