Last week in Part I, I covered the importance of mentors and sponsors for working moms who work for a business, big or small. In Part II, I’ll talk about the importance of these roles when you’re an entrepreneur and a mom – a mompreneur.
As a working mom, you’re likely juggling all the things. As an entrepreneur, it’s a different juggling of all the things. Entrepreneurship is a balance between getting work done and building a pipeline of new business. And then there is the long-term business building. How much time and energy are you putting into the bigger picture. How much time each day, week, year do you focus on your business growth plan?
No question about it, growing your business isn’t only about doing great work. You need others to share that enthusiasm about your work with their colleagues and friends. And, let’s be honest, it’s helpful to have someone more experienced in your corner. I often hear about the need for mentors. I would argue that a combination of mentors and sponsors are both important to mompreneurs.
What’s the Difference Between Mentors & Sponsors?
In the simplest terms, mentors provide guidance on your career decisions and sponsors are more action-oriented when it comes to creating career opportunities. Sava Berhane shares the difference between mentors and sponsors in her Fast Company article: “A mentor is an informal career counselor…and a sponsor is someone who can help advance [your career].” Essentially, you can bounce ideas off of a mentor, but a sponsor will open doors for you. In my own career and in the stories I heard in the interviews, it seems that both mentors and sponsors are important when it comes to growing your business. (Check out Part I on the importance of both for moving through the ranks of a company.)
Mentors and Professional Part-time Working Moms
What about the benefit of a mentor when you’re a part-time mompreneur? Wouldn’t it be helpful to talk to another professional part-time working mom who has already been in your shoes? What a tremendous resource! These mentors can be guides and can help moms understand more about the nuances of the path of a part-time mompreneur. And, if they’ve transitioned back to a full-time level of work, they can share that perspective as well, if it’s something you’re interested in.
Peer Masterminds for Mompreneurs
Your tribe is important when you’re a mom. I would argue it’s even more so when you’re a working mom. You want to talk to fellow working moms and get advice from those who understand managing all the things related to the juggle of motherhood plus career. (You might also want people who aren’t parents to give you an outside perspective.)
Fellow mompreneurs can be a tremendous resource. Instead of paying to join a 3rd party’s mastermind, what if you created an online or in-person group of mompreneurs at around the same level in their careers and journey, who can mentor each other. Imagine being able to engage with like-minded women, also business owners, to give you different ideas and perspectives. Imagine the ability to share your experience and hear theirs.
You’re looking for someone who can be on your personal board of directors. Yep, that means you can have more than one. You want at least one mentor who is a working mom who has already been in your shoes. Imagine hearing advice from a mompreneur who is further along in her career and in the experience of building her business. Consider trying to find someone who can speak to this season of motherhood as well. Essentially, you don’t want only women who’ve owned their businesses for 30 years and have full grown children who can’t remember anything about balancing life and work with younger kids.
Where to Find Mentors
Your mentors can be men or women. Speak to people you hear at conferences or on a podcast or whose blog resonates with you. Start those conversations and see if they lead to a natural fit for mentorship. They don’t all have to be entrepreneurs but have at least one mentor who is a mompreneur.
Tips to Have a Stronger Relationship with your Mentor
How do you make the most of the relationships with mentors? I share things that have worked in my experience and that I found while researching the book and having conversations with more than 110 professional part-time working moms.
- Take your time to build these relationships. It’s helpful to start having conversations before they become necessary. Maybe that’s before you become a mompreneur. Or before you transition to a professional part-time role. You don’t want to find mentors while making changes if you can avoid it.
- Be strategic. Find the right mentors to talk to. Set goals on networking like you do all other strategic areas in your life. Find a good fit for personality, style, and approach to career. Don’t feel you have to mimic his or her career or work style, but you do need to be able to learn from it.
- Have more than one mentor. It’s helpful to have more than one perspective. It’s your own board of directors. Include people at different career stages or a mix of entrepreneur and business leaders.
- Establish communication approach or style from the beginning. Decide when and often you’ll meet. Maybe set aside a few dates even. Where will you meet? If it’s a long-distance situation, what tool will you use to meet online? Will you have a more formal or informal approach?
- Get the most out of each interaction. Be respectful of his or her time (and of your own) and prepare for your conversations. Know the points you want to cover and send an agenda beforehand if it’s more formal. Be engaged during your interaction and use active listening skills.
- Follow up and say thank you. Follow up after the interactions and say thank you to your mentor for his or her time, insights, advice, etc. A simple email or even a handwritten note is great.
- Find the right fit. Decide what you’re looking for. Don’t force an unnatural relationship or personality fit. Find the right mentor for your needs. Make sure he or she understands your needs and goals. You’ll know it’s the right fit when you want to hear what he or she will say about a new opportunity.
- Evaluate over time. Don’t be afraid to make changes over time as your needs and that of your mentor(s) change. Keep in touch, even if you move on, because you never know when your paths will cross again. Maybe they become more of a sponsor down the road.
As an entrepreneur, you might be thinking that sponsors don’t apply to you. Here’s the thing – they do. Sponsors for entrepreneurs are different from those in a company, but they serve the same kind of purpose. Geri Stengel talks about entrepreneurs and sponsorship in her Forbes article. She describes sponsors are people willing to give you access to their own network, but it’s more than simple networking. These are people who will open doors and make introductions with a seal of approval. And she also adds that they might give you access to new customers or to investors, if you’re looking for funding, whom they know and might have done business with. I might add that they could even introduce you to potential new members of your team.
For me, although I didn’t realize it at the time, I often had a sponsor at the large marketing agencies where I worked throughout my career before becoming an entrepreneur. They were often the senior lead on the team who were direct reports of the senior leadership team or on that team at the office or company. They saw something in me and were willing to help position my skills to new potential managers or recommend me for new opportunities. Unlike a mentor, sponsors will promote your accomplishments and skills, help you make connections with more senior leaders inside and outside of the company, and help you get more exposure.
I continue to have sponsors, even as an entrepreneur. Some of the sponsors from the large marketing agencies continue to help me in my business. They recommend me to potential clients, positioning me as a go-to person with specific skills. They also hire me for projects that they’re working on. And it’s more than a simple referral. They want me to succeed and want to support my business and growth.
Finding the Right Sponsor
Now that you understand more about the role of a sponsor for entrepreneurs, the challenge becomes finding a sponsor that is the right fit for both of you.
- Look at your current network. Analyze your current network to see if you have connections who are currently mentors and are senior at a previous employer or are seasoned entrepreneurs whom you might have collaborated with. It would be great to find a fellow mompreneur, who understands the kinds of clients you might want or what you’re going through with managing a business and being a mom.
- They showed an interest in your career previously. Sponsors must be willing to take on a more active role in your career moving forward, so think about conversations you might have had with senior leaders or seasoned entrepreneurs about your career path.
- You’ve followed his or her advice previously. Look for senior people in your current network who have given advice that you have used and can show how their advice made a difference in your career. Let them know that and share the results.
- Find a sponsor whose legacy you can support. According to Sylvia Ann Hewitt’s Harvard Business Review article, sponsors can be looking for someone to help support their legacy with the company or industry. If you can fit into their legacy and you’re interested in their support, it might be the perfect fit.
What Can You Do for Your Mentor & Sponsor?
Both of these types of relationships should be a two-way street. How can you help your mentor or sponsor? Sure, they want to mentor or sponsor someone, but there is more to it. Hewitt suggests that you offer to share your knowledge or skills as it relates to projects he or she is working on. When in doubt, ask what he or she needs and how you can help. Share relevant articles that you read and explain why. Introduce him or her to the right resources, if it’s not you. Be generous with your time and knowledge and share what you find.
Now that you understand that the combination of mentors and sponsors are both important to mompreneurs, what will you do to focus attention on bringing them onto your team? Already have a relationship with a mentor or sponsor? How did you find him or her? How do you keep that relationship going?
Want to get more ideas on keeping your career moving forward? The Mompowerment book might be a great tool for you, if that’s the case. Download a free sneak peek at www.mompowerment.com/introchapter1.