Early in my career, I was lucky enough to work for a man who taught me many of the fundamental values I hold to today. One of his favourite sayings was that I was not paid to sit at a desk from 9-5, but rather to 'do a job'. From this I learned not just to attend work but to 'show up', manage my time wisely and know my limitations. #Lessonsforlife
As if that's not enough, he also surreptitiously taught, successful careers are those that play out like a marathon and not a sprint. I remember discussing a position that had opened up in our media department. It was a step up the corporate ladder, and I wanted to apply for the role. He listened, asked questions and helped me understand that while I stood a good chance to get the job, the benefits of remaining in my current role for another 6-12 months would be exponential; helping to fast-track my career in the long-term. Timing is everything, and sometimes the best course of action is not always the obvious one. My approach to decision making, as a result, has always been to look at the 'bigger picture' and *know* where the end-game is.
Here's the thing, the term mentor was not often used back in those days (we're talking pre-digital era), but this man, my boss, instinctively knew that to get the most out of his staff he needed to mentor them to make good choices and be prepared to play the long game.
I had always considered myself extremely lucky to have experienced the benefits of a mentoring relationship so early in my career. To be honest, I felt that I had gleaned enough from the experience to sustain me until retirement. It wasn't until earlier this year, when I recognised that my Virtual Assistant (VA) business had plateaued and I wasn't getting better at what I was doing that I re-visited the need for mentoring.
Let me explain what I mean. I had spent 4-years working remotely in various roles from website development, content creation, social media strategy, advertising sales and email marketing. I was earning a reasonable salary while maintaining part-time hours.
Sounds good, right?
Wrong! The work became an un-inspiring means-to-an-end that over time drained my energy and joy. In my gut, I knew I wasn't doing the work that I should be doing. I'd spent too long plodding along instead of being intentional. It was time. Time to pull the pin on my ho-hum career and find myself a mentor.
According to Atul Gawande in his Ted Talk 'Want to get great at something? Get a Coach', teaming up with a mentor is essential when –
1. You don't recognise the issues standing in your way.
2. You don't know how to fix them.
3. You stop improving.
Deep down I knew this was where I stood and the epiphany led me to Michelle Dale and her VA Mentorship Programme. Michelle's hugely popular programme is designed to 'course correct' virtual assistant businesses. Through her 4-week package, Michelle works one-on-one with mentees to create bespoke business plans based on individual professional and lifestyle goals with detailed steps on how to reach these goals.
Just think about it?
Having someone dedicated to cutting through your confusion and offering crystal clear clarity?
Luckily for me, my mentorship with Michelle took place in tropical Bali on her inaugural 4-day intensive programme co-hosted with Danielle Greason. Together they were a formidable team offering a melting pot of experience and perspective to provide mentoring across my business, mindset, and lifestyle goals.
Across the four days, five other attendees and I participated in a mix of group workshops and one-on-one sessions with Michelle and Danielle designed to create individual VA business plans unique to what drives and inspires us.
After an in-depth individual session that was at times emotional and revealing, I walked away with a business concept ideally suited to my circumstances and a roadmap on how to get from Point A to Point B.
By the end of the mentoring programme, I had a business concept including a brand name, core focus and package / product offerings. Michelle had defined my sales funnel with customised filter questions for prospective clients, and I had a well-defined idea of my cornerstone client and those most suited to my business concept.
And that was just the beginning...
The group sessions during the Bali 4-Day Intensive spent an equal amount of time developing the mindset and lifestyle skills needed to support my new business concept and keep it moving forward. Michelle had learned that the secret to creating a successful business not only lies in a ‘great idea’ but also in establishing sharp mind and body practices to keep you moving forward.
“My commitment to keep taking daily action, even when I've felt extremely uncomfortable, uncertain or out of my depth. As I reflect back, it sure seems like the results of those past efforts keep on compounding over time. I'm proud that I've stayed in the game long enough to have the chance to really experience that. It's the best kind of motivation.”
Frankly, that was the secret sauce for me and is where the real value of Michelle’s mentoring lies. A good mentor shares their own experiences, to help direct and inform your choices. They can often recognise similarities to a situation and offer insights through observation and reflection. In sharing these nuggets of wisdom, mentors give mentees a ‘leg-up’ that can often have a huge, lifelong impact on their careers. A recent article posted on Entrepeneaur.com research indicates that you're more likely to succeed in business with a mentor.
"Your chances of success in life and in business can be amplified by having the right mentor. The valuable connections, timely advice, occasional checks -- together with the spiritual and moral guidance you will gain from having a mentor -- will literarily leapfrog you to success."
But that’s only half the story.
Michelle also has a spirit of generosity. As a mentor she sets out to deliver as much value as possible through her hard skills knowledge base, a network of inspirational entrepreneur contacts, business hacks and online community groups.
The fact is that as a mentee I found the ongoing support through Michelle’s multiple platforms critical in keeping on track with my goals and staying motivated. Her chat rooms and group calls are a place of enormous support and offer helpful advice on new products, apps and programs to help run your VA business.
According to a Forbes article on the Do’s and Don’ts of mentoring, mentorship is a vital component of professional development.
"No business leader has reached success without the benefit of a mentor to guide him or her through the inevitable peaks and valleys of business."
Here’s the kicker. Mentoring is transformative because as Albert Einstein famously said, ‘you cannot make a solution with the same mind that made the problem in the first place.’
Susan Ray from www.susanrayva.com was a fellow attendee in Bali at Michelle’s 4-day mentorship intensive. Her life has taken a complete 360 as a result of being mentored. Michelle’s ability to pick through what Susan was saying and shine the spotlight on things that she hadn’t given much thought to helped provide a new perspective. With greater clarity, Susan was more open to Michelle’s suggestions for her VA business and had a deeper understanding and appreciation of the direction and plans presented to her.
Oddly enough, the sometimes unnerving introspective nature of mentoring resulted in a higher confidence for Susan. Through Michelle’s one-on-one feedback, the accountability to stay on track, group calls, and Facebook community Susan’s personal growth was a positive experience motivating her to try new things. Last month Susan was the guest speaker at a luncheon for young entrepreneurs and the success of that engagement validated for her just how valuable the mentorship programme had been.
And here's a quote from another mentee, Michelle Osborne:
“The mentorship experience was one in a million and such a worthwhile investment - it gave me the courage to take this idea and turn it into a full-blown reality.”
The fact of the matter is that mentoring works - but how do you choose the right mentor programme for you? I'm no expert but having experienced success with mentors on two separate occasions, I feel I can offer some perspective.
1. Know what you're getting.
If you're signing up for a mentorship programme, do your research. Make sure the package outline is clear and specific so you can manage your expectations and determine the value of the course for you. Michelle Dale does an incredible job of detailing what her programme covers in her introduction video and supporting notes.
According to Huffington Post, it's essential to select a mentor who has relevant ‘real life’ experience in the skill set you want to develop across the next 12-months.
Be clear in the skill set you want to develop. The more specific you can be with your desired outcome the more fruitful the result. For example, in my case, I specifically wanted to improve my Virtual Assistant Business and so decided to only focus on that sector, rather than the broader digital marketing sphere.
3. Be sure there's a connection.
A connection can be difficult to ascertain in the digital world, but not impossible. Again, do your research. Narrow your list of prospective mentors based on their experience and product offering then scour Google to review their blog posts, video posts and social media posts.
You're looking for insights into their personality and style. Anything that hints they're prepared to share their knowledge and experience. Do they come across as authentic and honest? Do they display empathy and care while demonstrating a capacity for tough love and firm direction? Do you get a sense that you can be real with them and be open to their guidance?
In my experience, those who are transparent and ‘real’ in their online branding are more comfortable in working with you on a ‘warts and all’ approach.
So there it is.
It has been 6-months since the Bali Mentorship Intensive in which I have signed a handful of short-term client contracts, fine-tuned my product offering and taken the odd ‘two-steps back, one step forward’. Last week I signed a contract with my first long-term client that will take my business to capacity.
I am looking forward to spending 2018 developing the skills I'm passionate about, growing my VA business and digging deeper into the communities I'm a part of. I am excited to be doing better and moving beyond the plateau. As Doug Stewart put it during his Ted Talk, ‘5 1/2 Mentors that will change your life’.
“Mentorship is not something done to you. Rather Mentorship is something you do for yourself, with the help of other people.”
As for my original mentor, he retired after a long successful career in media. He can now be found travelling the world, enjoying a cold beer and a well-earned rest. #Goalsforlife
Heidi Adriaanse is a Virtual Assistant specialising in blogging support services for talented entrepreneurs.
Having launched her own successful blog that was featured in Huffington Post, Heidi has the first-hand knowledge and experience needed to support a successful and profitable blog.
With digital marketing moving at a cracking pace, Heidi partners with entrepreneurs to free up their time so they can stay ahead of the curve and work on the big-picture business plans, while she sweats the small stuff!