One of my goals for 2013: Find a business mentor who can provide insights into running a business, new business strategies, financial advice and a host of other ideas. I’ve always been someone who wants to be surrounded by people smarter than me. And when you work for yourself, well, that’s kinda tough 🙂
But, I’m happy to report I will be forging a new mentor relationship (not with Gordon Gecko) with a local business person/marketer who I’ve admired for years. He’s smart. Successful. And he has a number of business interests. I’m not sure I want to be this gentleman (it’s a guy–that’s as much as I’ll share), but I certainly admire all he’s done and he’s definitely someone I emulate.
I posted the fact that I was starting this relationship on Twitter a couple weeks ago and an acquaintance sent me a quick message asking me how I had found my new mentor.
Good question, right? I bet others have the same question. So, I thought I’d take you through my process–how I determined the right mentor for me.
1. Identify areas where you’re deficient–or areas you want to learn more about
First, think about those skill sets or areas in your experience where you might be a little weak. Then, start thinking about people who exhibit those skills or have those experiences. Who do you know (or are one step removed from) that is strong in those areas? Good place to start.
2. Who do you admire?
Then I thought about business leaders (not just PR/marketing folks) who exhibit many of the traits I admire. Basically, I asked myself who I REALLY respect and want to be like down the road. So, I made a relatively short list and looked to see if those people had some of the skills/experiences I was looking for in a mentor. I boiled that down to two people and made a choice. The key lesson here: Choose a mentor who is someone you admire–someone who has the skills an experience you want to develop. You don’t neccesarily want to choose the most successful mentor–you want to choose the mentor that’s right for you. Big difference.
3. Connections matter
Put it this way. Which mentor would you want? The one with 500+ connections on LinkedIn. The one who knows a good chunk of the people on the “40 Under 40” list each year and is a known leader in the business community. Or, the mentor who barely has a footprint online and is too busy to get out and meet with folks on a semi-regular basis? I know both have value–but I’m taking the former EVERY time. Why? Because the business world is all about relationships. Even more than skills in many cases. And if a mentor can help you open more doors–isn’t that part of the benefit of the mentor/mentee relationship?
4. Reach out–and make it hard for them to say no.
Now you’re ready to make the ask. And, it’s all about the approach. Here’s the key: Make it impossible for your potential mentor to say no. Compliment her. Make it easy for her to get together with you. Don’t put any undue pressure on her. Easy, quick meetings since she’s so busy. And, play to one of her personal interests. Is your potential mentor a wine geek? Suggest you get together for a glass–tell her you know a perfect place. How could she say no to that?
5. Remember: Many senior-level folks rarely get asked to mentor.
This one always surprises people, but it’s completely true (at least in my experience). Earlier in my career, I worked for a fairly large accounting and consulting firm. I remember asking the CEO for a meeting because I needed to interview him for a Master’s class I was taking at the time. And I remember him saying that he really enjoyed the meeting because he rarely got to share his ideas/insights and few people had the gumption to ask for a meeting with him. I don’t say that to pat myself on the back–but instead to demonstrate that the C-level folks aren’t untouchable. In fact, it’s usually the opposite. In my time consulting, I’ve found the C-level folks much more approachable and easier to work with than mid-level management. Remember that when you reach out to your mentor. These CMOs, CEOs and even SVPs don’t get mentor requests as often as you think. In fact, they’ll most likely be flattered you asked.
Those are my tips. Hope that helps. If you’ve searched for a mentor in the past, I’d love to hear more about your process in the comments below.
P.S.: Don’t forget to join our first HAPPO chat for 2013 tonight from 8-9 p.m. CT as we talk about how to find a mentor and nurture that relationship. Just follow the #happo hash tag starting at 8 p.m. CT!