How do you feel about shortcuts? Shortcuts really get a bad rap, almost as if you’re doing something wrong, and that going the long way is a rite of passage.
I’m a fan of shortcuts. Actually, I’m a believer in shortcuts. Shortcuts or not, there will be challenges: you’re just going to have to deal with them yourself. No shortcuts. No way around them. But some challenges are avoidable, or at least easier to get through with shortcuts. If I can take shortcuts and reach my goal in 2 years rather than 5 or 10, why not?
In business and in life, I think there are two primary shortcuts: books and mentors.
I won’t dwell on books in this post, other than the fact that a book is the best way to get someone’s years of experience and have them spend hundreds of hours to put those experiences and advice into an easy-to-digest 200-page book.
Today, I’m going to focus on the other great shortcut, mentorship.
Learning from the Best
As we close out 2014, the largest technology company in the world is Apple. Bill Gates is the wealthiest person. Lakewood Church is the largest church in America. And Square2Marketing is the world’s largest inbound marketing agency.
If tech entrepreneurs want to learn from Apple, wealth-builders from Gates, and church growers from Lakewood, inbound marketing agency owners should want to learn from Mike Lieberman and Eric Keiles, Square2Marketing’s founders.
That’s exactly what I and nine other agency owners were able to do last month as Mike Lieberman and Square2Marketing hosted Agency Week, an invite-only week of learning how Square2Marketing runs such an effective and healthy inbound agency.
While Agency Week might not be the first thing you think about when considering mentorship, mentorship is exactly what this week was. (Please note that although I share about Agency Week below, I mainly refer to Mike, since he was the primary host of the event. His cofounder, Eric, and the entire team, though, were extremely generous.)
Here are three keys to mentorship that Mike used to mentor us at Agency Week:
1. Mentor by Sharing Your Process and Experiences
When mentoring someone, share both what you do and why you do it.
The What: Process
Almost every successful person I’ve learned from has a particular and well-defined way they do things. You might call this a system, or a process, or even a series of habits. Successful organizations are no different. Square2Marketing calls these rhythms and playbooks, among other things.
Of all the things a mentor can give you, his or her process is one of the most valuable. Organizations not only spend years developing their process, but also continually optimize that process based on market changes and things they learn along the way.
Mike was extremely generous in sharing with the 10 agency owners who attended much of Square2Marketing’s processes, from how they scale their company to how they service clients. Just as in a person-to-person mentorship, I don’t think you should just take what someone else is doing (their process) and do the exact same thing. However, learning Square2Marketing’s process and having the opportunity to decide what we might want to apply at our agencies was invaluable.
The Why: Experiences
Mike didn’t just share his processes; he also shared his experiences. Eric and Mike related how they started their company and how they’ve scaled since then. Most importantly, they shared the challenges they’ve gone through and the ones they’re going through currently.
By sharing his experiences, Mike shared the “why” behind the “what” and helped us understand why they do things the way they do them.
As an entrepreneur, I also find that hearing a person’s story is as helpful as hearing his or her instruction. That’s why I make sure to read autobiographies of successful individuals: to hear their struggles and challenges as much as their successes.
Mike was very effective in mentoring the agency owners by sharing Square2Marketing’s processes and experiences.
2. Mentor by Sharing Your Team
A leader with no followers is not a leader; she’s simply out for a walk. In the same way, building a marketing agency of one person doesn’t work that well. While Mike and Eric, Square2Marketing’s founders, are the ones leading the agency, you don’t have the world’s largest inbound marketing agency with just two people. You must have a strong team in place. To borrow from Jim Collins, you have to have the right people on the bus.
Agency Week had a full schedule, much of which was led by members of the Square2Marketing team. We had the opportunity to learn from and see in action different members of their team.
By sharing key members of the Square2Marketing team with us, Mike helped us learn so much more than if we had heard from him alone. He mentored us more than he could have done just on his own.
3. Mentor by Carefully Choosing a Group
One of the most interesting things about Agency Week, other than learning from the largest inbound marketing agency, was the group of agency owners that were able to take part.
Agency Week was an invite-only event at which 10 agency owners learned about how Square2Marketing does business at its headquarters outside of Philadelphia.
While coming from different backgrounds and having differences in our agencies, all 10 agencies in attendance were actually fairly similar. All had similar service offerings, similar revenue, similar team sizes, and similar challenges. All agencies attending would be considered “successful,” yet all were hungry to learn and to take their agencies to a new level.
I can honestly say that I would not have learned and absorbed as much from my time at Agency Week if I hadn’t experienced it with nine other agency owners in a similar place with similar challenges.
Mike was very intentional about making sure the group attending would be the right fit. When in a joint mentorship program like this, it’s very important that those attending are people who can be trusted and who have a positive, growth-oriented attitude.
There must be a degree of trust so that you can share at a deeper level. Having people with the wrong attitude could be a big deterrent.
My Next Steps
It’s been just over two weeks since I left Square2Marketing’s offices when Agency Week completed. I can’t begin to tell you how valuable the mentorship experience was.
While I’ve spent a number of hours going over my 40 pages of notes, I’m planning on taking two days away to start to process my thoughts and experiences into actionable items to implement both personally and at our agency. I find that getting away (e.g., to a hotel) for something like this really helps me to implement change.
I’m also going to keep my eyes open for opportunities where I can mentor others. As someone who’s constantly looking to grow both myself and our organization, it’s easy to forget that there are people a little earlier in the process that could learn from me and our organization right now.
Thanks again, Mike and Square2Marketing!