Regardless of where you are in your career or business, you have something to offer and something to learn. Do you reach back and give advice to others who are interested in or new to your industry? Or should you prepare for your next move by seeking the advice of someone that has been there and done that? The answer should be both.
Social media has made it possible to reach out or be introduced to anyone in the business world. In just one tweet of 140 characters or less, you can rub social media elbows with celebrities, millionaires and CEOs. You can join group “hang outs” with almost anyone. Use these tools to your advantage.
Being A Mentor
Don’t wait on the mentee to come to you. Actively seek out someone to impart your knowledge to. The person who needs you may not even know it yet.
Where do you find this person? You can start by asking your friends and family if they know someone who could benefit from a mentor relationship with you. Your alma mater or a local college is another great place find potential mentees. LinkedIn groups and other niche communities on social media are great too, and there are even companies and organizations online specifically for linking mentors and mentees.
If you are reaching out to a stranger via social media, gain all the information you can by observing them for a period of time. Check out what they are “liking,” who they are following and what they are posting. If you decide to move forward, you can set boundaries and terms that suit you. For instance, conversations can take place online only until you are comfortable divulging your personal contact information.
When you are ready, approach this person simply and informally. Introduce yourself briefly and tell them why you would like to mentor them. Give them some background information about yourself to show the connection between what you can offer and what they might need.
Put the ball in their court. Extend the invitation for them to contact you if they have questions. Ask if it is okay if you check in with them from time to time. Frankly, some people may want mentorship but also may not feel comfortable contacting you at first. Your second or third follow-up message may loosen them up.
Mentor relationships are built on trust, respect and admiration. Take this responsibility seriously. It is very important to be realistic and honest about the time you can dedicate to your mentee. Be available when you say you will be, and if you need to cancel plans with them, reschedule as soon as possible. Together, you can decide the frequency, venue and other details of your follow-up sessions.
One crucial thing to remember in this relationship is that a great mentor will empower their mentee to make decisions even if they don’t agree with those decisions. Don’t use your influence to tell your mentee what to do.
Also keep in mind that you can mentor someone of any age. Your mentee could be someone embarking on a new career or business endeavor or re-entering the workforce after an extended break. Don’t be intimidated by mentoring someone older than you. Your knowledge is power and power is ageless.
Being A Mentee
Some mentors will reach out to you and offer assistance, but most will not. People can get caught up in their own projects, and time is limited. But if approached, most people will take the time to give you a word of advice or point you in the right direction. Don’t be shy about asking.
If you are starting a new business venture or career, finding a mentor should be at the very top of your to-do list. This is one of the most important things you can do for yourself. It will save you time, money and headaches.
To be a good mentee, you first need to realize that you do not know everything. Secondly, you must understand that most successful people, whether they admit it or not, received the help or advice of someone else in order to get where they are today. Third, remember that your lessons may not always come from winners. Someone who failed at a venture may still be skilled, knowledgeable and able to warn you about roadblocks and pitfalls.
Some of the same principles that I talked about under “Being a mentor” also apply (in reverse) to finding a mentor. Identify a potential mentor and watch them for a while. When the time is right, make your move. In your approach, you can tell them how and why you admire them (flattery will get you everywhere, but be careful not to scare them by letting them know you have been cyber stalking them). Be brief, but include all of the main points below:
- Tell them who you are. Keep it professional.
- Explain why you contacted them specifically and why you believe they will be a good mentor for you.
- Describe what you need from them (including a time commitment).
- Thank them for taking the time to consider your request.
If your request is accepted, be sure to respect the boundaries and terms you set beforehand. As you go into this partnership, have a plan so that you do not waste valuable time—but leave room in your agenda for open, unplanned conversation too.
Be a great listener and don’t be argumentative, even when you don’t agree with the advice given. And remember, this is your life. The mentor will not give you all of the answers or do the heavy lifting for you. Showing them you are invested in your own life and plan will keep them engaged and wanting to help.
Lastly, remember not to be just a taker. Give. Reach out to your mentor to just say hello, thank you, happy birthday, etc. Even though this is a business relationship, show them you care and appreciate their time.