In this episode of On The Blue Couch, I caught up with Ntsiki Mkhize, a social entrepreneur and the founder of MentHer, a global mentorship network supporting female entrepreneurs. Ntsiki is a self-published author of the book My Hall of Mentors (get a copy here) and has a Masters in Social Innovation from the University of Glasgow. In addition to her inspirational, empowering, and connecting work, Ntsiki is a professional speaker and facilitator and generously gives of her time to number of non-profits.
In her Blue Couch session, we spoke about how she got into entrepreneurship, how to find the right mentor and make sure you’re asking the right types of questions.
Ntsiki spoke about how she manages her time as an entrepreneur and stays focussed on her long-term goals when ad hoc opportunities arise.
It’s good to be open to stuff, you just need to ask yourself: does this help me achieve my objective? ‘Cause you can’t plan for everything, you can plan for what you can do, but opportunities that can take you ten steps forward can always present themselves and you don’t know when that’s going to happen. So when things do come up it helps asking ‘does this help me achieve my objective?’ and to always be open to the conversation. So, even if something is a great opportunity but you can’t pick it up at the moment, you can ask how would this look, how could we work together, what would be the end game and then saying let’s pick this up at a different time.
I asked her how one can go about finding the right mentor with the right set of expertise.
When I help my mentees find mentors I advise them to be clear about what they are looking for by asking, ‘what are your goals and what specific areas of your life are you looking to develop? Is it financial? Is it in your career? Is it academic? What specifically are you looking at?’ And then identifying people who emulate the same kind of success that you’re looking for. So, as an academic if you want to publish your research within a certain period of time, but you also want to publish that article in a specific journal, then you need to go and find someone who has done those specific things. Just by having that kind of alignment, that’s an indication of that person having the experience or knows a little bit about something about what you need to be asking. That can really help you put the right stuff to the right person.
She gave some advice on asking the right types of questions when you approach people.
Give people the opportunity to say something else instead of yes or no. Don’t ask yes or no questions or don’t ask specific questions. So it’s always good to say ‘hey, I was wondering if you know anything about this or if you know somebody that’s an expert at this that can help me’ and that allows the person, if they’re not an expert, to not feel the pressure to make something up. They can say ‘I’ll think about it’ or ‘I know so and so and I’ll try connect you to that particular individual’. I think that’s just a really gentle way of communicating with people and that can lead to better outcomes.
I asked her why she did her master’s and what value she thought it would add to her journey as an entrepreneur.
When you look at things from an academic perspective, you ask what is the validation behind this, what is the research, what are some of the studies that have been done and I wanted to be in a space where I could have access to the academic knowledge and information. It’s also very helpful from a backbone perspective. If you’re working in a space where something isn’t really a norm or an [established] discipline or something that people recognise, it’s really good to go back to the literature, which is not a very entrepreneurial thing, but I think from a South African perspective, you’re going into a space where something doesn’t really exist or isn’t formalised or isn’t recognised and asking ‘who is doing this, how are they doing it and what can I learn from them and then how can I adapt that to my context?’
I also asked her how she funded her masters which she did in the UK.
The university had an academic scholarship that covered all my tuition and I created a Go Fund Me page and people donated. A lot of the funds I got were actually a combination of people who donated money [and vouchers] over the two years and I also had time to save because I was living at home. I paid off my car and my credit card. When I got to the UK I got a job, so I ended up working in a restaurant on weekends.