December 2, 2016
Mentors Make the Difference  

Mentors are the most valuable resources you can tap into when it comes to growing your career.

The idea of launching or growing a pet-related business, becoming a certified master groomer, or entering the competition arena can be intimidating. Let's face it - growth and change is challenging. Even if you are brave enough to take the leap, it is easy to get derailed.

Did you know that over 70% of Fortune 500 companies offer mentoring to their employees? It's a way to attract, motivate, develop, and retain employees while increasing productivity. Mentoring and working with consultants helps successful companies maintain their cutting edge. In the pet service industry, the same tactics can boost your business and career.

When I was first starting out, I sought out the wisdom of mentors. I was only 22 when I started my first business and was still in college. One of my first advisors was my college business professor. He encouraged me to open my original business after grading a final paper - a business plan for mobile dog grooming.  I left college in 1983 before earning my degree to start Four Paws Mobile Grooming.

The business grew so rapidly, I had six mobile grooming units within five years. I knew needed help growing my business while expanding my own skills.

How did I do it? Through mentoring and coaching.

I joined a local women's business group and networked with business leaders and service providers. It's been over 30 years and I still work with a few of the people I met through that organization.

In the early 80's I learned about voluntary certification testing for pet groomers. I went to clinics, attended workshops, went to trade shows (not that there were many!), and networked with the visionaries of that time. Ultimately, I formed close mentoring relationships with several of them.

I was introduced to the AKC conformation dog show world. I networked with breeders and handlers who taught me about structure, movement, coat maintenance, and advanced grooming skills.

In exchange for their wisdom, I did whatever I could to help THEM. I helped breeders and handlers with dog maintenance, conditioning, and grooming. I did whatever I could to assist visionaries with their projects. I paid my dues with business groups, attending meetings and listening closely to speakers. Every experience helped me grow and improved my business.

The great mentors boost your confidence. Whenever you start something new, there is uncertainty. That's normal. Many people can overcome that feeling by themselves, while others need more guidance. With a good mentor, you are learning from someone who is already where you want to be. They know exactly what it takes to get there and can lead you through that uncertainty.

Mentors are the most valuable resources you can tap into when it comes to growing your career.

When you first start out, you don't need someone at the very top of the field. Not only is it unrealistic, it's not always helpful. There's a good chance the advice of mentor at the very top would be intimidating or not appropriate for your current circumstances.

Learning is like stairs on a staircase. Working with a mentor allows you to rapidly climb the staircase - but you still can't eliminate the steps. As you look for inspiration, look for someone or something which is a few levels ahead of you. As you climb the career staircase, continue to look for mentoring situations that will inspire you to new levels.

The internet has changed the learning landscape. There are now a wider variety of mentoring options. Some are free or inexpensive thanks to today's technology. Many of them self-guided. Others follow outlines or structured programs. Still others utilize social media as a form of networking and sharing ideas.

Here are 9 ways to learn from others who have already walked the walk.

  1. Blogs and Podcasts. Information is just a few keystrokes away. The beauty of blogs and podcasts is that they are free. Are you taking advantage of them?
  2. Books are indispensable. Pick a topic - any topic. You will find so many books that will provide clarity that may be just a download away.
  3. Training Programs. Training programs can be hands-on or online. More are added every day.
  4. Facebook Groups. Facebook groups offer an amazing community of inspiration. Many of them offer free mentoring on specific topics.
  5. Study Groups. We think of these more in high school and in college but they are still valuable as you grow your career. Hosting a monthly local study group is a great way to network with other pet professionals in a relaxed and casual setting.
  6. Clinics and Workshops. These are typically smaller, more intimate lectures/demonstrations led by a top field professional. Grooming clinics and workshops can generally be found in larger communities.
  7. Membership Sites. There are amazing subscription-based sites hosted by industry leaders. A wide array of topics include business, finance, marketing, social media, leadership, grooming, and much more.
  8. Coaches and Consultants. Professional coaches earn their living by helping others succeed. A talented consultant can kick start your career by providing the motivation and inspiration you need to keep moving ahead.
  9. Personal Mentors. Finding a personal mentor can be quite challenging.
    Potential candidates at the height of their careers have huge demands on their time. For most of them, taking on mentees outside of their own personal network is not easily possible. Some may make exceptions for the right person.
Compensation for an experts' time depends on the amount of time and effort they have invested in the process. Sometimes a simple hand-written thank you note is enough. Offering your assistance in exchange for their time is another idea. There are thousands of ways to show your appreciation, both during the learning process, as well as long afterwards. It's best to discuss the topic of compensation up front to avoid misunderstandings.

Your need for fresh mentors always changes. Skill sets will grow. Experiences will expand. You will gain knowledge as you apply yourself. It's likely you will outgrow your early mentors. That's OK. It's not uncommon for mentors to eventually become your peers. Who knows, you may end up becoming friends or even collaborating on future projects!

Experience is a priceless tool. Experience can't be bought - it can only be earned or shared. Talented mentors will share their knowledge. They can help you achieve your goals by relying on their own experience to guide you.

I recently received a personal note thanking me for writing Notes from the Grooming Table. Even though I did not personally mentor this individual firsthand, the knowledge I shared through my book was indispensable to her career success. I was blown away.

Always remember to appreciate the mentoring opportunities created for you, whether it be a blog, podcast, book, training program, workshop, or other mentoring scenario. Your success will be a product of that knowledge and experience.

Happy trimming,

~Melissa

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