My favorite kind of volunteer work is mentoring. Nowadays it’s fashionable to have a mentor, and “finding a mentor” is high up on the to-do-list for young professionals.
But how do you go about this? Do you just ask “would you mentor me”?
Usually not. Unless, of course, you’re willing to pay for it. Which would be great.. and if you pick carefully, you’ll get a lot more than your money’s worth.
But let’s assume you’re broke, and you need free help to get on your feet.
Here’s what you do:
Look up small businesses that you admire (or maybe you just admire their websites). Then send a polite email to the owner or manager, asking if they’d mind meeting for a few minutes. Sounds crazy? It depends on how you go about it, how friendly, polite and respectful your email introduction is.
It’s how several young massage therapists got me to sit down with them over coffee. They got a one-on-one business building seminar for free, or a lot of marketing ideas, or even some tips on how to grow professionally and personally.
Don’t be too shy about asking someone who now is at the level where you want to get.
If the potential mentor is experienced and well-established, they won’t see you as competition, they’ll remember how it was for them, and often they want to make sure you don’t make the same mistakes. It’s surprising how very generous some people are, if you just ask, and if you show appreciation and respect.
Be prepared that a lot of them won’t answer. Don’t assume that’s because something was wrong about how you introduced yourself–they probably just think “ok, no time right now, I’ll answer that later” and it gets forgotten.
Doesn’t matter. One might answer. It’s a numbers game. So be personal in your introduction, but send out a lot of requests. And not only in your profession–think about related fields.
Tell them in your introductory email that you want to find other professionals you can refer clients to if they need a different skillset than what you have to offer.
That makes them much more likely to answer and meet with you, or just invite you to their office for a short visit.
Be respectful and polite, make sure to thank them for their time.
Does that sound like a lot of work? Sure. But it gives you the chance to make a positive impression on local industry leaders, so be diligent–don’t just send the same two paragraphs out to everybody, make it personal. Explain why you want to talk to this specific person. Here a bit of flattery is useful. We all like to be appreciated for our hard work.
When you get a meeting, you know the door is open to ask for advice. Ask flat out what you should be doing to promote yourself (or whether they know a good CPA, or which skills you should hone… whatever you need most). Just keep it to one question at first, then see how the conversation goes.
If they answer your questions thoroughly and happily, good. If they’re short, thank them again, make sure you understand which kind of people to refer to them, take a few business cards and leave.
The referral part is useful–your clients will appreciate that you’re looking out for them, and that you’ve talked to other professionals. The person you’re referring to will remember you, and might eventually send you business in return!
You’ll meet a couple of people who are very excited about giving advice and telling you the honest truth about how they started.
Are you worried you’re too shy? Being introverted is an asset here–it makes you a good listener. People love telling their story. So listen closely, and only ask more when they stop.
If they tell you to please get in touch again if you have more questions… then you know you have a mentor.
Don’t mess it up by telling them “You’re my mentor now”!
That’s like saying “I love you” after a first date.
Just send them a “thanks so much” email, wait a few weeks, then send a follow-up. Make sure you tell them what you’ve done with their advice, how it has worked out for you. Hopefully well, so you have reason to thank them.
Ask one more question.
Rinse and repeat.
It’s important to stay grateful, and to take the advice and work with it, then report back.
If you get advice that doesn’t work for you, just say “thanks so much” and move on.
In general, don’t expect anything. Successful networking takes years–and first, if you have no experience, you’ll have to build trust. So look for things you can do to help others, not what you get out of each interaction.
If you don’t know where to start searching for potential mentors, use social media, maybe Facebook groups in your industry, or LinkedIn groups. Look for people who consistently give good advice, connect with them, and PM them about what you’ve done with their suggestions.
It’s really very rewarding for the mentor, if you know how to cultivate the relationship.
It’s wonderful when somebody comes back to me and tells me about how they’ve grown, and it makes me more invested in their future.
So let me know how you’re doing, please! Leave a comment with your mentoring story!