This article was updated on Sept. 6, 2018.
Entrepreneurs and business owners have long understood the value of working with a mentor or coach for expert advice. In the past, it was customary to have regular, face-to-face meetings with a mentor to brainstorm solutions to business challenges and explore opportunities. In today's digital world, technology enables business owners to turn to a virtual mentor for this type of counsel.
By using different communication outlets such as calls, emails, texts and video conferences, mentors and mentees can discuss challenges, share opinions and address problems without being in the same room, or even on the same continent. Geography is no longer a factor, you can now seek out the best expert for your industry, operational challenge or issue from anywhere in the world.
Here are some steps you can take to optimize the virtual mentor relationship and get the most out of your time together:
- Set goals. One of the best ways to ensure that you have an effective mentoring relationship is to set goals at the outset. While you can certainly adjust and change these goals throughout the course of your mentorship, it's important to agree on long-term and short-term objectives so you can drive your discussions and decisions accordingly.
- Take initiative. You shouldn't necessarily expect your mentor to check in with you on a regular basis. Instead, you should be the one to reach out and speak up when you need advice or the benefit of a sounding board.
- Take notes. Unless you're recording your meeting, you should get into the habit of taking notes on your mentor's observations and suggestions, as this will help ensure that you don't forget an important detail.
- Establish a schedule for regular check-ins. By committing to a regular meeting day and time, you can help to create a tentative deadline for the completion of any action items, which can help spur action all around.
- Agree on the amount of access you can expect. When laying out the terms of your mentorship, it's important to determine certain procedures. For instance, you might want to discuss how you should handle a situation in which a quick question comes up in the middle of the month. In this scenario, would your mentor prefer for you to reach out via email, a text message or a short phone call? By asking for parameters regarding contact up front, you can help to avoid any miscommunication.
- Don't come to meetings unprepared. If you haven't had time to make progress on agreed-up action items, you should reschedule your meeting to ensure that you don't waste your mentor's time.
- Say thank you. Always let your mentor know how much you appreciate his or her help, especially when the mentor is volunteering his or her time.
Mentors and coaches can help business owners sharpen their skills and acquire contacts that can positively impact their companies. In today's digital age, virtual mentors can have just as much of an impact on a business as a local adviser.