9 Ways to Engage Your Mentors (And Get Them to Work for You)

Last week I got a mentor update from one of our startups. In it was some great news: they’d hit some very promising metrics, and were even in talks with some new investors that seemed keen to invest.

I was excited. I was happy to see the good news. I have put a lot of effort over the past year into helping these guys achieve exactly what they have achieved. I’m proud.  And then I closed the email, and did nothing.


The email gave me nothing to contribute. Aside from feeling happy and proud, which is always nice, the email didn’t prompt me to go one step further, and help the startup to achieve the goals the email talked about.

Engage Your Mentors to Act on your Behalf

I wrote recently about how to engage your mentors with a mentor update. I think that post helped some of our startups to get religion about being more open and communicative with their mentors and investors. But what it didn’t do, is fix the problem I described above. So I’m going to suggest a list of things I think can help startups get their mentors actually working towards their goals of the moment, and in the longer term.

9 Ways to Engage Your Mentors

And Get them to Work for You

1. Put a one-step CTA into every single communication

The CTA (Call to Action) is at the core of community management, and a vital part of getting your mentors to work for you. The email I described had a CTA, which is a good start. It asked mentors to help the startup promote upcoming events.

But that’s all it did. The email didn’t provide a button, a link, or a single-step process to help mentors do exactly what the startup needed them to do, which was share, forward, tweet, post on Facebook, or do anything else to help. The most engaged mentors will do what the startup is asking anyway, but they won’t always know how to do it, and they won’t always do what you’re asking, in the way you want or expect.

Provide a single-step CTA for your mentors, so that they can react quickly and easily to your request. You can try a ClicktoTweet, or a form, or a link to a piece of content you want your mentors to visit. Anything, as long as it can be done with minimal fuss and minimal interpretation of exactly what is needed.

Many mentors want to help, they just don’t know how best to help. You have to show them.

2. Provide Exclusive Insights To Make Mentors Feel Smart

Every week, StartupYard shares a curated selection of content with our community that is designed to a) inform our mentors on the industry and especially on new ideas and technologies they probably don’t know about, and b) inspire them to tell their friends and colleagues about their newfound insights.

When a mentor gets the news from us that something really interesting is going on, there’s a fair chance that they’ll mention it to a friend or colleague, and maybe even tell that person where they heard it from. That’s good for them, and it’s good for us,  not to mention that that new person may also get interested in what we are doing, and may engage with us as well.

Your brand with mentors is just as important as your brand with customers. They need to feel that you are helping them, and making them smarter, better informed, and better connected to what’s going on.

3. Ask for Stuff

You’d be surprised how many times startups in our community have struggled to find affordable services or business connections that we could have provided them easily. We don’t always find that out until we ask them about it.

But that’s backwards! If you’re having an issue, or you can’t get a good deal on something, there’s a fair chance that one of your mentors can solve the issue, and even get you a better deal.

I’m amazed sometimes at the help I get from my own connections in Startupland. I’ve gotten free accommodations, free services, office space, and a lot of other things just by asking for them. This is by and large a generous community, so be generous, and enjoy the generosity of others.

Ask for stuff. It’s easy, and it makes you look smart and enterprising, not weak.

4. Promote Your Mentors

When a mentor or advisor, or investor does something really important to help you, or does something impressive on their own, promote that fact to the rest of your mentors. That sets a good example to other mentors, and it will generate good feelings with the mentor or advisor you are highlighting.

Did one of your mentors start a new venture, or get a new job? Share that info. Did someone give you amazing feedback that helped you? Tell the others about that. You are in the business of generating value for your mentors- that is one of the reasons they have agreed to work with you in the first place.

5. Connect Your Mentors

Startups rely on their mentors to help them make connections. But it shouldn’t be all one way. Be enterprising, and when you meet someone that you think should definitely connect with one of your mentors, take the initiative, and make the connection.

The worst thing that can possibly happen is nothing.

When startups that I mentor introduce me to new people like  investors, mentors or startups they think I should know, I feel taken care of, and that gives me a great positive feeling, and a reason to keep that startup in mind in the future.

6. Go “Open Kimono”

Your mentors are not your customers. Don’t be cheeky about your numbers, your problems, your challenges, or your actual situation. Your mentors want to sympathize with you and help you, not be conned by you. Don’t dress up the facts- instead, give an honest accounting when you make mistakes, and when you fail to hit metrics you expected to hit.

This will only give mentors more reason to help. If you don’t, they’ll either think everything is fine, or that you simply don’t trust them enough.

So be brutally honest if necessary, and don’t treat your mentors like critics. They’re your friends, and they should be motivated to help you. Bad news should travel fast- and it should come from you first.

7. Personalize Your Updates

It pays, particularly when a mentor has gone out of the way to help you out, or has provided a valuable connection or piece of advice, to write them a personal thanks, to show that they’re appreciated.

In human psychology, the sense a person has that they are important to others is a key part of shaping their ego. Positive feedback is extremely powerful in making your mentors more willing to engage with you. Building a mentor’s ego can embolden the mentor to go even further, and work even harder for you.
One of the main pieces of feedback we get from our mentors is that they appreciate the feeling of being helpful and being seen as leaders by startups. Enforce those feelings with positive feedback, and mentors will work even harder to get that same feeling again. This works on me all the time- a startup emailed me a while ago to tell me that something I’d suggested to them had worked out really well, and I immediately sat down and wrote several more ideas I thought they could try.

People love to feel that they are important to you, and that they are making a difference, so make sure your mentors feel that way.

8. Provide Leads

Most of your mentors have their own business interests to deal with. If you got a good deal on something that your mentors might also like to get involved with, share the lead with them. If you get friendly with a certain service provider, who gives you a big discount, that’s something that your mentors can benefit from too. Once they know about it, and have your inside information, they’re much more likely to get the same deals that you get.

That will prompt mentors to ask you for help in the future. The best mentoring relationships eventually become two-way, with the mentor also relying on the startup to help them accomplish their own goals. So start helping them do it now.

9. Give Mentors Free Stuff

Simply, provide your mentors with whatever it is your provide your customers, but do it at cost, or even below cost, as a gift.

This might cost you a bit of money or time in the beginning, but some of your mentors can become loyal customers if given a good enough reason. And a mentor/customer is very likely to give you great feedback on your product, and to share the goodwill with friends and colleagues as well.

Again, mentoring relationships should benefit both sides. If you can provide value to a mentor through a service or product you provide, then do it. The worst thing that can happen is nothing. And in the best case scenario, your mentors can become evangelists for your products, instead of just advisors for your business.