You know that a mentor could help you get where you want to go. And you’ve found a mentorship program that promises you just that. You may be lucky. But don’t blindly whip out your credit card just yet before you have asked (and gotten satisfactory answers) to a few tough questions:

What will happen if the services that made you join the mentorship program in the first place are sorely lacking? You have a right to know this before you sign up.

So how will you find out? Put your expectations in writing. You could compose a document that says something like this:

1. I understand that this mentorship program offers: (list points).

2. The reason I am joining is (list specifically what you expect from your mentor)

3. What I need to have happen for this to work for me is the following: (list specifics including feedback, contact type and amount and with whom, etc.).

4. What will happen if things don’t pan out the way they have been promised? List the solution(s) that would be acceptable to you (you may want to discuss this beforehand with your mentor-to-be and note the agreed-upon procedure).

Why would you need all that? Just as an example, personal one-on-one calls may well morph into group calls. Those may even be at times you’ll have to be at work. That may be fine if that’s what you agreed on in the first place, and if the mentor provides recordings of the calls. But clearly, that would be a huge downgrade in value. Unless those group calls are made available as mp3’s and preferably as PDF transcripts, they’re just about worthless if you have to work at their scheduled times. In addition, the key benefit generally lies in the direct interaction, and that will be missing.

Insisting on such specific answers to your questions may seem a bit forward, but a true professional will understand that you’ll need to cover your back. After all, there are all sorts of things that can happen over the course of a year:

Maybe the mentor’s priorities change and the mentorship program simply takes up too much time. Or they took on more than they could handle, and you find that the mentorship program has suddenly changed course in a direction that’s really not working for you. It may still include the things you may or may not particularly need (or at any rate that you wouldn’t have paid such a premium for) while leaving out the things you wanted. It may even evaporate altogether.

Find out in advance what will happen in such a scenario. Will you be able to leave? Will you be able to get a discount? Will you be able to get a refund (if you prepaid) or will you be released from the ongoing payments (without hard feelings) if your arrangement stipulates those?

And get it in writing. If the prospective mentor has a problem with that, you may have one of two answers:

They may not be so sure they can deliver what you want (and if you’re lucky, they may say so), or they’re not willing to make a commitment to delivering the goods. Either way, you now have the information you need to make a more informed decision.

And if they’re happy to provide you with answers you like, you may well have found your perfect mentor.

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