Why everyone needs a mentor
If you work in marketing, especially for a small or medium sized business where you’re likely to be the lone marketing resource, or indeed if you run your own business, the marketing role can be a challenging one. You can feel isolated, lack confidence in the decisions you take, set yourself unrealistic goals and blame yourself for ‘failures’ – all to do the best job possible.
If you’re lucky enough to have friends or colleagues who are good listeners you may be able to share some of the burden, but it’s unlikely they’ll have the skills or experience to be any much more than a friendly listener. That’s where a marketing mentor can come in.
What will you get from a marketing mentor?
Time to take a breather
How many of us give ourselves the luxury of spending time thinking and talking about what we are doing at work every day, rather than just doing it? Even with your boss you’re probably focused on specific tasks and activities rather than the bigger picture.
Anyone who has done any form of exercise, from swimming to yoga or athletics will be told how important it is to breathe deeply and expand our lungs. It’s energising. Consider the mentoring process as something similar. An opportunity to stop the shallow breathing of day-to-day tasks and activities and take a deep breath, slow down and become fully aware of what’s going on, with you, in your job and in the business, you work for.
For many it’s the time in the mentoring meeting that is invaluable. The most important thing your mentor will do is to listen to you, really listen.
A sense of perspective
Being busy with our heads down on marketing tasks means we sometimes fail to see the bigger picture. Whilst most people working in marketing and small business owners responsible for the growth of their own business will do some longer-term planning, that’s not quite what I mean.
When we become involved in any task, any organisation, any relationship, we can easily develop tunnel vision. We miss the obvious, sometimes lose sight of our original objectives or fail to see the full implications of our actions or plans.
Time with a mentor, especially someone who is not involved in your work or business, can bring genuine insights and legitimate challenges to your current ways of doing things, your beliefs and the approach you are taking. Their often-innocent questions can help you to realise where you might make changes, why things are not going as you planned and help you understand why you are failing to achieve your objectives. In fact, one of the most common things I’ve encountered when mentoring people is that their first realisation is that they are not being clear enough about their goals or objectives. More often than not, they have a vague sense of where they want to get to and are disappointed not to be making progress. But as soon as they start to break down this vision into a set of measurable goals or specific actions they make progress almost instantly.
A place to admit fears and mistakes
A marketing mentor who is independent from your company can provide a safe place to talk about your fears – for example, that maybe the strategy you’ve decided on isn’t right, or the wording for your website won’t quite hit the mark. In my experience, it is these fears that often paralyse businesses. A mentor will challenge the fears – helping you to think about the consequence of ‘getting it wrong’, which nine times out of ten is not as bad as the ‘do nothing’ approach. They’ll also help you put the fear into perspective and if it’s a legitimate fear, help you to come up with an action plan to tackle it, rather than allow it to hold you back.
We all learn by our mistakes, but in some organisations, it’s not easy to admit them. Working with a mentor means you can discuss things you’re disappointed with; alongside things you’ve done well. A good mentor will encourage you to explore your mistakes to take the learning from them and help you move on rather than dwelling on the consequences.
For marketers working in an isolated marketing role it’s an opportunity to talk through the tactics being employed and explore additional opportunities. I hasten to add that the mentor won’t necessarily have immediate answers to the challenges that are faced but should be able to help you think through these challenges in a new way and approach them afresh.
Accountability (in the nicest possible way)
Your mentor will be on your side, so that means they’ll want you to make progress with the challenges that you face. So, you can expect them to ask you about actions you’ve taken and challenge you if you do nothing.
In my experience of having been mentored the fact I was meeting my mentor was enough to keep me focused on my goals and progressing my personal action plan. I didn’t want the embarrassment of having said something was important to me and then choosing to do nothing about it. The structure implied by a mentoring relationship keeps you focused on what’s important to you and helps you not get side-tracked by the day-to-day.
How to find a mentor
You can find a mentor relatively easily these days. The Chartered Institute of Marketing has Mentoring Programme for members, for example. You may have someone in your network who is willing to act as a marketing mentor or choose to employ a professional coach/mentor. The important thing is that you pick someone with the right mentoring skills, someone you feel you can be totally open and honest with and who will support you in your endeavours.