Trust in a mentor/mentee relationship plays a key role in the success of the mentorship experience, and can also have an impact on the long-term success of the business. Until you have a relationship that is rooted in trust, you cannot have an open and honest discussion about the challenges that face the business. But how can a mentor build trust with an entrepreneur he/she is mentoring? Here are eight ways to do just that.
1. Share your past.
It’s important to take the time to share your experiences during your first meetings. Provide a rundown of your business history and background. Talk about specific mentoring experience, whether that involves another company you’ve helped, or a personal experience you had with a mentor when you were just starting out. As the relationship develops, don’t be afraid to share less-than-positive experiences and past mistakes, and discuss how you recovered from them. It not only shows a human side, but can help ease the intimidation factor that is commonly present in mentoring relationships.
2. Get to know your mentee.
It’s important to understand an entrepreneur’s background. How long have they wanted to start their own business? What are their short-term and long-term goals? What makes them passionate about their business idea and the problem they are looking to solve? What is their understanding of the entrepreneurial process? Also be sure to learn about the entrepreneur as a person and understand the individual driving the business. By taking a holistic, well-rounded approach to mentoring, mentors can better tailor their coaching approach, thus increasing the effectiveness of their relationship.
3. Have consistent in-person meetings.
When a mentoring relationship is fresh, it’s best to set up regular in-person meetings. “In-person connection can foster a strong and trusting relationship,” advises Hughes. More important, it’s vital to keep those meetings and show up on time. Little things, like being late for a meeting, or constantly canceling at the last minute, could make the entrepreneur distrust how invested you really are, not just in the relationship, but in their business.
4. Establish confidentiality right away.
Many entrepreneurs are leery about sharing their business ideas with other people, so make sure it’s clear that what’s discussed in your meetings is confidential. And if you have information about the entrepreneur that you’d like to share with someone else—say, if you’d like to make a referral or request advice from another expert—let the entrepreneur know about it first, and make sure they are comfortable with potentially involving someone else.
5. Keep in touch.
Even if an entrepreneur has actively sought out a mentor, that doesn’t mean they won’t be hesitant about initiating contact outside of regularly scheduled meetings. It’s important that you, as the mentor, take the initiative to contact them for updates. It not only shows the entrepreneur that you have a true interest in helping them succeed, but helps to ensure they are staying on track. On the other hand, if your mentee contacts you with an issue, be sure to provide timely feedback. As Hughes notes, entrepreneurs are advised to “find someone you can email questions to, someone who’ll pick up the phone, or call you back when you need to vet ideas.” The more mentors wait to respond, the more the mentee will begin to doubt whether the question was worth asking. Assure them their questions and concerns are valid.
6. Be a coach.
While mentors are often talked about as being synonymous with “advice givers,” remember that you’re actually there to provide encouragement and guidance, not just to reveal all your secrets to small business success. “It’s not enough to simply advise a company,” Hughes says. “As a mentor, you are choosing to join an entrepreneur on their journey of discovery and, at times, learn side by side with them.” Much like a coach, you should look to shape the training of the entrepreneur around their natural abilities and knowledge. It’s also important to be a sounding board. Your mentee may be able to solve more of their problems than they think. Allowing them to develop their own answers to a problem lets them know you trust their judgment, which encourages them to trust themselves.
7. Talk about the elephant in the room.
We often picture mentees to be a miniature version of the mentor. But this is not always the case. Many times your background and experiences will differ greatly from that of the entrepreneur you are assisting. While many are naturally inclined to ignore differences, it’s actually more helpful to the trust-building process to acknowledge them. Differences in education, socioeconomic status, gender and race can make an entrepreneur reluctant to open up.
8. Take the mentoring relationship into the real world.
As the mentoring relationship progresses, continue to build trust by exposing them to other people in your network. Introduce them to your business partners, investors and even past mentees. When possible, let them see the process in action by having them sit in on business presentations or coaching them through mock investor pitches.
Gaining trust as a mentor takes time, but this relationship is also a two-way street. If the entrepreneur is unwilling to open up, there’s not much hope for a successful relationship. “Great mentors are made by great mentees–they are the yin to each other’s yang,” says Hughes. Keep in mind that especially at first, it’s not uncommon for an entrepreneur to resist your guidance or go against your suggestions. This type of testing is common in most mentor/mentee relationships, whether they are business-oriented or not. The important thing is how you respond. If they go against your guidance and succeed, let them know that sometimes it’s good to go with their gut. If they go against your guidance and fail, let them know that it’s also part of the process.
Click here to learn about JumpStart’s Burton D. Morgan Mentoring Program.