A mentorship is a two-way street—here’s how to do it right

Mentors can help build connections and confidence, but mentees should come prepared to work

Most of us spend the majority of our waking hours at work. That means we invest most of our time in work relationships: figuring out how to best communicate and collaborate, how to succeed, and how to recover from failure. Work With Me is a deep dive into those dynamics.

Leah Frazier knows exactly how hard and lonely it can be to start your own business. As an attorney turned fashion entrepreneur who now runs her own creative-marketing agency, she’s experienced all of the ups and downs, the successes and the crushed dreams.

Some successful entrepreneurs have selective amnesia regarding their past adversities. Not Frazier. She thinks about them every day—and one of her goals is to help others navigate the challenges she’s already overcome. 

“The most rewarding part for me is seeing a business that is struggling and being able to help them grow and avoid the pitfalls I experienced,” Frazier says. “I never do it for the credit. I like to be behind the scenes and be a little miracle worker without people ever knowing that’s what I’m doing.” 

Over the past five years, Frazier—who works out of WeWork Thanksgiving Tower—has become something of a professional mentor in the Dallas fashion space. In 2018 she was named Startup Evangelist of the Year by the Dallas Entrepreneur Center. 

Rachel Chang met Frazier when she was just getting started as a video creator for LinkedIn and trying to find her footing in the world of social media influencing. Frazier not only gave Chang strategic career advice, but she also helped build the budding video creator’s confidence. 

“Leah has put me in front of brands like MM LaFleur, Graffiti Collective, etc. She has nominated me for speaking engagements, press opportunities, brand deals, and more. As a woman, it is often difficult to communicate my monetary value, but Leah has empowered and equipped me to do so,” says Chang, who notes that Frazier’s advice has had a profound impact. “Over the last two years, I’ve been able to grow my platform significantly—to 18,000 followers and 3 million views [across my social channels].” 

Frazier and Chang found one another organically, but sometimes mentees need a more structured way to connect with the right mentor. Marie Soudré-Richard, founder and CEO of Cool Cloud, a business accelerator in Paris, connected with her mentee, Tufan Gok, the founder of the digital-ad startup ADYOUNEED, through the WeWork Labs program in France. 

The Labs team helped facilitate that first meeting, but Soudré-Richard went into it with no knowledge about Gok’s business. Her plan was to meet him for 30 minutes and give him some advice. But as Gok presented his business and his product, Soudré-Richard got a different idea.

“I instantly understood the potential behind the business,” Soudré-Richard says. “He had a clear roadmap and knew what he needed to get to the next level, like in a video game when the paths are clearly set. I rarely meet such sharp, clever, and focused entrepreneurs. I decided after 30 minutes to work with him and invest in his company.”

Connecting with Soudré-Richard helped connect Gok with her entire network. “Even that first day she made several calls, connected me with so many people,” Gok recalls. To date, Gok raised $50,000 from Soudré-Richard and other business angels in her network. 

As more and more work continues to take place outside of the traditional office, mentors are becoming increasingly valuable. According to a recent study of 3,000 U.S. workers, 76 percent of people surveyed think mentors are important, but only 37 percent currently had a mentor. Founders and employees are hungry for someone to show them how to navigate the working world. That burden used to fall on a boss or a more senior coworker. But plenty of people no longer have a boss. Mentors like Frazier and Soudré-Richard fill that role—often without expecting anything in return.

“You don’t get paid for advising a startup,” Soudré-Richard says. “I think that is one of the keys to the success of this format. You are both more natural and you bring the best of yourself. The founder is much more open to listening because they haven’t invested in consulting fees, which is stressful, especially when they don’t have the cash.”

Like Soudré-Richard, Frazier believes in donating her time, but she’s realistic too—she knows she can’t donate it all. While she does offer guidance and advice to people who are serious about needing help, she charges for the initial “pick your brain” session.  

“I charge $97 for a coffee, for about 45 minutes to an hour, depending on what service they’re picking my brain about,” Frazier explains. “I used to let people get all their questions out and go on forever, but I can’t do that. I’ll be psychologically and physically drained. By asking people to pay, then I know they’re serious. When they approach, I tell them ‘Here’s my pick-your-brain [invitation] link, and it doesn’t hit my calendar until you pay for it.’”

The key to maintaining a healthy mentor/mentee relationship is to set boundaries from the start, according to Julia Blickenstaff, senior director of people and learning at WeWork. “Before entering into a new mentor/mentee relationship, the pair should align on time commitment, what the mentee is looking for, and what the mentor has to offer,” she says. “It is important for mentees to prepare for each meeting with the mentor. If possible, they should send questions, topic, and ideas to the mentor in advance. The mentee should take the lead to schedule the meeting and plan the agenda. Finally, mentees should lead with trust and be as open as possible.”

Frazier also saves time every week for on-the-spot mentoring and advice. “This path, it can break you. I will sit down and be everyone’s shoulder to cry on,” she says. “I make it a priority to talk to all the newbies who come in. I’m there when they say ‘I don’t know if I want to do this another day.’ I feel like everyone’s Oprah around here. But they need it, so I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

How to nail the mentor-mentee relationship

Take it seriously 

Treat your mentor/mentee relationship as seriously as you would any business relationship. Agree on set times to meet, and keep those meetings. Make an effort to value the other person’s time.

Do the work

At Frazier and Chang’s standing monthly appointments, they use the time to strategically plan Chang’s next professional steps. “I’m not a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants mentor. I give my mentees homework and action items. I tell them to text me when they’ve finished a task,” Frazier says. “I treat them just as I would any client of mine, as far as deliverables.”

Set boundaries

Soudré-Richard believes a free-of-charge mentor/mentee relationship is key. Frazier, on the other hand, received so many coffee-date requests she felt the need to charge for her time. On both sides, it comes down to a question of comfort level, resources, and the right chemistry.

Jo Piazza is an award-winning journalist, bestselling author, digital strategist, and podcast host.

Interested in workspace? Get in touch.