“Mentorship” is a vague term. Great mentors are successful industry leaders who are indirectly competitors of yours (at least a few years ahead of time).
Someone may pick their own mentor when they are a public figure and consume every bit of information they produce.
I have a few of those mentors on my list. I follow their blogs, read their interviews, listen to podcasts they join as guests, follow them on social media and so on.
Some of them had publicly stated that they don’t have time for one-on-one coaching – but they spend tons of time and money on educating for free and revealing their process for anyone eager to follow their steps.
The most successful entrepreneurs and founders in the world are insanely busy. Scaling a great business revolves around funding, recruitment, endless sales calls, networking events, marketing strategy, management meetings, planning with accounting and legal teams. It’s far more demanding than a “day job”, plus the PR activities and branding exposure.
Here’s what else may work — albeit defensively uncommon in old-school, corporate communities.
Mastermind Groups With Competitors
When we were a tiny team of 4–5 people, I hung out with several business owners in my industry. All of them ran companies 25+, some a bit over 100.
We were meeting occasionally and interacting on social media. After a year or two, most of them stopped interacting as much – due to a change of focus in their company, starting new products, penetrating new markets.
The first few months were primarily oriented to “teaching”. We weren’t big enough to share educated opinions yet. Most of what they shared was related to their own experience with high-scale customers and enterprises.
It was helpful for me. We were small and we didn’t present a threat.
Mentorship Evolves During Growth
Fast-forward 5–6 years, things look a bit differently. Some shrunk drastically due to poor business decisions or non-strategic acquisitions. Some scaled 3 times since.
I met one of them, let’s call him John, in NYC a couple years ago. We met several times, had a few beers, visited some places, went to my Airbnb, grabbed a couple dinners together.
One evening, we were at a hookah bar, drinking some Coronas. I saw someone with a notebook sitting next to me running a dashboard, and asked him what he did. He owned the 5th largest social network site in Russia and a couple more media companies.
My “mentor” switched to sales instantaneously and tried to overtake the conversation. The guy felt weird and I didn’t really enjoy the tone, so I switched to Russian (which I had studied at school and used while I worked in a security team) and he left kicked out of the conversation.
Not cool, but he acted a bit too aggressively.
Most of the other people who were helping out pulled back for various reasons. I still keep in touch with two of them.
One of those guys (let’s call him Noah) still reaches out every now and then. He shares some tips for our website, social media presence, and content marketing. He’s giving some pointers toward our company culture and generally helped us position ourselves better. We had a few projects they outsourced to us or partnered with us on.
James, the last one, only works locally. He had focused on the Scandinavian market as they have invested a fortune in branding and positioning themselves as the leader. He isn’t extremely interested in expanding, but he’s helped us switch to retainers reliably. I’ve been helping him strengthen his personal brand and invest in leadership through content marketing.
Mentorship Isn’t The Holy Grail
A decade ago, discussing mentorship programs or mastermind groups was considered eccentric in most circles.
But now, it’s a trend that keeps gaining traction. Here’s what Google Trends reports on “mentorship” search terms since 2004:
As with everything else, it often is taken out of context, or relied upon as the expected solution to all problems. I’ve seen beginner programmers complaining about a major blocker to their career due to the lack of a mentor. Seriously, should students get a separate mentor for each subject they undertake at school?
Established Business Consulting Disciplines
Moreover, considering the vagueness of mentorships, it’s worth considering real-world disciplines aiming to deliver actionable results for a business.
Consulting and advisory are two of the most common areas.
- Consulting is primarily aimed
towardsextremely experienced industry leaders helping with a complex, niche problem. Business or digital consulting is instrumental for aligning your existing strategy or solving a painful execution problem in your workflow.
- Advisory, often mixed in with mentoring or coaching, is a
longer terminitiative for building a simplified version of a “Board of directors”. A reputable business advisor can navigate your growth strategy, help measure success KPIs over time, and support your roadmap in various areas of consulting, from management through operations to IT, strategy, financial, recruitment.
There is a lot of overlap between consulting, coaching, mentoring, advising. On the bright side, paying for professional advice and looking for a veteran consultant or advisor will increase the odds of success.
Mentorship Isn’t Trivial
Overall, it’s a weird mix. We are in an open source community, so sharing invaluable advice isn’t as foreign as it used to be in the .NET community 10 years ago. But conversations evolve – sometimes for good, sometimes for bad.
I’ve also helped out freelancers who created their own agencies. I occasionally help another team which started small and tripled in size over the course of three years. They’ve been extremely successful, running fat margins on projects in a very productive and effective way. But they stay small and hire very carefully – which helps them stay on top on what they do.