If you’re just starting out in the business world or thinking about making a big career shift, it’s important to find the right advice to help you succeed. Unlike well-meaning friends, a good mentor can provide honest, critical advice and guidance instead of just telling you what you want to hear.

businesswomen meeting

Having a mentor carries a certain cachè – it’s a sign you take your career, small business, or side hustle seriously enough to seek outside advice and guidance. But what does having a mentor really mean? And what should you do once you have one?

Effectively building and maintaining mentoring relationships requires “pre-work” that may feel icky (keep reading), as well as a willingness to be vulnerable and listen — traits that don’t come naturally to many of us, particularly if we’re nervous about starting a new relationship. Consulting firm KPMG says 79 percent of women lack confidence seeking mentors. Time to turn the tides.

Look outside traditional views of mentorship to find the inspiration and support you need — what’s important is finding the right mentoring mix for you. Ready for some advice? Check out these tips for making your mentorships matter.

  • Know your tribe. The best mentoring relationships are not one-size fits all. Know who you’re reaching out to and how well-positioned they are to help you. They don’t have to solve all your challenges — zero in on the area where you can have the most fruitful conversations.
  • Know your goals. Many formal mentorship programs cater to people who are already moving along in their careers. But often as you’re just starting out is when you really need to tap others. Set your intentions, whether it’s growing your network, honing your craft, managing life transitions, gaining leadership experience, or inspiring teams.
  • Calendar it. Keep a steady schedule that works for both of you and stick to it. It doesn’t have to be every week or even every month, but set a schedule. Meeting two or three months in a row and not for six doesn’t help either of you gain energy from the relationship. Be honest and deliberate with the time you commit.
  • Look beyond the usual suspects. You can learn something from people of all ages. Often, looking beyond your own generation to people significantly older or younger can really change your perspective on an issue. You can find mentors from different walks of life, and in all kinds of unexpected places.
  • Create a Board of Directors. Companies have them, why can’t you? Again, one size does not fit all when it comes to mentors, so understand where you want to focus (read #1) and then seek out any number of mentors to get you there. Half the business advice I share is inspired by conversations with my therapist. You’ll be amazed where you’ll uncover smart tips, so be listening for them.
  • Dig deep. Sometimes we want a “mentor” because we need to feel better about something in ourselves, or develop an area of opportunity. Oftentimes, the mentorship is a catalyst for things we already know about ourselves. Maybe you’re not a great listener. Ask yourself: What are three things I can do to try differently to be better? Dig deep, even if it doesn’t feel swell. I bet most of us know the answers to 90 percent of the questions we’re eager to ask a mentor. So, consider doing the pre-work to move past what may be obvious to make your mentoring relationships that much more fruitful.
  • Learn from your peers. Sometimes the advice you seek can be ad hoc. When I worked for myself, I had coffee with 20 other freelancers I knew to help me figure out the basics of standing up my business — should I form an S-Corp, do I need an accountant? You can also pulse people for that kind of advice at meetups and conferences.

How do you make the most of your mentorships? Share your tips with us @BritandCo.

(Photo via Getty)