What I do as a Virgin StartUp Mentor

Ross Kingsland is an innovative communication strategist and one of our Virgin StartUp mentors, helping our startups to achieve their potential. Here he gives an insight into what being a VSU mentor involves, and how to get the most out of your mentoring experience.

Like any successful relationship, mentoring is mutually beneficial experience that lifts both mentor and mentee to greater heights. However, too often this relationship is abused by one side seeking more from the relationship than the other, and ultimately draining the energy until nothing is left. As mentors we want to see others achieving and realising their goals -the road is not easy and mentors are there to help your journey.

Finding the right mentor

Not all mentees are created equal. Just because a person believes that a particular mentor is the right mentor for them does not necessarily mean that this will result in a successful mentorship. Every day I am inundated with emails, tweets and LinkedIn requests asking for my help, recommendations and advice. In 99% of these instances I have never heard of these people before. As much as I would like to help everyone I simply do not have the time - you need to be very selective about who you take on.

The mentoring experience should not be entered into lightly, as it requires commitment. And the more we are invested in the mentee the more we receive back from them. Fortunately organisations like Virgin Start Up have helped many budding entrepreneurs find the perfect mentor to accelerate business growth.

How a mentor helped me

I know that I have been extremely fortunate in my journey and have met some exceptional mentors.

For my consulting and training business, a chance conversation with an old friend revealed a business strategy that was five years ahead of the business scene in the UK. By implementing it, with guidance I was able to grow my business considerably in a very short period of time.

Currently I am in the process of writing my first book, When Lightning Strikes which talks about the science and psychological strategies of inspiration and how to apply them to business growth, leadership, increased sales, more effective marketing and breakthrough innovations. However, I realised that to professionally publish and write a book was beyond my skillset, so I sought out someone who I had a great deal of respect for, and who had several New York Times bestsellers, and developed a relationship. In return he let me in on the secrets and tactics that had made him and his peers so successful.

What the mentoring process involves

Each mentor has a slightly different process that they will tailor based on both your and their circumstances. In each case there are several steps that will happen during the process.

Preparation, preparation, preparation

You and the mentor are busy people and your time together is highly condensed. Make sure that you have as much information prepared, accurate and ready for your first meeting. Mentors will want to firstly establish where you are, what your turnover is, costs, risks, marketing plans, expenses, production schedules etc. You cannot build the Empire State Building on soft foundations.

Build trust, build the relationship

Trust between a mentor and mentee is critical to the success of your relationship and achieving the goals you set out to meet. Start by considering that the mission of the mentor is to assist you in achieving your goals with the knowledge and skills that they possess to enable that. Every mentor wants you to succeed. Coupled with this, working with a Virgin StartUp-endorsed mentor removes any concerns over their legitimacy or level of excellence.

Where do you want to be?

It can be surprising how glib and casual some business owners can be when answering this question. Focus your thinking on what success looks like to you. Consider success in the next 6 months, 12 months and 3 years.

How are we going to get there?

Next the mentor will begin working with you to develop a strategy that is realistic,  achievable based on your timescales, and  aligns with your overall vision. This will incorporate their experiences and knowledge combined with yours. The strategy may stretch your comfort zones, it may make you feel uncomfortable, it may make you incredibly excited – usually it is a combination of all of these.

Execution is key

As enjoyable as it is focusing on plans and the spreadsheet millions that could be made, the hard work begins when you leave the mentor and execute the strategy. I can guarantee you one thing - not everything will go to plan! After all you are working with a mentor, not a fortune teller. Keep moving forward, do not let any setbacks stop you or hold you back. As growth hacker Ryan Holiday says “The obstacle is the way”.

Steering the boat

Each follow-up meeting with the mentor will include your update of each agreed action and corrective actions to keep your progress moving forward to achieve your goals. This will also involve strategy reviews to ensure that the original plan is still appropriate given your experiences to date.

How to prepare for the mentoring experience

If you are a mentee about to enter into a mentoring experience, here are three essential steps to getting the most out of it.

Let go of your ego

If you have ever lifted weights at the gym you know not to walk over to the heaviest weights and start throwing them around. Growing your business is the same as growing any muscle – let go of your ego, start small, and gradually increase the resistance.

Be prepared to do the work

You will either have results, or reasons why you don’t have results. There will always be distractions in our lives that impede our progress. The most successful mentees recognise that this will occur and will not allow this to slow them down. In other words, complete the actions that are agreed with your mentor. Let nothing get in the way of these tasks, for they are the steps to your success.

Recognise your strengths and weaknesses

An entrepreneur has to wear many hats – manager, leaders, sales, marketing etc. Very few entrepreneurs are exceptional at all of these. Be honest and realistic about what your strengths and weaknesses are. The fastest way to understand this is to look at what currently is working well in your business and what isn’t, and discuss these openly with your mentor to mitigate your weaknesses and build on your strengths.