Seven foundations for successful mentoring

Posted on: July 15th, 2011

Welcome to guest writer, Jo Ann Sweeney, who explains the seven areas where a mentor can make all the difference to our freelance business.

We all need a fresh perspective in our work, someone to help us think laterally beyond what we do day in, day out and provide fresh perspectives.

In almost 20 years as a freelance consultant I’ve met hundreds of people like myself – self-starters, good time managers, high energy, assertive, good at multi-tasking, not afraid to take risks, embrace change, can cope with ambiguity, like being our own boss, the list goes on and on.

What I’ve noticed is that some people establish successful businesses quickly; others take many years.  I’d put myself in the second category. It took six or seven years before I was doing well financially; which was fine because I had young children and wanted to work school hours only.

However, I now know that if I’d had a mentor from the beginning I would have been successful more quickly; both financially and in my own estimation of myself. Here are seven areas where a mentor makes all the difference.

1. Drilling down into who you are

Telling our story to someone who listens and helps us probe more deeply into who we are and what makes us successful is cathartic. They’re a non-threatening mirror that helps us understand our natural talents, knowledge, skills, experiences, passions and the things critical to our success.

Barrie Hopson, in his book And What Do You Do? 10 Steps to Creating a Portfolio Career, lists 26 attributes of people who have successful portfolio careers.

2. Scoping personal & business aims

Starting our own business usually includes a real drop in income; if we don’t plan for this it is a massive shock. But facing this reality messes with the rose-tinted movie about owning our own business that we play again and again in our heads.

A worthwhile mentor will make us analyse our current spending, ask how much we need to earn to pay essential household bills and all those government taxes. They’ll also ask what job satisfaction and work life balance mean for us, and what reputation we’d like in our industry.

3. Who most needs what we have to offer

This is all about developing greater understanding about our potential clients – who are they, what do they buy, why do they buy and why they might choose us rather than another supplier.

One way of delving deeper into who we are called to serve is to look at who we have helped already, considering what problems they share, how our input has made a difference and what they might say if we were to ask them “of all the things we did together what was most useful?”

4. Product & service portfolio

There are so many products and services we can offer as freelancers – consultancy, interim management, courses and workshops, books, home study courses, presentations and events, mastermind groups, teleseminars and webinars.

Our temptation can be to try and meet every need, when what we should be doing is selecting a few key offerings that take clients on a journey deeper and deeper into our high-end offerings.

5. Getting their attention

Again there are multiple, mainly time-consuming ways of letting clients and potential clients know about our offerings – social media like Twitter, blogs, ezines, direct mail, feature articles in trade press, meetings.

While choosing between these can seem like putting your finger in the wind, there is a bigger question we should be asking ourselves – how do we stay in touch in ways that are meaningful to them? A mentor helps with both this bigger question and in choosing between numerous marketing channels.

6. Behind the scenes

It’s easy to overlook the systems, processes and procedures that underpin any business until we can no longer avoid them. Often this is because while some are obvious – VAT registration, company name registration – others are not.

A mentor can help us think through whether we need standard contracts and insurance,  ownership and shareholding, IT systems and communications technology, administrative and professional support of people like accountants and lawyers.

7. Getting performance from people

Many of us don’t see this as an issue – we managed teams in our corporate lives – until we get to the point where we realise we’re spending too much time on things another person could do better than us.

Perhaps it’s writing blogs, bookkeeping, keeping in touch calls. Whatever, we now need to do all the things the HR team did for us. Writing the job description, recruitment, induction and probation plus deciding on the HR policies that employees need to know when they start working for us. Again a mentor can help us work through whether we provide the legal minimum or enhancements and, if so, where.

Jo Ann Sweeney is a communications consultant and mentor who supports people as they leave corporate life to set up their own profitable businesses. If you would like an initial complimentary conversation about how she might support you in your business contact


6 Responses to “Seven foundations for successful mentoring”

  1. Carole
    July 15th, 2011

    This is so true, Jo Ann. We’re too close to our own business, so it can be hard to take a step back and view things from a different perspective. I’m about to embark on a new business project. So, that means, from next week, I’ll be working with a business mentor who will help guide me through the whole venture.

  2. Jo Ann Sweeney
    July 15th, 2011

    Good luck with your new venture Carole. Have to admit I have four mentors – one helps me with overall business strategy, another with marketing, third with technology and the final with my spiritual life. Without them my business and personal life would be much less satisfying. :-)

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