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Most people approach potential mentors in completely the wrong way. As a result, most people have a lot of trouble getting mentors to help them out. When you’re approaching a mentor, there’s one thing you need to keep in mind. This one thing is what will set you apart from all the other people competing for their time and attention.
How Most People Approach Mentors
Most people approach mentors with a taking mindset. They ask them questions like:
“Can we grab coffee sometime?”
“Will you mentor me?”
“I’d really like to pick your brain”
And so on.
The main focus here is the person asking the question. They’re looking to take value from the interaction.
In many ways, this is like a beggar who comes up to you on the street asking for money. He’s asking for something valuable from you while offering nothing in return. Naturally, most people say no, just as most mentors say no.
The Most Important Thing to Remember
The most important thing to remember when approaching mentors is that they’re also trying to get to the next level themselves.
Sure, they might have a $10 million dollar company. But they’re surrounded by people with $200 million dollar companies. They’re trying to get to that next level themselves as well.
Perhaps your mentor’s goals have shifted from the financial world. Many successful people switch their attention from making money to helping the world. In that case, the “next level” for them is philanthropy rather than money.
Here’s the secret to landing mentors: Help them get to the next level.
The Art of Giving Value
If you help your mentors get to the next level, they’ll naturally also want to help you get to the next level.
You might be thinking: How can you help someone who’s far more successful than you? The answer is to be creative.
If you know they’re interested in education reform, call up the 100 top educators in the country and help arrange meetings for your mentor. If you know they’re looking to acquire small retailers in California, drive through the state and take photos of the different retailers they might be interested in.
Go out of your way to help your mentor get to the next level. Offer value first, before asking for value in return.
A Word About Connection
Go out of your way to help out your potential mentors – But do it with people you have a connection with. Don’t just go out of your way to help potential mentors who you haven’t even met yet.
If you meet a potential mentor at a seminar or an event and have the chance to chat for a few minutes, then try to find some way to add value to their lives. Then and only then should you ask them for mentorship or help.
How to Build a Team of Informal Mentors
Mentorship relationships don’t always have to be formal relationships. Sometimes they can be as simple as “if I have a question, can I send you an email?” relationships. While individually these relationships might not change your life, having a whole Rolodex of these kinds of mentors can make a big difference.
So how can you build up this network of informal mentors?
Where to Meet Mentors
Getting your foot in the door to meet mentors can be tough. Here are a few different ways to do it.
First, talk to your lawyer and your accountant. Hire the best lawyers you can, even if you don’t need their legal services yet. Why? Do it for the network. The best lawyers also have high level clients. Have them do the introductions for you.
Another way you can make contact with successful individuals is through social networking. Many CEOs today run their own Twitter feeds. Retweeting their messages and @replying to them can help build up a relationship so you can eventually drop them an email.
You can also make it a point to attend conferences and trade shows. Meet influencers in person, build a connection and ask them for mentorship face to face.
The Authenticity Key
The key to making a great impression on a potential mentor is through authenticity.
Imagine for a moment what the world is like from the eyes of influential people. A lot of people want your attention, but the vast majority of them want your attention so they can get something from you.
You never know when people are approaching you out of genuine desire for connection or friendship, or if they have an ulterior motive.
Because this is the reality of what it’s like to be extremely successful, successful people tend to have walls. The only real way around these walls is to be genuine and authentic.
If you’re nervous about meeting them, say so. If you’re building a business and want their help, be upfront about it. Don’t pretend to be their friend with an ulterior motive; be 100% honest from the get-go.
What Kind of Mentorship to Ask For
Don’t go overboard with your requests. Your requests for mentorship should be relatively straightforward and shouldn’t require much of a commitment from your mentor. Ask them if you can send them an email if you ever have a question in a specific arena. You can also ask if you could do a quick phone call with them at some point.
Don’t ask for extended mentoring relationships unless you build a real connection. Repeat this process again and again and you’ll gradually amass a rolodex of successful people in different arenas that you can contact if you ever get stuck in your business.
The Benefits of Having a Mentor
We’ve all heard that having business mentors can help you develop yourself and grow your company. But what is it exactly that these mentors can do for you? How can they help you move your company along?
Knowing exactly how you want your mentors to help you move forward can help you find the motivation to find these mentors, as well as give you the fire you need to ask your potential mentors for help in a compelling way. Here are five benefits of having a business mentor.
1: How to Structure Your Company
Most entrepreneurs don’t spend a lot of time thinking about how to structure their company. Yet most mentors will insist on making sure you have your business structure correct from the get go. They’ve made structuring mistakes in the past and paid for it.
Do you have a solid options plan in place? Do you have iron clad operating agreements between all your partners? Are you operating with a legal entity that minimizes your personal risk and reduces the amount of taxes you need to pay? These are all structuring questions mentors can help with.
2: Avoid Mistakes Others Made
Mentors will be able to tell you about mistakes that others in your industry have made. They’ve been around the block longer and know the pitfalls well.
3: Learn to Hire the Right People
Building an A-Grade team is one of the most important factors to success in business. But how exactly do you do it? How do you lure employees from lucrative jobs to come work for you? How do you build a corporate culture? How do you inspire people?
Mentors can help you with this elusive aspect of your business.
4: Investments & Exits
Investments and exits are some of the trickiest negotiations in business. Without someone experienced to guide you through the process, there’s a very good chance you’ll make big mistakes.
How should you value your company? How important is it that you get some liquidation preferences? If investors want the right to hire an outside CEO, what should you say?
With acquisitions, how important are the terms versus the raw price? How do you value non-cash acquisitions, such as equity deals or performance based deals? What kind of earn out plan is fair?
Most first time entrepreneurs simply can’t answer these questions without outside help. Having great mentors will help you through these important processes.
5: Think Big
Mentors can help you think outside of your regular bubble. If you’re regularly only thinking at the $100,000 a year level, mentors can help you think at the $1 million a year or $10 million a year level. If you’ve never tasted success, it’s hard to imagine or plan for massive success. Mentors on the other hand can help you see and plan that far ahead.
How to Approach Your “Dream List” of Mentors
There are mentors, then there are “dream list” mentors. Dream list mentors are the mentors you’d pick if you could choose any mentors on the planet. Landing these kinds of “dream list” mentors takes audacity and connections. But it’s certainly doable.
How Facebook Landed Bill Gates
When Facebook was still in its infancy with just a few million members, Mark Zuckerberg decided he wanted to make it a platform. He wanted developers to be able to build apps on the platform.
He asked one of his mentors if he could put him in touch with others who’ve developed platforms. His mentor said he might be able to put him in touch with some developers who’ve built a platform in the past.
Zuckerberg said: “I was thinking more along the lines of Bill Gates.”
His mentor scoffed at him. Here he was, running a startup social network with far less traffic than MySpace and he wanted Bill Gates to teach him how to build a platform?
The next day, his mentor walked in. Zuckerberg said “I talked to him.” “Who?” “Bill gates.”
He just called him up and asked.
Be Realistic vs. Be Audacious
The world of business is littered with examples like this. The most successful people in the world are much more accessible than you’d think. Successful people had mentors themselves and often want to give back.
You probably don’t want to approach these kinds of mentors until you’ve got some traction. You want your business to be running moderately successfully already. These mentors should help you get to the next level, not help you get your business off the ground.
Start With Your Top 10
Write a list of your top 10 dream mentors. These should be the mentors you’d pick if you could choose any mentors on the planet. Once you’ve written these 10, write out who you know that might know them or know someone who knows them. Make sure to include investors, lawyers and current mentors.
Also write out a list of 10 people who’re “close” to your current network that you might be able to reach out to. For example, perhaps the person who owns the building you work out of is a multi-millionaire and could teach you a lot. You might want to put him on your list.
Be Audacious in Making Contact
Be audacious in making contact with potential mentors. Successful people respect audacity. Don’t assume that just because they’re more successful they won’t give you the time of day. Remember: You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.
Actively seek out mentors that can help take you to the next level, even if they seem unattainable. If you reach out to 10 such mentors, there’s a very good chance you’ll land a couple.
What about Startup Incubators?
One unique form of mentorship that’s open to entrepreneurs is incubators. Incubators combine traditional investing with a streamlined mentoring process to help take beginning entrepreneurs to a successful exit.
What is an incubator? Is incubator mentorship right for you? Let’s take a look.
An incubator is a business coaching program run by a very successful former entrepreneur. Typically, the incubator will provide $10,000 to $30,000 in funding and take between a 2% and a 10% stake in the company.
Once you’re in the incubator program, you’ll have access to their facilities and network. You’ll be able to work out of a shared office for free and take advantage of their in house legal and accounting services.
You’ll start your company at the same time as an entire group of other entrepreneurs. This helps create a sense of team spirit, of taking on a big task together.
In addition to access to the primary mentor, you’ll usually also have access to a whole range of other successful individuals. Incubators might bring in other successful entrepreneurs as mentors or speakers. They might also bring in alumni of the program to talk about their successes and give advice.
The Downsides to Working With an Incubator
There are a few downsides to working with an incubator that you need to be aware of.
First of all, they’re very industry focused. The majority of incubators focus on the tech industry; though there are also incubators for green tech, biotech and industries.
Most incubators are looking for quick equity cashouts. That means that generally speaking, incubators want to help you build out your idea then have your company acquired for a large sum in a short period of time. If you’re looking to build up your company for the long haul, going with an incubator might not be your best bet.
It’s a Very Specific Business Model
Incubators work under a very specific business model. They fund a group of businesses, while expecting a good portion of them not to succeed. The ones that do succeed need to bring in enough revenues to cover the lost investments, as well as the overhead costs of the incubator itself.
If your business fits under the model that the incubator’s looking for, then you’d be hard pressed to find a better mentorship structure. You’ll have access to experts in every realm of business development, from incorporation and getting started to eventually selling your company.
If you don’t want to sell or if you don’t want to run a hyper-accelerated growth company however, then a startup accelerator might not be your cup of tea. Make sure you understand what you’re getting into before you dive into the world of incubators.
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