By Sarah Scudder
I got shafted. I didn’t come from a “business” family. My dad was a teacher. My mom was — and still is — a dental hygienist. Growing up, I had no access to a CEO. I didn’t have a network of contacts primed and ready to catapult me into the business world. I knew that I wanted to go to college and major in business, but I had no clue where to begin. My parents were of no help. What do a teacher and hygienist know about business?
I also had no idea what business-related industry to pursue. I had a love for fashion (and still do), but Sonoma County, California, is far from a fashion hub: There, raincoats, Uggs, Birkenstocks and sweatshirts are cutting-edge apparel. My dresses, heels, hats and matching purses were a bit out of place. I was often referred to as the “New York girl.”
As I shuffled off to Sonoma State University, I devised a plan: Get help, ask for advice and seek experts. After all, that’s how I survived high school. My 4.0 GPA was a direct result of an ability to build relationships with instructors. The experts I turned to for guidance in college were mentors.
I volunteered to coordinate my sorority’s annual diabetes fund-raiser, which provided my first exposure to purchasing, sourcing and buying print and marketing materials. Through this experience, I not only discovered a career to pursue, I learned the power that mentoring can have on a career.
I hired Jon Sooy, who was VP of sales and marketing at Golden Pacific Systems Inc., for the fund-raiser’s print and promotional work. He became a mentor. He helped me understand marketing. He showed me how to build relationships and how to leverage my network to get new clients. He taught me how to build my personal brand and become an industry thought leader.
Not only was Sooy a mentor, he was a role model. So were my other mentors.
And I became a mentor. Most people gain 15 or more years of experience in their careers before becoming mentors. I began mentoring my first year out of college.
How did I know that I had something to offer others? I didn’t. But with a little encouragement from peers, I took the plunge. I made a list of my greatest failures and what I learned from them. I marched to the Sonoma State campus and recruited my first mentee.
I’ve made it a priority to mentor others because I have benefited — and still do —from my mentors. I want to pay this positive experience forward and help others pursue their passions.
What has the mentor experience taught me? That being a mentor can make one selfish: After all, I get more out being a mentor than a mentee might get from me.
My mentees have taught me:
Time management. Carlos is an intern for my side business, a supplement company. When we started working together, he was clear about what he wanted to accomplish and the amount of time he could realistically dedicate to the business. He is respectful of my time and manages his workload well. I am a better time manager because of Carlos.
Advice for a mentee: Schedule your mentor meetings efficiently, particularly if you can’t meet in person. Account for time zones, time of day and form of communication. Does your mentor have an assistant who schedules meetings? If driving is involved, consider avoiding high-traffic times and find a meeting place with easy parking. Some mentors talk to mentees only during a commute; while this is perhaps less than ideal, it’s efficient.
To stop whining. Carlos attends college, works full time, has a strict workout routine and always completes his internship duties. He handles my company’s retail sales and structures his schedule to optimize his time to visit local businesses. He never complains about having too much to do because his daily schedule is so well crafted. He makes sure to allot sufficient time to each activity and not overwhelm himself. Carlos has taught me to stop whining, work hard, and enjoy it.
Advice for a mentee: Don’t complain about your schedule or how busy you are. Keep those thoughts to yourself and work as hard as you can.
To be prepared. I’ve worked with Ryan on and off for four years. He works in sales and wants to run a sales team. I have helped him develop sales strategies and showed him how to excel at lead generation. Before he and I have a status or training meeting, he does extensive homework and is prepared with lots of questions. When prospecting, he learns everything he can about a company before reaching out. Ryan has taught me the value of being prepared: I make sure to my homework.
Advice for a mentee: Research your mentor. Try to discover your mentor’s greatest need. Help him or her grow professionally and personally. You have a lot to offer.
To ask questions. After I gave a career/entrepreneur presentation at Sonoma State, Ben approached me with several excellent questions. He asked for my advice — “What industry should I go into?” and “What do I need to do after graduation to be successful?” — and my hat size grew three times larger.
In addition to helping my ego, Ben showed me the importance of asking questions.
Advice for a mentee: Ask good questions. The art of preparing and asking questions is important in the supply management profession (and most fields). Asking the right questions helps you discover someone’s true needs and how to best solve problems. By asking good questions, you’ll also get more out of the mentoring relationship.
To set goals. When Ben started working with me, he had three goals and a time frame: By age 25, he wanted to own a business, be financially independent and make a positive impact on the world. Ben also had reasons he wanted to accomplish each goal, and an idea of how reaching each objective would impact his life. I’m helping him determine how to best accomplish every goal.
Advice for a mentee: Set goals. Even if you are new to the business world, you can set goals. You may want to start small — for example, learning to use Microsoft Excel, getting an internship within six months or reading a book on strategic sourcing.
Even if you are only a year or two into your career and still feel like a novice, you have knowledge and advice to impart. Take on a mentee. Not only can you change a life, you can learn a lot, too.
Sarah Scudder is president of Procureit5 (procureit5.com), a print management services company. She is based in Petaluma, California.