By Andrew Neitlich

The importance of mentoring

By Andrew Neitlich

It is a wise business strategy to mentor others and to find a mentor(s).

By mentoring others, you get a source of potential clients as your “mentees” develop and take on more responsibilities. And because mentees are typically younger (although not always as you’ll read in a moment), you keep yourself abreast of new trends, issues, and — sometimes — emerging technologies. You also keep your mind sharp, since a good mentee can challenge you with great questions and creativity.

By getting a mentor, you expose yourself to wisdom and new opportunities. I owe much of my financial success to mentors, and look for mentors in every business relationship. There is much to learn from just about anyone. At the same time, some people have been kind enough to take me under their wing. One has been an investment banker who has taught me a great deal about how true entrepreneurs think. And recently a Sitepoint reader half my age (just about) agreed to teach me a business model he has employed successfully. In the former case, the investment banker received my ideas and “sweat equity” — along with some unpaid labor — in exchange for his commitment. In the latter case, we have worked out a deal that will help everyone (I hope) make lots of money if I succeed.


When I do things on my own, trying to reinvent the wheel, I tend to stumble. Mentors help me find the most efficient path to success.

Do you have mentors? Are you taking on mentees? How do you find your mentors/mentees? What have you found to be the benefits?

  • Hi Andrew – I agree with this 100%. Anyone else?

    And I am serious in my query. It seems that mentoring in high tech is almost non-existent. There are many forces behind it, including those who are lone gunmen and gunwomen who just want to do their own thing, those who feel that being a mentor (or having one) is a burden, and those who simply feel they know it all and don’t need one.

    I have been fortunate in my career to have been considered a mentor to people who I have worked with or have worked for me. Unfortunately I cannot say I have a mentor today. Sure there are friends and colleagues I look to for ideas and advice on occasion, but nobody whom I could put down on paper to say is a mentor, and have them agree with that.

    This vicious cycle must end! I am open to advice, stories, suggestions, etc.


  • [SELES]

    Mentoring is a great way to learn a business. My most successful venture to date was in large part credited to my mentor who in that case was my brother.
    These days I know I would benefit greatly from a mentor…I just do not know where to look, there are a few people doing exactly what I am trying to do but how do I entice them to help me…?
    Perhaps you could give us some pointers on finding then approaching potential mentors and how or what to bring to the table somethin worth while. I think there a bunch of people that will benefit from that.

  • Great advice Andrew… will you be my mentor??

  • J Windebank

    Very good advice Andrew, thank you. But as mentioned, I can’t even imagine where to look for someone who is prepared to outlay that kind of commitment in time, for possibly zero return.

    I imagine all “Web Professionals” could do with a mentor if one could only be found. For now, I’ll just have to rely on the Sitepoint community to be my colective mentor. :)


  • Demex

    I totally agree. I have a couple of mentors, one being in this industry who I really appreciate. I also try to take on the mentor role with some of my clients, especially small businesses just starting out. I have found that this role helps to build a long lasting relationship and the rewards can be 10 fold.

  • J Windebank

    another qustion sorry Andrew. How do you offer to mentor someone without offending them? I cannot imagine approaching a client and offering them advice they did not ask for. Am interested to see how you handle this situation.


  • DeafNLoud

    I strongly agree that having a mentor is a great benefit. Unfortunately through my entire career in web development/design, I have not had a mentor and I feel that it shows because even though I have been in this business for over 6+ years, I am still very inexperienced.

    I would love to have a mentor to learn from and to look up to when things are a bit bleak.

  • A very timely article, Andrew! At my office, we are in the process of converting all of our old legacy mainframe code to .NET, which has in turn necessitated that we all learn that. The budget is a bit too tight to send everyone to class, so mentoring is being organized to help get us all up to speed. (BTW, I’m a mentee in this scenario.)

    I’ve found the mentoring to be extremely helpful. I’ve taught myself quite a bit of .NET on my own; however, what I have been lacking is in the best practicies area, something that book learning doesn’t seem to teach. My mentor has helped tremendously in filling the gaps in my knowledge.

    One thing that I should also mention is that once some of us begin getting up to speed, we will turn around and mentor those who still need to learn. It’s a win-win situation for us all!

  • Anonymous

    I have thousands of mentors all over the internet. They give me great advices and point me to the right direction when I face problems.

    Don’t you feel like mentoring is happening on the internet (forums, news groups, blogs, etc.) all the time? People (students) with lesser knowledge ask questions and people (mentors) with greater knowledge answer them.

    “But as mentioned, I can’t even imagine where to look for someone who is prepared to outlay that kind of commitment in time, for possibly zero return.”

    – This doesn’t seem to be a problem for the “internet mentors”. They answer the same basic questions over and over again, tell their oppinions on advanced subjects and do this without any gain.

    I think mentoring on the internet doesn’t feel as personal as with two persons. It is more like student and a group of mentors. If one asks the right questions, shows some initiative in problem-solving and activly communicates with the community, he’ll be mentored for sure.

  • webnology

    Great article Andrew, thanks. But I feel like Anonumous is hitting the spot. All around the net, mentors are available, in forums, blogs, etc… Although you don’t have a real personal contact with them, they are mentoring you somehow.


  • It’s about sharing a passion, and it’s garaunteed that mentors and the mentee will both have mentoring opportunities for eachother.

    Nobody is the master of everything.

    A level of mentoring does occur on message boards, newsgroups, chat rooms, but I always find friends on instant messaging a great help.

    Best tip I can give is to network with people that work on the other side of the industry to you.
    Primarily I’m a developer/designer and would like to learn more about website analytics… marketing and promotion, and so I find great help from a guy in Ontario, who is always willing to learn about new trends and hear my opinions on the usability of his websites.

    All good fun

  • siteman123

    Could another way to look at mentoring be to adopt best practice? Could web companies around the world help each other by sharing ideas on aspects of running their business? Someone in the north of the uk could team up with someone in the south of the uk and swap ideas / support each other without encroaching on each others business? Different people have different strengths. I have no problem cold calling and asking for the money because I genuine care about my clients. Other people hate doing it but might excel in other ways. By swapping real ideas all parties could benefit. Blogs are really good but telephone calls / skype / web cam and meeting up could take businesses to a new level? Anyone interested in teaming up with me? By knowing your capabilities you could mentor someone with complimetary capabilities in a mutually supportive way rather than being at either end of the help chain.

  • Jason Batten

    Interesting blog. I think the answer to the question of where to look for a mentor is “people skills”. Get to know people, network, build relationships. I think it would be unlikely for someone to come up to me on the street and ask me if I would like them to be my mentor.

    A mentor is a least in my understanding suppose to be more than just a walking help document but more of a friend and some one to turn to in dark times.

    At the moment I turn to Andrew Neitlich (this blog!) for business advice and new ideas with a twist. I also go to Steve Pavlina’s Personal Development blog which I found through the forums here at sitepoint.

    I would like to know how do you ask someone if they could help you more than average and perhaps become your mentor… any advice?

  • Just ask. I am mentoring someone who simply asked me if I would!

  • harryzimm

    Great topic. I agree, in a mentoring situation both parties win. Even for the mentor a fresh view and enthusiasm from the mentee can spark some incredible ideas.

    I once had the unfortunate opportunity of working with a senior developer guy who “knew it all” (he really did). But, he never, ever shared even the most basic information. When I was eventually made redundant and he kept his job, I decided that rather than feel bitter, I would never, ever treat people that way.

    By contrast, what I seen from the mentoring here at SP shows that “knowledge is power” in the positive sense.

  • JMorrow

    In my experience, the best way to find mentors is figure out who is successful and offer to take them out to lunch. Successful people have to eat come and they might as well be doing something enjoyable like talking to you. I actually require it from all of my mentees. I get 1-2 free lunches per week. It’s great.

  • Jason Batten

    and if your mentor doesn’t live in the same place as you?

  • JMorrow

    Depending on how far away they are, consider driving to see them the first time. One time, a college student drove five hours to take me out to lunch. I was impressed and felt kind of obligated to help him.

    If it’s just not possible to see them in person, you’ll have to either get good at sucking up by e-mail or offer some kind of compensation for their mentoring. For example, a percentage of your earnings.

  • bockereyer

    I started mentoring a young nephew and I hope he’s smart enough to listen and to learn from my mistakes – and I made some. But you know how most (young) people are: “What can you possible learn me, I already know best.”

  • I think you are mixing it up here. Stumbling while doing things your own way and ‘reinventing the wheel’ are completely opposite acts, especially if you are talking about your average businessman or even a hardcore entrepreneur.

    Doing something better and with a profit, I think, dictates that you do it differently. And only experience teaches you not to take a crack at re-inventing the wheel. So where does that leave us? That attempting to re-invent the wheel, as long as you have the attitude of learning and tweaking and trying again ingrained in you, is almost suggested! And doing things on your own, to me, is what business is all about. LEarning from mentors and being a mentee is not only recommended, but like your article says, it is a necessity to get the right guideposts for your own general direction. hmmm… now I feel that apart from confusing myself, I am beginning to confuse the readers as well…

    pardon me :)

    GodBless and keep on keepin on,

  • tonysmith2

    Hi. It’s amazing how much of a void there is in my dreary little life now that there’s not been any posts from Andrew for a few days.

    Perhaps it was something I said…

    If you’re on holiday Andrew, I wish you a good one – but hurry back soon!!!


  • Jason Batten

    That’s “The importance of Andrew’s mentoring” talking ;)

  • tonysmith2

    walked right into that one, didn’t I? ;)

  • Phil Dawson

    Are you sure you are talking about being mentored?
    I am not convinced you are. I have been mentored in business and I spent 95% of my day with my mentor.
    Being mentored is not just a flash in the pan ask a question of who you think knows it all – get an answer and ask another. To be mentored you HAVE to know the person you are dealing with, and I mean ‘KNOW’. Anyone can say they are successful in business and anyone can say the have what it it takes. the program ‘Your Fired’ proves that. Besides who would really want to be mentored by a shark like Sugar.

    Guys n girls I suggest you NETWORK and you will find the person you are looking for. ‘When the student is ready the teacher appears’

  • Home Business

    By recognizing employees as the firm’s most valuable asset and sole conduit for serving clients, a mentoring program can improve methods for recruiting, refining and retaining employees. In addition to finding and keeping quality employees, a primary goal of our mentoring program is to cultivate exemplary behaviors of your staff. As part of the program’s implementation, consider hiring a director of career development to establish the mentoring program as part of the corporate culture. Design the program to fit the culture of your organization.

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