The Mentor Dilemma

Today, I found myself (yet again) in a spot that I’ve found myself in quite a few times since starting LLY Designs a year ago. I had a business/marketing-related question that I needed about 30 minutes to go through with someone who was more experienced in business and marketing than I am, and to just talk it over and work it out. Sounds pretty basic, right?
The problem I keep running into, though, is one that seems on paper to be absolutely ridiculous. There are no mentors to be found. Sure, they’re out there. But they seem to be drawn to the glamorous companies that have VC funding, like Y-combinator startups, or are found through business schools, which I have the less-than-good fortune of not having attended. I could ask my parents but… that’s not been the best solution for business-related topics so far. Which pretty much leaves me with google, social media, and a few high-powered women who have barely enough time for themselves and their families, much less time to talk over a business quandary. In the last year, I’ve asked no less than 4 relatively successful women, all of whom I admire immensely, about the possibility of some type of mentor/mentee relationship. With three, I was turned down outright; either they didn’t have time, weren’t interested, or didn’t feel that they were qualified to give advice (whatever that means). The 4th, though, wanted $100/hour for her phone conversations (I’ll leave the name of her phone ‘diagnostic’ system out of this) but to me, that’s not a mentorship. If you want to call it coaching, fine. But mentoring is building a relationship on trust and mutual respect– mine, that the mentor is successful and giving me good advice, and the mentor’s, that they’re investing their time wisely and not on someone who’ll just throw it away– and ultimately forming a relationship becomes one where I could email a casual question 3 months after the initial outreach, if I needed to, without having to worry about another $100 bill. Again, that would be a coaching session, not mentoring. And let me be clear: I don’t have a problem with business coaching (when it’s done right, of course). I think it can be super effective and useful. However, coaching tends to be project- or specific results oriented while, like I said, mentoring is more relationship based and definitely more of a long term thing, and that is MUCH more what I’m looking for- even if I just have one question at this particular moment.

ETA:  the working definition of mentor that I’m using here is one of a longer term, not-for-pay relationship that’s still mutually beneficial, as it’s a sort of “teacher/student” relationship (that’s the best way I can think of describe it from my limited experience with casual mentorships in Boston.) Though they’re longer term, they’re unstructured– no course content, not necessarily regularly structured meetings or calls– and a fairly small time commitment. Maybe an hour or two over coffee every month. They also tend to have a friendship, even though there’s usually a generational gap (due to one person having been in business much longer) that forms because of the trust between the two parties. Sometimes the friendship is there prior to the mentorship and the business side of things just forms naturally.

On the flip side, coaching is a paid arrangement entered into by the business and the coach, usually with some sort of theme or very specific goal- getting ready for a launch, raising your profits, or even like I’ll be doing with my company, rebranding your business. Because of that specificity, it’s usually a lot of content in a relatively short timeframe, definitely not the longterm “grow as you and your business grow” organic feeling that you’d find in a mentorship- which is perfect when you have a very concrete goal in mind, a specific launch date, etc.

They both have their upsides and downsides, but I’m specifically looking for a mentor– and finding zilch– hence the post! Now that you know a little bit more of where I’m coming from on mentors vs coaches, the this might all make a little more sense…

I’m involved in a couple twitter chats and women entrepreneur groups online and the demand for mentors keeps occurring, time and time again. I can’t help but wonder if these people are in the same boat as I am- obviously, we’re entrepreneurs and strapped for cash, so $100 every time we pick up the phone is a huge investment to begin with (IF we wanted a coach, rather than a mentor). But even that aside- where ARE the mentors themselves? Do they just have no interest in lifestyle businesses? Are there just far fewer female mentors because more women in their 40’s/50’s (aka, the age where they’ve been there, done that in the business world) have children and families that take priority over business? Or are mentors just deciding to say “screw the free mentoring, I’m eschewing the long term personal relationship in favor of the shorter term (and financially favorable) coaching?” And where, god forbid, are the MALE mentors? Sometimes being a designer feels like being at a junior high dance where the boys are on one side of the room and the girls are on the other, awkwardly waiting to talk to each other. It’s ok to mingle!

Maybe there’s some mentor-mentee matchup land that I’m missing… and I’d be pretty pumped to find it. But I’m more wondering what happened to the mentors? Why are they disappearing and most importantly, how in the hell do I find myself a good one? Because this is getting a little crazy!

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0 thoughts on “The Mentor Dilemma”

  1. Skye @ neathering our fest

    I don’t know what kind of issue you are having but I’ve been looking for the same type of thing. I have always admired Maggie at Gussy Sews and she has a mentorship program that is reasonably priced! You might check her out! 🙂

    1. Yeah, that’s one of the issues I keep running into- paid basically= coaching. Which, I have NO qualms with. I respect the hell out of business coaches like Maggie, and the ladies at Kickstart Kitchen (www.kickstartkitchen.com) who I’ve also looked at working with. The problem for me is that it tends to be a much shorter term relationship, and if it’s not, then you’re talking major moolah. I don’t need someone dedicated to helping me (or a structured program, even) 5 hours a week, at this point, but just the occasional coffee to talk over how things are going, and bounce ideas off of, you know?
      Thank you for the suggestion though! And good luck! What are you trying to do that you need a mentor for?

  2. Jessica Miller-Merrell

    This is hard, and I’ve faced the same thing myself. I’ve set up a personal board of directors. These are supportive business professionals who understand that I see them as mentors and advisors. I call upon them from time to time, and don’t pay a dime. Might be something to consider. I was in a similar position as you last October, and I talked to a friend who is a business owner. She suggested this and I later found that she had literally wrote the book on it.

    JMM

  3. This is a tough one…. I’m not sure I have any answers because the woman whom I consider to be mine is someone that I met because we worked at the same company together years ago, and it’s something that formed organically. Fingers crossed for you!

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