Most of us have mentors who inspire us, from whom we learn and whom we emulate. Chances are you have a few friends you think of as mentors. Or perhaps you know experts you admire and consider mentors from afar.
But what about the successful business owners, highly creative people and talented professionals you already know? Your network probably includes many experts you can learn from. Yet you may hesitate to reach out and ask them to mentor you. The reasons for this are varied and complex:
These obstacles, while they feel real, are mostly in your head. And they prevent you from building relationships that can help you grow your business, avoid costly mistakes and find a quicker, smoother path to becoming a successful entrepreneur.
Here’s what helped me find the confidence I needed to build mentoring relationships with highly successful entrepreneurs:
Do Your Homework
You admire a fellow business person and would love to pick her brain regularly. Start by learning as much as you can about her. What’s her background? How did she get where she is today? What aspects of her business experience would you prefer to learn from first?
I would suggest going as far as learning about her personal preferences, so when you are ready to ask, you know exactly what to focus on and what to avoid (e.g., she won’t take breakfast meetings or prefers meeting after yoga).
Asking for help from someone you perceive to be an expert can be hard. But with good preparation you can respect their time and gain valuable wisdom.
Draft the Pitch Ahead of Time
There’s a chance you know exactly what you want to ask of your would-be mentor. If so, craft that question or request in a concise, clear way. These people are as busy as (if not busier than) you are. No need to draft a four-paragraph email letting them know how much they inspire you.
Instead, express your admiration in a single sentence. Then describe what you’re all about, how your business is trying to make an impact and what you would like from them. If your request is in writing (and you should never call someone without asking first), the entire correspondence should be no longer than six sentences.
Be Ready for the Ask
Let’s say you’ve already heard from your future mentor and agreed to have your first mentoring meeting over the phone or in person. You should know exactly what you want from that meeting. Have absolutely clarity about what you need by drafting your “ask” (questions, requests) before the meeting.
Again, successful people don’t have time to devote long hours to small talk. After a few minutes of pleasantries (use your intuition here), ask for what you want. You will have future meetings when you can bond and build a strong, long-lasting relationship, so there’s no need to try to find a best friend during your first mentoring meeting.
Be Assertive with Your Time (and Theirs)
I’ve gone as far as meeting my mentor while she was getting her hair dyed. Her time was really tight and she asked me to meet her during her appointment. I jumped at the opportunity, especially since it meant that I would have her undivided attention for at least an hour. (She couldn’t go anywhere with foil in her hair!)
I rescheduled an existing previous appointment for that Saturday afternoon, drove the 35 minutes across town and sat on a little stool in front of her with a notebook while she dished tips that would otherwise have cost me thousands of dollars.
My point with this story is that you should aim to be accommodating with your schedule and never expect the meetings to last longer than 30 to 45 minutes. You can still get lots of amazing feedback and advice in that time.
Your mentor has given you great tips and advice and now you feel compelled to return the favor. But how? This is when the homework you already did pays off. Does he enjoy Reiki treatments and your best friend is a Reiki master? Offer him a discounted session. Does she love classical music? Get her a ticket to a local concert. Is he passionate about cooking? Get him the latest book from a best-selling chef.
Asking for help from someone you perceive to be an expert can be hard. But with good preparation you can respect their time and gain valuable wisdom. Who knows—maybe someday you’ll take on the role of mentor to someone starting out.
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