You Can Be a Better Business Mentor with These 8 Simple Tips

Keith Krach
May 7, 2016

It took the vision and hard work of talented people to bring success to some of the world’s most famous startups. For many, a key ingredient in their success also included the support and advice of a mentor. The invaluable experience and guidance of an industry veteran can have a profound influence on the growth of a fledgling startup.

As an accomplished entrepreneur, being a mentor to the leader of a young startup can be a gratifying way to pass on your knowledge to a like-minded person and advance your industry. Additionally, it can give your career a jumpstart, expanding your professional network and giving you a look at your field through new eyes.

Executives thinking about becoming a mentor to a startup founder can do the job more effectively with the following eight tips.

1. Be dedicated to the process.

If you agree to become a mentor, it’s important to be 100 percent committed to the partnership. A professional should only choose to become a mentor if confident that he or she will be available for counsel when needed. Mentees should respect a mentor’s schedule, but in turn, mentors should make time for the people they are mentoring.

The best mentors also give mentees their full attention during meetings. They do not see the relationship as inconvenient, and they make themselves as accessible as possible for questions when needed.

2. Work with someone likeminded.

The most beneficial partnerships are going to occur between two people who share similar ideological approaches to business. If you become a mentor to someone who doesn’t agree with your business principles, many lessons that you consider valuable may be lost on the entrepreneur you’re mentoring. Agree to mentor someone only if you find that you have good business chemistry and that you agree on the major aspects of running a company.

3. Enjoy teaching.

A good mentor doesn’t agree to form a partnership with a new entrepreneur with the sole aim of career advancement or personal gain. The best mentors embrace the process and enjoy teaching others. They are enthusiastic about sharing knowledge and know how to ask questions that encourage mentees to think critically. Additionally, a good mentor communicates ideas in such a way that mentees easily understand the concepts being explained. They are clear and frank in speech, and don’t use confusing or unfamiliar industry jargon without explanation to look impressive. 

4. Give straightforward advice.

It can be difficult to be direct when you see major flaws in your mentee’s business or operational plans, especially if you genuinely like the person you are mentoring. However, the purpose of being a mentor is to teach another leader how to be as effective as possible, and help him or her achieve success. Constructive criticism can be difficult to give, but it’s also a useful tool in building a better company and creating more effective leaders.

5. Consider mentoring within your industry.

The knowledge you have gained in your industry from firsthand experience is a valuable resource to a mentee, and it will be the most useful to someone who works in the same field or sector. There are plenty of universally applicable business lessons, and not all mentoring happens between people in the same industry, but you can have the greatest impact on someone who will benefit from niche-specific information. Additionally, this can provide an avenue for future business opportunities and partnerships for your own company.

6. Keep updated on progress.

The best mentors are likely to be very busy in their own professional lives, but they still manage to check in with mentees about their progress toward goals. Great mentors have a genuine interest in seeing a protégé succeed, and they find time to make contact and ask questions about progress, even if time only permits a quick phone call.

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7. Choose to teach rather than talk.

Ultimately, you’re trying to teach another person how to successfully navigate the path that leads to a stronger business, and doing so requires a certain set of skills. Mentors are most effective when they teach others how to evaluate a product or business model, for example, rather than simply telling them that a business model or product is a bad idea. Excellent mentors help others develop the ability to think and judge independently, rather than simply offering their opinions on a case-by-case basis.

8.  Show enthusiasm.

Remember that you were once in your mentee’s position, and that a little positivity can go far when you’ve yet to achieve major success. If the entrepreneur you are mentoring suggests an excellent business idea, be enthusiastic and approving. As an individual not directly involved in his or her business operations, your encouragement could be just the inspiration they need to turn that idea into reality

Keith Krach

Keith Krach is Chairman of DocuSign, The Global Standard for Digital Transaction Management.