Should you pay a business mentor? In this article, we’ll get to the bottom of this question once and for all.
It started with a mild sweat...
Of all the questions I could have been asked, “James, shouldn’t mentorship be free?” was the one I least wanted to receive.
It was the first podcast I had recorded for MentorConnex, and despite my preparation, I would still stumble when people asked me that question.
After breaking into a mild sweat and uttering a few um’s and ah’s, I managed to mumble a semi-respectable response. But post-podcast I vowed to get crystal clear, once and for all, on when you should and shouldn’t pay a mentor. And hence this article was born.
But let me cut to the chase and start with the answer to the question “should you pay a mentor?”
Well…. It depends.
One of the main reasons I stumbled under pressure – despite being the founder of a business that connects people with mentors – is that, while this appears to be a black and white question deserving a black and white answer, it isn’t.
Because mentorship can take many different forms, impacting all aspects of our lives, from education to sports, careers, entrepreneurship, and everything in between. In some circumstances, paying for a mentor is inappropriate. But in others, it makes perfect sense.
So, the first thing is to get specific.
At MentorConnex we connect entrepreneurs and business owners with business mentors, so business mentorship will be the focus of this blog.
In this blog we will cover:
The benefits of business mentorship
In 2019, before launching MentorConnex, I asked 45 entrepreneurs and business owners to complete a survey to better understand their needs. One of the questions related to their perceptions of the value of mentors. Participants were given a list to choose from and were able to pick as many options as they liked. Their responses are summarised as follows:
Perhaps unsurprisingly, ‘avoiding pitfalls’ came out on top.
Having access to the right mentor is like having a time machine. Because instead of having to live the next 5, 10, or 20 years of your business life, making mistakes and learning along the way, you can instead tap into the knowledge and experience of someone who has done it before you, helping you avoid all those first-timer mistakes.
Then, following up in second and third place were ‘coming up with fresh ideas and ‘achieving my goals faster’, respectively. Often, all we need is someone to give us a different perspective or help us know what we should be focusing on, and then a gentle – or substantial, if necessary – push in the right direction.
And the evidence supports the power of business mentorship.
A 2014 study by the UPS Store found that 70% of small business owners with mentors survived past five years, double the rate of those who did not receive mentoring.
Yes, you read that right – engaging a mentor doubles your chances of success!
Having the right mentor will increase your strike rate even further. But how do you know who will be the right mentor for you?
The following checklist will help.
How to know if you've found the right mentor (for you)
Engaging a great business mentor is a personal journey – what you need in a mentor will not be the same as what the next person needs. However, there are some key criteria to evaluate fit.
As a minimum, your should be looking for a business mentor with;
4 times it ISN'T appropriate to pay a business mentor
So, business mentorship is powerful – especially if you have the right mentor for you – but does that mean you should pay for it?
Here are 4 examples of when you don’t need to pay:
#1. Friends and family
If the mentor is a close family friend or relative, you are often neither required nor expected to pay for their time. In fact, a paid arrangement can even be a bit awkward.
#2. Two-way mentoring
If both parties are receiving equal benefit and are equally invested and committed, it doesn’t make sense for one side to pay. Just make sure you take turns to buy lunch ;-).
#3. Trial period
If a business mentor approaches you and offers their time for money, you are right to question their motives. It doesn’t mean they aren’t genuine, but you don’t want to commit up front. Instead, request a free trial period before any payment is exchanged, so you have a chance to get to know one another.
#4. They refuse payment
Some business mentors literally refuse payment.
If a mentor from outside your network offers their time freely, payment may not be required.
I would still recommend agreeing some rule of engagement, and the key thing here is access. When you hit trouble and need someone to turn to ASAP, you need to know you can reach your mentor. If you feel payment would help clarify the relationship and the mentor still refuses, offer to donate to their charity of choice instead.
8 times it IS appropriate to pay a business mentor
But just as every yin has a yang, there are situations when you should pay a mentor. Here are my top 8:
#1. You need/want advice, fast
Even if you are a lover of networking events or happy to go searching for mentors on LinkedIn, it still takes time.
If you need or want one-to-one advice fast, being prepared to pay can get you connected with the right person in minutes or hours, instead of weeks or months.
#2. When you want guaranteed access
Paying for mentorship is less about the quality of advice – a mentor’s advice should not change depending on whether or not they are being paid for it – it’s about access to their time to get that advice. A high-calibre mentor may offer you their time for free, but you can guarantee that the one time you really need their advice will be when their diary is full and you can’t get hold of them for a week.
By entering a commercial, paid relationship with them, you can set expectations and establish ground rules, including your mentor’s availability, so you know they will make time when you need it.
#3. When you want reach
Another interesting finding from our 2019 survey was that most business owners considered family and friends to be the best way to find a good mentor.
However, a major drawback with family and friends is that you are restricted to your existing network. If you aren’t fortunate enough to have been born into a great network or you haven’t built an exceptional network of your own (and no, that second-degree LinkedIn connection who liked one of your comments doesn’t count), this can seriously limit your options.
Paid mentoring services give access to mentors beyond your network, without you having to find them yourself. Meaning you can focus on getting the right fit, instead of settling for someone in your network who happens to be available at the time you’re looking.
#4. You value privacy
Sometimes, we just want to keep our business and personal lives separate. While we might love Uncle Bob, or think Aunty Sheila would make a great mentor, it’s a bit close to home.
A mentor from outside your network means you can separate your personal and business lives.
#5. You want to retain equity
I’ve seen many scenarios where a mentor will offer their time for “free” in exchange for equity in your business. This seems to be particularly prevalent in the start-up space – often with mentors at incubators and accelerators.
While “free in exchange for equity” can be appealing for a cash-strapped start-up, it’s important to remember that such an arrangement is not free – you will pay. When your business becomes a huge success, you will end up giving up far more than mentoring fees in the long run, especially if the mentor is no longer offering value, or worse yet, you’ve fallen out.
Paid business mentorship may cost more up front, but you retain ownership of your business, and you have the flexibility to change mentors as and when you need.
#6. You want to acknowledge their value
We value what we pay for, and high-calibre mentors know this.
Whilst a mentor may not need the money, they are aware of the value of their time.
As a businessperson, ask yourself who you take more seriously: the person who is always asking for a discount or asks for your services for free, or the one who is prepared to pay for them?
By showing you are prepared to invest, you demonstrate your commitment and can expect the same from your mentors in return.
#7. When you want the right mentor for you
It’s interesting that when we asked our survey participants what they saw as the biggest challenge to finding a suitable mentor, the most common selection was fear of engaging the wrong mentor.
We spoke to several participants to better understand why this ranked top, and discovered it came from the following;
(*I’ve addressed this in number 8, below.)
This makes sense when you consider the minimum criteria we listed earlier. Finding someone who ticks the boxes is no easy task – especially when your time is already at a premium and there are no guarantees of success.
A huge advantage of engaging a paid business mentor through a service like MentorConnex is that we do the hard work for you. We’ll help you figure out what you need from a mentor, and give you personally matched options.
#8. When you want flexibility
While some mentor relationships can last a lifetime, for most people, they will draw to a natural conclusion as your needs evolve over time.
As a start-up owner, looking to get product market fit, settle on a business model, and get your first customers, your requirements in a mentor are different to those of a business owner with six employees who is trying to build an effective team, create a positive culture, and develop systems.
No one mentor can be an expert in all disciplines. Often, the best solution is to change mentors. This can be challenging if you have family relationships you don’t want to damage or equity arrangements you are tied into.
With paid mentorship the boundaries are clearer.
The MentorConnex community of mentors understands this and celebrates change. If you have set your goals at the start of the relationship, and gone on to achieve them, your MentorConnex mentor will see it as mission accomplished when you decide it’s time to move on (although a few tears may be shed :-)).
In this blog we have covered:
Armed with this knowledge, you should have no problems deciding whether paid business mentorship is right for you.
And I’ll be ready for my next next podcast.
However, if you are still on the fence, try looking at it another way. Ask yourself what value a mentor can offer you.
If you could go beyond your network, and get matched with the right mentor for you, someone who could help you avoid pitfalls and achieve your goals faster, whilst also having flexibility of relationship, and guaranteed access when you needed it, then why wouldn’t you them?