July 28 2019 was the day when I finally bit the bullet.
Just one click.
Just one button: “Request Invite to Become a Mentor”
A year and a few days later I registered session 100 on GrowthMentor. It’s been a wild ride – one that I suspect might’ve even helped me more than the people I’ve been mentoring.
Mentoring after being mentor-less
I started my career in PR and I learned mainly from my colleagues and managers. But moving on after that, I was always either the first person or the most experienced person in a marketing team. This meant that I had a lot of freedom in how I could approach marketing. But it also meant that there was no one to help me figure out exactly how I should approach marketing.
I tried to stay on top of the new digital trends, learn about tactics worth trying, and attend every webinar out there. I gradually upgraded my skills and tested new things. But there was rarely someone I could discuss things with.
Only when I found people to talk with did I feel like I was moving forward at light speed. And this is what I want to provide to others.
Why I mentor
Mentoring takes a lot of time and energy. So the logical question is why do it at all? And let me clear this out from the get-go: it’s not about the money. Mentoring is nothing like consulting in the sense that it is driven primarily by intrinsic motivation. Most mentors I’ve spoken to use mentoring as a tool to grow and give back. Here are a couple of posts by my “colleagues” Dani and Michael that are very much in the same vein as what I’ve listed here.
As I mentioned at the start, I think I’m getting more out of mentoring than I’m giving. Here are some of the aspects worth considering.
Mentoring helps me fight imposter syndrome
To this day, my first month working with a client is a living hell. I second-guess myself and feel like I’ve scammed them off of their money and they are bound to find me out.
When I started mentoring, a funny thing happened. There were all these people telling me they found value in what I had to say and they even had practical points to take home and try out after just one 30-minute session. I got more validation so my inner critic got quieter.
Mentoring keeps my brain fresh
There’s a moment when you get so familiar with a project that you stop being able to get out of the box. Heck, you may get so deep that you don’t even see the box at all.
Talking to new people from all over the world with different projects is like a mental vitamin. It helps you soar above your box and see far out into new trends and possibilities. You can then bring these new solutions into projects you’ve been working on for a long time. And that’s how innovative ideas pop up.
Mentoring brings the Feynman Technique to life
I’m not one to argue with Nobel-prize winners. The Feynman Technique (as in physicist Richard Feynman) posits that the best way to learn is to teach. In order to really know if you got it all, try teaching the concept to a child (or someone with a lot less experience) and see where you’re struggling in explaining the details.
My blog basically functions like a Feynman Technique repository. But it’s much cooler to see what questions pop up in a real conversation. And that’s basically what mentoring is about.
Mentoring helps me understand my audience
The mentees I connect with often fall into one of two categories: founders with a good product idea but little growth knowledge or first/early marketing hires that have nobody in-house to learn from. Guess what? These are the primary personas of my consultancy.
Mentoring gives me an opportunity to meet my target in real life while also bringing value. The truth is no two mentoring sessions are alike – but the more people you talk to, the better you understand what those new to growth marketing struggle with.
Mentoring gives me great content directions
This is very closely related to my previous point, so I won’t spend a ton of time on it. But just to give you an example, five out of my 10 best-performing articles for the year were inspired by a mentorship session I had.
Mentoring keeps my energy up
Life can get quite lonely as a solo digital strategist. There comes a point where you’re ready to start talking to your cat – and I have to admit, I’ve actually gone well beyond that point on a few occasions.
So meeting new ambitious entrepreneurs, founders, and marketers keeps me connected to the outside world. And the feeling you’ve actually given someone an actionable insight that can impact their success is the best legal drug there is!
Mentoring makes me look legit
This is probably the point that relates the closest to some indirect monetary gain. When I first talk to potential clients, I often mention mentoring and I also include some testimonials from mentees in my consultancy offers. This serves as a credibility booster that few clients overlook.
What sets a good mentor apart
Having the will to mentor doesn’t necessarily make you good at it. Even with the tons of feedback I’ve received, I’m still not sure I’m doing it right. But I’ve learned a few key lessons that set a good mentor apart.
Setting the expectations right
Even though I have experience in quite a few marketing fields, I’m no omniscient and omnipotent marketing deity. And I don’t want to pretend to be one.
When I get a mentorship request I try to figure out if I’m the right person for the job:
- Have I done this before?
- Have I been successful at it?
- Did I do it for a project that’s in a similar industry or for a company at a similar growth stage as the mentee’s?
This checklist quickly weeds out requests where I won’t be able to bring any significant value.
If all of the above is a “yes”, then I tell the mentee what we’ll be able to do during our session. Oftentimes people expect you’ll solve a complex strategic problem in 30 minutes. No pressure!
I usually say something along the lines of: “I’ll help you with X, Y, and Z. My goal is for you to leave the session with a better understanding of what the problem is and at least one actionable step on how to move towards solving it. Does that sound like a good investment of your time?” This creates a sort of a mutual contract that the mentee can accept or refuse.
A good mentor prepares for the meeting by asking clarifying questions and understanding the mentee’s needs well before the time of the session. While most of the questions I get asked during a call I can confidently answer on the fly, preparation gives me time to reflect and think of the best example that’s relevant to the mentee. It also alleviates some of the tension – the less new information you need to absorb during the call, the better your brain can function.
Generally, I’d send anywhere between 2 and 10 questions to a mentee before a session. The key information I need includes:
- what their goals are,
- who they’re targeting,
- what’s the benefit for the user,
- what’s the obstacle they’re trying to overcome,
- what they have already tested and to what effect.
A small trick I do at the start of the call is to mention some small detail I noticed about the project that’s not immediately apparent. It puts the mentee at ease and really proves I’ve actually done my research. Then we can really dig into the questions!
Asking the right questions
The most important bit of mentoring is asking questions. The most sustainable solutions to your mentee’s problems usually come from within and your role as a mentor is to guide them to the solution rather than just blurb out one you’ve thought of yourself. Why? Well, let me explain…
There is a lot to the mentee’s situation that isn’t necessarily visible from the outside. Maybe there’s a managerial, time, or budget constraint they haven’t mentioned. Maybe the size of the team or their development process doesn’t allow for a certain type of solution. When you guide the mentee with questions, they’re already taking into account all of these hidden elements.
On the other hand, you might shortcut the process and just tell them “the right solution”. And since you’re the mentor and occupy a position of authority, they will most probably agree on the spot and only later figure out that idea is practically useless. No one wins.
So what I try to do is nudge them with questions and only later share some ideas about the way I’d approach the issue. Here are some of the questions I’d ask:
- What is your goal? What do you want to achieve as an end result?
- How are you measuring if you’re moving closer to this goal?
- Who are you targeting and what channels are you using to reach them?
- What’s your team setup? What resources do you have at hand?
- What have you tested in the past to solve the issue or achieve the goal? Did it work or not? Why do you think that is?
- What assumptions do you currently hold that you haven’t put to the test? Can you test any of them?
- What solutions have you already thought about? What are the unknowns around them?
- What are your competitors doing that’s related? Are there other brands (even ones that are unrelated to your industry) you’ve seen tackling the same thing in a cool way?
- What can I help you with here?
This list achieves a few things. First off, it helps them clarify the goal (as advised by HBR) and think about ways they can track success. I often see that marketers and founders try to rush at brainstorming and testing solutions without being clear how they’ll know if said solution works. Then it helps them take stock of the unknowns around the situation. At this point, we’ll often try to figure out ways to get additional info. We’ll also look for inspiration from other brands.
Giving ideas that can actually be discussed
Asking questions takes up the majority of the call. Then and only then will I get into “here’s an idea” discussion frame. I know most mentees are there to hear this part. But we often would already list a couple of good potential solutions before that point.
I’ll generally put things in one of two ways:
- Here’s a similar situation that I’ve been in the past. This is what we did, these were the results and this is why…
- If I were in your shoes, here’s how I’d proceed…
Both leave much more room for discussion than something that starts with “Here’s what you need to do:…” The latter just shuts the conversation closed.
Obviously, this isn’t applicable to minor technical questions. There’s only one right way you can add Facebook pixel tracking to your site. But most of the questions mentees have are related to strategic issues that need to be tested and there’s no obvious right solution.
How to run successful mentorship meetings?
Obviously, there’s a ton more that goes into successful mentorship but I don’t want this post to run too long. So I’ll list here things that are really simple but make a difference:
- Be on time – or preferably a couple of minutes early.
- Ask the mentee if they have a hard stop at the end of your allotted time or mention if you do.
- Keep a camera on even if they don’t – people pay more attention to what you have to say when they can see you.
- Tell the mentee it’s OK to record the session if they want to – that way they’ll be fully present to listen and interact rather than take notes.
- Make sure you start off with something fun or casual that can ease off the natural tension and awkwardness of talking to someone you don’t know well.
- Don’t jump into rapid-fire talking – add some pauses while talking so that your mentee can ask clarifying questions or comment on the details.
- Take notes while you’re talking and do a recap at the end of the session with the key takeaways.
- Leave the last 5 minutes for the mentee to ask you any follow-ups or questions that aren’t related to the main topic.
- Send your mentee a follow-up to check if they’re already working on the actions you discussed. This will nudge them to action if they’ve been slacking and show them you actually care.
There’s probably more that I can add to the list. And we can argue whether or not some of the points are important or not. But I wanted to leave the most important one for last:
have fun while mentoring and be kind.
Your energy level is a key factor not only for a successful meeting but for motivating your mentee to succeed. Growth is hard. It’s full of unknowns. It feels lonely. So having someone smile at you and say “I’ve been there and it’s going to be OK!” is just as important as walking away from a call with a new growth tactic.