Mentoring: It's All about the Relationship…Building

May 21, 2021 | Dr. Vanessa S. O’Neal


Identifying My Goals for Mentoring

The decision to become a mentor to small business owners and entrepreneurs took much consideration. I knew what I had to offer via my wide range and depth of experience, but the question that I had to give deep respect and thought was what did I want to accomplish? What was my goal? And what would be my mentoring style? After taking the time to think about it because, after all, I wanted my response to myself to be thoughtful and intentional, it became apparent: my goal as a mentor is to help people with aspirations of being an entrepreneur and small business owners to build their businesses and maintain them effectively.

Of course, after embracing the goal, the natural order of understanding came with answering the question related to how? So, what I did was build a community for my mentees. After meeting with several of my mentees, I found that most were in one of three categories 1) beginner, they had an idea, may have tried to do research on areas of interest such as business plans, marketing, and pricing 2) intermediate, they started formalizing a business but felt like they were spinning wheels as there was so much information or 3) their business was operational, but they were having issues generating revenue, monetizing their goods and services or had issues with marketing and branding. At least one of these characteristics were reflected in each mentee. One thing that was very clear and evident to me is that regardless of how many mentees contacted me or how many mentees I agreed to mentor, there was only one of me.

So, I began to think about how I, the mentor of one, could effectively provide services that would accommodate the number of mentee requests that I received and agreed to mentor (which was very important because I don't mentor everyone that asks). The answer was simple: provide resources that are available regardless of geographical location or time zone. That is where the fun really began.

3 Categories of Mentees Beginner have an idea and may have done research on areas of interest such as business plans, marketing, and pricing Intermediate have started formalizing a business but left spinning wheels i.png
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Providing Access to Business Resources

The first challenge to providing resources was a platform. Where would I house the resources, and how would they be accessed or even presented. I decided that the best way to provide resources would be via education, so I decided to start a YouTube channel. The purpose is to provide videos that address various topics relating to business. Identifying the content for the videos was easy because it's based on the common questions that I receive as a mentor. Also included is an exportable product A.K.A "the resource.” I have found two that are more popular than the rest so far. That is the Business Plan Template and the Cost Plus Pricing Template; both are vital to most small businesses regardless of their current status.

After the first few videos, I still felt that something was missing, especially since my mentees stated that they spent a lot of time searching the internet to answer questions and information on similar subjects. I realized that the videos provided an education component and resource, but there was a lack of holistic value. That's when the idea to create the GrassRoots U. Community (GRU) came into play. I wanted my mentees to have a holistic approach to building their businesses. Mentoring as having Zoom meetings and emails is one aspect; however, providing access to education, resources, and community of like-minded individuals is another. To provide a holistic value to my mentees, I created a website that provides current events relating to small businesses and nonprofits, grant information, and downloadable documents updated weekly and available 24/7.

Building a Peer to Peer Support System for Small Business Owners

The last part was the community aspect. Again, based on a conversation with my mentees, it became clear that dialogue was another aspect that needed to be addressed in this ecosystem. I came to this conclusion because—as mentees do—they asked questions that resulted in subjective answers such as: “How do I remain motivated?”, “What is your opinion on my website?”, “What do you think of my logo?” These are all questions that I could provide an answer for, and of course, I do, but what if you asked the same question to your peers? Having entrepreneurs and business owners who have or are experiencing the same sentiment and challenges provide feedback can strengthen and elevate the individual asking the question. The community providing the response is invaluable because everyone can learn from the answer to the questions. This type of dialogue is also a form of research. I thought, what better way to connect than by creating a community where mentees could meet and communicate with each other—therein lies the formation of the GrassRoots U. Facebook group.

All of these steps towards creating the community have rendered positive results. The available resources have proven to be invaluable. An example of this occurred recently when one of the GRU members (April) recently posted a question in the Facebook group about her logo; Glenda, another member, provided feedback. As a result, with April's permission, Glenda created a few more ideas for the logo; there was no charge to her. Glenda just wanted to help, and she is an experienced graphic designer. Glenda provided April with four ideas for the logo. Not knowing which to choose, April asked the group to vote. Logo #4 won :-). This was an experience that I, as a mentor having one on one sessions, would not have been able to give my mentee, April, but providing access to a community, dialogue, and resources gave her what she needed at the time.

Understanding What Type of Mentor You Want to Be

Now, my point in all of this is not to infer by any means that all mentors must follow this path because let's face it, it is a lot, but it is what I chose to do as my contribution as a global mentor. However, I do believe that there are best practices that all mentors can follow to be successful and provide the best service starting with answering the following questions:

1. Why do you want to be a mentor? What do you have to offer?

2. What type of mentor would you like to be? Don't paint this question with a broad brush—be intentional and be very honest. Ask yourself these questions: What type of businesses do I want to mentor? Are there geographical limitations? How many mentees will I take on at one time? What does my mentoring session look like ( i.e Zoom, email, chat, etc.)? How much time do I have to spend weekly, monthly, etc.?

3. What type of experience would you like your mentee to have with you? Are you a resource, or do you focus primarily on providing answers to questions? What is the time frame of the mentorship—one Q&A Session, from one point to another, or as long as needed?

4. What is the goal of your mentoring? Again, this is not a question for the cookie-cutter answer of "I want to help people," but rather, what is it that you genuinely want to accomplish?

Establishing Mentoring Best Practices

Once you have identified who you are as a mentor, the role that you will play, and your overall focus and objectives for a successful mentoring relationship, I offer a few best practices for your journey:

  • Identify the resources you have available to you and determine how these resources can benefit your mentoring relationship. For instance, Calendly is an excellent resource for scheduling meetings with your mentees. Also, Zoom, WhatsApp, and Facebook messenger are all fantastic ways to have face-to-face meetings. The best part is they are all free.
  • Don't be afraid to ask for assistance. Just like mentees can benefit from the experiences of other mentees, so can mentors. Find your tribe!
  • Be creative to your level of comfort. The expectation of your mentoring path should be your own. Only you can define what mentoring looks like for you.

The Benefits of Mentoring

I see this daily within my own circle of mentees. One that specifically comes to mind from MicroMentor is Sabrina Jean Baptiste, owner of Blackandexxtraordinarydesigns in New York. When we first met, she was seeking guidance on marketing and branding. She discovered from our session that marketing and branding were secondary to her actual primary need: creating a foundation for the overall business. In the first meeting, we created a plan for the relationship, which identified her needs and a path to building her brand. After completing each task, she scheduled an appointment with me through the Calendly app; she shared the experience of the assignment, brainstormed, and moved to the next task. Within four months, Sabrina has not only created a solid foundation for her business, but she is now working—and very successfully, I might add— on her marketing and branding strategies.

Simply stated, being an effective mentor starts with identifying what you have to offer, what type of mentor you would like to be, and planning the experience for the relationship between you and your mentee.


About GrassRoots U

The GrassRoots U. community is not just for my mentees; it is open to all entrepreneurs, small business owners and mentors who want to connect with others. It is a global community that is growing, and we invite you to be a part. Come join the conversation.

About Dr. Vanessa S. O'Neal

Dr. O’Neal is the Owner of By Vanessa S. Handbags, Jewelry and Accessories(www.byvanessas.com); a woman, minority and veteran-owned small business and the founder of GrassRoots U., where building communities of entrepreneurs that are informed, engaged and connected is the objective.

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