How to build a strong network of mentors

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

The old saying, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” is an incredibly vague statement. The assumption behind this statement is that your professional network has the opportunity to enhance your career prospects, and it is well documented that who you choose to spend your time with can influence and ultimately define how successful or unsuccessful you will be in achieving your results. However, I personally found it difficult to establish a process for how to interact with the people in my network, specifically those I define as my mentors.

Mentors can play an equally important role in our personal and professional development; However, they are different from therapists, executive coaches, or start-up consultants because there is not necessarily a transactional element to their relationship, which removes any obligation or expectation about how to engage with these individuals.

Here are some observations I made in establishing my own mentoring network, as well as thoughts on how I can give back to be a stronger mentor to others.

Related: 5 Famous Business Leaders on the Power of Mentoring

build the scaffold

Defining your personal values ​​will lay the foundation, or mentoring scaffolding, for any relationship you build. To get to the root of these values, I decided to reflect on two meta-questions before I started looking for mentors.

  1. What is my ultimate purpose?

  2. What results am I looking for in my personal and professional life?

This is what I wrote: “To build and live a life that is fun, fulfilling, and meaningful to my family, myself, and those I love the most.” Relationships are at the core of my ultimate purpose, and balancing the personal and professional aspects of my life is critical to living that purpose. When drafting the purpose statement, I listed each of the main categories I chose to prioritize and put energy into aligning with that purpose. For me, those categories are: professional, financial, personal development, family, friends, health and spirituality.

Each of those categories has specific time-based outcomes that I strive for, which often change and evolve as I learn and grow. However, with that scaffolding in place, you have the foundation for finding people who align with your personal values ​​statement and the categories you want to improve upon.

Related: 7 Ways to Build a Powerful Network

create a process

I am a firm believer that you can learn from anyone; However, I am also of the opinion that you should strive to create structure and focus on who you are connecting with and if they align with your purpose statement and the categories you have defined above.

I have thought about the structure of my network of mentors in three layers

  1. ball players: The people I aspire to be one day

  2. Ballers on hold: The people I aspire to be who I currently work for

  3. Basketballs in training: The people I respect and admire that I work with.

In total, that could be up to 21 different people when you factor this into three layers and seven different categories of focus. Twenty-one people is a lot of people to build meaningful relationships with! So to make my process more sustainable, I have worked to consolidate certain categories under individual mentors where that person can support my development in multiple domains.

This group is fluid as my results and priorities change, as well as in which categories of my life I spend more or less time. I proactively seek to have three people from each category that I connect with on a quarterly basis.

If I am unable to connect with any of these people over the course of the year, I make sure there is at least one point of contact annually with everyone I have established a relationship with. For me, this is an annual holiday newsletter where I share an update on my progress compared to my results for the year. This has also been a great way to help start conversations in areas where I may need support, almost like an annual update from investors, without the expectation that I have to write them a fat check or send out paperwork to shareholders!

Related: 4 Rules to Keep in Mind When Looking for a Mentor

take responsibility

Once you’ve committed to scaffolding and initiating these relationships in various categories of your personal and professional life, it really helps to create systems of accountability for yourself as a mentee AND a mentor.

As a mentee, I highly recommend joining or masterminding the people in your influential mentor network (ie founders, entrepreneurs, parents). During the time I was building my startup, I was paired with a mastermind with four other entrepreneurs I respected (aka Ballers-in-training). As part of the mastermind, we created an accountability structure where members were required to attend at least three out of four meetings each month. If a member missed more than one meeting for two consecutive months, he was replaced in the mastermind.

As a mentor, I think focus is critical. I previously signed up for almost six different startup mentoring networks and was bringing value to absolutely NONE of them. I have made it a priority to choose ONE founder community that I can support in what I have learned to give back to mentors. Communities like Chief, Hampton and Pavilion offer new ways to build new relationships between cohorts of like-minded and ambitious professionals.

Also, I set aside three hours on Friday afternoons when trainees from that community can book time with me to talk about their business challenges. More importantly, I have no ties to these Friday meetings. I do not expect capital from the founder nor do I charge for this time as a startup adviser or consultant.

In short, I am grateful to the employers, coaches, therapists, counselors, and parents who have offered to spend their time with me, as well as the people who have entrusted me with theirs. I hope these principles are as helpful to you as they were to me. And if they’re not, then clearly I need a mentor for the mentoring frameworks. So if you know someone, contact me!