Everybody could benefit from the helpful guidance of a mentor. Whether you are searching for an industry pro to bounce ideas off of, or simply looking for someone open to sharing general business advice, it’s a never a bad idea to widen the scope of your current network by directly seeking out those you admire professionally.
The question is, how to make their acquaintance in the first place? Try one or more of following:
- Don’t be just another face in the crowd. If someone you admire is scheduled to speak at an event or conference near you, you’re in luck. But before you attend, do your research! Find out as much as you can about what the focus of the talk will be. Take steps to learn more about the topic so you are fully prepared to ask an intelligent question during the Q&A portion of the event. If it feels natural, consider lingering after the event for a post-presentation chat. Do be conscious of your potential mentor’s time though; let them leave if they’re eyeing the door. Afterwards, solidify the connection by paying a visit to their most frequented social network and thank them, or possibly add depth to your earlier discussion.
- Meetup with a mission by networking actively. Joining a networking group can be painful if nobody in the group is in a line of work remotely similar to your own or if, as is often the case, most of the attendees are as green as you are. That’s why you need to try out a bunch of different groups before you settle on one or two. Meetup and Eventbrite are great places to start. When you find yourself surrounded by people who are smarter than you are — or at least more experienced — you’re in the right place. Once you’ve done that, make it your mission to talk to the one or two most interesting people in the room and exchange cards with them.
- Get engaged — online! Seek out business professionals who make good use of their blog, Facebook Page or Twitter account. If your mentor-to-be shows lots of activity online, there’s a chance they’ll be open to interacting with you — at least virtually. Try to find two to three voices in your industry that truly inspire you. Then it’s simple — subscribe to their feeds and read what they write! Once you know more about them, get ready to engage them. You want to catch your prospective mentor’s attention, but not bother — or worse, bore — them. Therefore, find an opportunity to provide value. If they pose questions or hold contests, that’s your cue to jump in! If they are looking for recommendations for great iPhone app developers and you happen to know the best, get that information to them quickly. Keep your eye out for patterns: perhaps your would-be-mentor answers @replies on Twitter but rarely responds to Facebook comments, or always gets back to blog post feedback but isn’t so speedy when managing email correspondence with strangers (including you). Don’t get discouraged when a reply isn’t received — find what medium works.
- Be ready to meet your mentor whenever, wherever. By this, I mean be open to chance meetings. Stop wearing sweats to the airport, brush your hair before hitting the farmers’ market, file your nails before that midnight movie. Sometimes, the most random encounters can turn into budding business relationships. For instance, while waiting for a flight recently, I met a potential fruit supplier for my company — he lives in Ecuador, I’m in California, and we happened to bump into each other in a Costa Rican airport on the way to different destinations. We passed the time chatting about our businesses and are now in touch over email. He has already me a lot of great advice and broadened my perspective on a couple of matters. Mentors can pop up anywhere!
- Notify your network that you’re on the hunt. When looking for an adviser, don’t forget to keep tabs on what’s happening in your immediate circle. Oftentimes, family and friends can offer sound professional advice — even if they aren’t able to help you themselves, they may know someone who can. Don’t be afraid to let those close to you know that you are on the hunt for someone who can guide you in your career. Your loved ones are the people happiest to see you succeed, and are often eager to connect you with others who can assist you on your journey. Make sure to tap into the potentially excellent source of guidance that’s right in your own backyard!