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Q. Best Way to Work with Mentors



I was just curious if people have advice on how to best select a mentor and, subsequently, how to make sure both parties are getting the most out of the relationship.  What is the best thing a young entrepreneur can "give" to their mentor to make sure they show their time is valued and appreciated.


Any piecies of advice, both abstract and concrete, are much appreciated.




2 answers | on 5/5/10

Seth Burstein

Seth Burstein E

Industry: Entertainment/Recreation/Events
Boston, United States


Venkata Vadlamani

Venkata Vadlamani S

Industry: Computer Services/Information Technology
Austin, United States

As a mentor I do have certain minimal expectation from young entrepreneur. Here is what is call my "rules of engagement".

1. I would really prefer that you know about me before we engage in any active participation. For starters, my profile on linkedin and/or "bios" section of the should give you a fair idea of what I do and my past experience. If you have any further questions please do not hesitate to ask me.

aka: Know your mentor's background. See if he/she is the right fit for your needs. If you do not feel they can help, convey the same as a courtesy. 

2. Also, my day time job is being a executive advisor/management consultant for startups and SMBs with varying roles. Needless to say, most of my time and effort goes to paying clients. While, I do give equal importance to requests via mentorship websites, my availability is subjected to my prior obligations with my current and prospective clients. I guess, you can relate to the reasoning behind it. Having said that, I do like to have a standard approach/expectations in this (& similar engagements), in spite of my very effort to be flexible to your needs.

aka. Value each others time and effort.

 3.  I do put emphasis on mutually agreed "to-do" list. And most of the times, the duration to satisfy the items from the list is agreed upon by the mentee (or you in this case.) Hence, pending any "not-worked-on" items, at the least I do require a minimal response., so the growth plans do not get stalled.


I do maintain enough flexibility to change priority of the items taking into consideration any and all social, family, job situation, finance & business influences.

4.  Its my goal to support you in your goals, however at anytime if you feel that I'm distracting you from your goals, please bring it to my attention immediately.


5. Given the nature of my day job, I can offer 3-4 hr per month. And any extra duration is based on my schedule. You can spread the 3 to 4hrs per month towards 1hr each week (just a suggestion). For sure I do not use a stop clock but I mention this to maintain minimal structure. (sometimes available of weekends). Alternatively, in the future if you feel this engagement is moving forward in good nature, and you would like to engage in a more formal engagement you are more than welcome to suggest so.


6.  I'm sensitive to intellectual property of all my clients (paying or nonpaying) and hence, I do put emphasis on requirement of an mutual NDA, that I can send out if you wish to move forward. In gist, it states: "what I share with you is confidential and what you share with me is confidential"


7.  Open to criticism: I like a very open/frank/honest engagement. Having a mutual7. tolerance to be an open critique and be criticized is important as well. If at any point you feel you would like to discontinue this engagement, please do not hesitate to state the same explicitly. And the same goes for me.


8.  Face to face meeting: Though we are located in different cities, sometimes I do travel to or via Dallas area and meeting face to face it optional and at mutual convenience.


In this particular case, I was within travel distance  hence provided the option to meet. It might not be feasible in all situations.

 9. Any items I have not listed can be assumed to be the part of engagement between two professionals working towards business goals.

Hope it helps!!

Venky Vadlamani


on 1/6/10

Shonika Proctor

Shonika Proctor ES

Industry: Education/Training, Business Consulting/Coaching
Washington, United States

WOW awesome answer posted by Venky.

I would piggyback those sentiments and also share that everyone brings different levels and different types of expertise and involvment. So it is possible you may be interacting with different mentors (or a group of mentors) at some point and ideally if you see building your mentor network like building your Board of Directors or Advisory Board for your company, When you see it in these terms, I think you will be more careful and strategic about how you choose those people to work with and engage them in your network.

Realize that depending on what phase of business you are in (i.e. start up) it may take a lot of time to get the foundation going. This is also usually the most difficult time to get others involved beyond sharing a few words of advice (follow through is uber important).  So if early on you created a simple vision statement and a loose timeline of some milestones you want to accomplish over the next 6 months or so (or even asked your mentor if that could be the first project you work on together), it might be easier to find a person that can help you be accountable to that plan, and refine it more.

Don't stress too much over the details and don't work too hard to make the relationship work. It should come naturally to you. People want to see you successful. To get the most from your mentor relationship I would say:

1. Meet regularly (set time, set days) 

2. Say thank you; express your gratitude

3. You are both teachers and students. Realize you will teach your mentor as much as you learn from them so don't feel that you are inferior.

4. Have fun, be yourself and committed each day to improving the quality of life for yourself and/or others around you....that is the spirit of an entrepreneur!

5. Exit the relationship with grace....whether you decide not to do it; you don't get along with the person; or your needs grow beyond what they can provide you etc. never abandon the relationship. Let the mentor(s) know when you are ready to move on.

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