Be a Great Mentor: Two Exceed Network Success Stories Share How

Be a great mentor (2)


After reaching a level of success in business, many entrepreneurs have the desire to “give back” by mentoring other business owners and helping them succeed. At Exceed Network, one of our primary functions is matching entrepreneurs with mentors who can help them. But what makes a strong and successful mentoring relationship? We asked two successful Exceed Network members who are exceptional mentors: Eddie Azar, president at Fantasia Accessories, Ltd., a fashion accessories company, and Ed Baranoff, president of Shalom International, Inc., a full-service import company, both based in New York City.

Experience. Mentors should have the experience to analyze their protégés’ businesses and understand what’s going on, Azar says. They should talk to the business owner and know what questions to ask to get to the heart of problems like cash flow issues, sales slumps, or other obstacles. With few exceptions, it’s more important that the mentor have general business experience, rather than specialized experience in the sector, although the latter doesn’t hurt, he adds.

“But if you’re a business that needs turnaround help, most of the time it’s better to work with someone who’s experienced in turnarounds than choose a mentor just because that person has experience in your field. People who know how to turn a company around have particular skills that someone with general business experience might not have,” he says.

Patience and understanding. Business owners and their circumstances are all different. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach, Baranoff says. Companies have different challenges and are at different stages in their life cycles, funding, and other areas. You have to be patient as you assess the situation, he says.

“You have to go back in time when you were at that level and see the situation through their eyes,” he says. It can be tempting to try to just tell your protégé what to do, but a mentor’s role is to share advice and information, not to try to force the business owner to do things the mentor’s way. Doing so can be challenging and requires patience and understanding, he says.

Listening ability. The best mentors are good listeners, Azar says. Listening doesn’t just mean hearing what the business owner is saying—you also have to have the ability to put the situation in context. The business owner might thing that the problem is one thing, but experienced mentors can hear beyond excuses or misperceptions and get to the heart of what’s really going on, he says. For example, if a protégé chalks up a missed sale to a bad economy or stiff competition, a mentor’s ability to ask the right questions and listen to the answers might reveal ways to strengthen the sale pitch or product, or refocus sales efforts to prospects who are a better fit.

Honesty. Mentors do no one a favor if they’re afraid to say what they really thing, Baranoff says. Part of a mentor’s job is to share unvarnished opinions about what’s going on with the business—even if they’re tough for the protégé to hear. That doesn’t mean you can’t be kind, but you’re there to help achieve results, which doesn’t happen without honest analysis of the situation and what has to be done.

Goals and metrics. Both mentors agree that good mentors work with their protégés to identify reasonable, achievable goals and to figure out the steps to work toward them. Regular follow-up and accountability are essential to ensure that the mentoring relationship is actually producing results, Azar says.

“I measure their progress, not just in growth, per se, but in profitability and implementing sales goals, controlling inventory, and all aspects of the business they need to control to get to that next step,” Baranoff says. “I look at what they need to get to that next level and work on that to help them get there.”

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