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Monday, June 13, 2011

Getting A Mentor

I had a strategy session with a business start-up owner a few months ago. She was six months into her start-up and needed some ideas during her development stage.

We started on the conversation of getting a mentor. (She wanted to know how I got a mentor that she happened to also admire a lot). She had her eyes on a potential mentor and didn't know how to approach this person.

I told her, "make it personal," advising her to sign up for her prospective mentor's event.

"Your first goal," I tell her, "is to try to talk to her and see if there's even a spark between the two of you. Your second goal, is to try and have some one-on-one time to talk about what you're doing and see if there is a connection."

She sighs on the phone. "What about the money? The events cost a lot and she may want me to pay to talk to her."

I expected this response. The event wasn't so costly at all. Given what was being offered, she was actually getting a deal. "Then you do just that," I tell her. "You can't be a user. You have to show people some interest if you expect them to help you. And if it doesn't work it, worst case scenario is that you would have invested in your start-up's growth."

I found out that she never took that advice. Instead, she sent a letter to this potential mentor, asking for a handout. She never did get a response.

I've managed to get some successful mentors and accomplish some things I'm proud of in my business startups (I mention some in this post Sometimes The Conversation Needs To Go Offline) by following these steps:
Getting A Mentor To Help You

Step One: Stalk your potential mentor at the time most convenient for them. Don't try to call this person when they're busy, interrupt them when they're talking, or pop up at their office. Most business owners attend speaking events, are authors, host their own events, have products for sale, etc. So find them when they're open to talk to the public.

Step Two: Give them a reason to talk to you. Don't expect someone to bend over backwards for you just because you're a start-up. In fact, they may be asking themselves, "who the hell are you?" For example: if they have books for sale, buy one and talk to them while you get an autograph. If they've announced a private event during their speech, sign up for the event.

Step Three: The Good Follow-up. Good follow-up is contacting them with something that adds value to their business. First of all, don't hope that they contact you. You contact them. You're the one who needs help. Some ways you could do this: post a book review to Amazon and send them an email to tell them that you did. Or if you're "popular" online and this potential mentor is still learning the social media circuits, blog about their product or business and send them a link. You could even help them promote a business event online. Better yet, if you've read a book and saw that they didn't have a twitter page up, offer to get one started for them. Bottom line is this: try helping someone first before asking them for help.

Step Four: Communicate To Connect. The connection should be your primary aim. Avoid the empty communication. Too many people have a stage to talk from these days; but not too many people actually do. Trust me, follow these steps and you will really stand out. If someone is going to spend time with you (time that they could be spending on their business), they want to know that there is something there. You know, like a connection. So your job is to stop talking and start connecting. The way you do this is with persistence and patience. Tell this potential mentor why he/she should help you and your start-up. You do this by taking the time to connect: don't just ask, connect.

Step Five: Present. Here's what you do when you talk about your start-up: you have some visuals. Most new business owners think they don't need this. If you're a start-up, you need all the help that you can get and this is one. I have a presentational folder procedure I go over with my clients and I'll give you a shorter version: you could print out your PowerPoint presentations (but make sure the printouts have more details than the actual presentation), or create a presentational CD with your business information on it, or have a three-page presentational folder.

Cheryl Isaac is a personal business strategist to startups who require employees, office space, and online marketing strategies.  She contributes to Forbes here and blogs about Making Business Personal here.  To turn your start-up into an operational business, please contact her for a  strategy session here


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