Learning from experience is not a strictly human habit. Scientists have documented ‘mentoring’ in the animal kingdom in many different kinds of species.
Young mongooses find adult male mentors to teach them how to crack open food like eggs and rhinoceros beetles.
Cheetah cubs learn how to hunt from their mother. Initially she brings them dead prey and they practice attacking it before they eat it.
As they get older, though, the mother starts bringing back live hares and gazelles so they can practice chasing and catching them. And ultimately eat them.
(Hey, I never said it wasn’t a cruel world.)
We all need this kind of guidance. Real world, need-to-know, blood and guts stuff. Education– especially business education – cannot just be gleaned from books. Or videos or webinars.
Some lessons can only be learned from experience. Anyone’s experience!
You don’t have to make mistakes yourself to learn from them. You can learn from other, more experienced business people.
You can learn from a wise, generous, helpful, concerned mentor. They’re out there.
Let’s talk about who would make an ideal mentor, where you might find them and how to get the most out of the relationship. It’s easier than you think. Allow me to spell it out for you. Literally.
M is for Matching
While it’s not imperative you find a mentor who does exactly what you do, you should try to make sure something about your experiences align.
If you can’t find someone in your specific industry, try to find someone who’s succeeded in a company your size or who either has a role or has a had a role similar to yours.
Your pow-wows will have a lot less impact on your decision-making if you two are constantly saying “Well, I don’t know if this helps because remember that my experience is much more in the XYZ realm.”
You need someone who is going to get where you have been, where you are now, and where you want to eventually be.
E is for Excuses
Stop with them, already. I don’t care how much money you make, how successful you think you are, how you think there is nothing left to be learned.
There are two kinds of people can’t benefit from having a business mentor in their life. People who hate money and dead people.
Are you either of those? Didn’t think so. Get a mentor! It’s statistically proven to help both of you.
Forbes reported that “Both mentors and mentees were approximately 20% more likely to get a raise than people who did not participate in the mentoring program.”
And yes, Entrepreneur Person, that applies to you more than you think. Even though you may not be working within a company and the concept of a “raise” doesn’t apply, plenty else does.
That statistic speaks volumes about how much engaging in a mentor/mentee relationship can help everyone involved. It’s statistically undeniable.
So put your ego aside and make finding a mentor a real priority.
N is for Network
As in… expand yours. Networking is smart for a million business reasons.
By networking, you get to trade ideas with peers and make a lot of new, possibly lucrative new partnerships and relationships. But networking can also help you find your new mentor.
Take this opportunity to expand your network and find new potential mentor candidates. Join a few local associations, attend some Chamber of Commerce events, scour LinkedIn and MeetUp.com for relevant groups.
Join them all. Show up, shake hands and make new connections.
You never know who among these new groups could end up being your priceless mentor!
T is for Time
Be very cognizant and respectful of your mentor’s time. If you’re lucky enough to network with, identify a good match and get someone great agreeing to mentor you…don’t blow it.
Don’t demand too much of their time and make them regret it.
Let them dictate the terms of your relationship as much as possible. Ask them how often it’s convenient to meet for lunch. (And you always pay!)
Don’t write them an endless flurry of emails all day, peppering them with questions that they’ll feel obligated to return.
(Or worse, don’t write them big long emails that they’re required to slog through after hours when all they want to do is watch Netflix with their family.)
And for Pete’s sake, do not ask them to actually do any of your work! Sending a quick “hey I’m thinking of making this decision but I wanted to get your yay/nay take first” is fine.
Sending them a spreadsheet and asking them to help you create a business plan around is it not.
Be grateful they are spending any time on your success. Grateful and brief.
O is for Open
I know it’s tempting to want to look as successful and put together as possible to your mentor.
I mean, you obviously wouldn’t have chosen that person if you didn’t respect them and we tend to want to impress the people we respect.
Yet in order to get the absolute most out of the relationship with your mentor, you must share everything. Good, bad, embarrassing.
It’s similar to talking to your doctor. Your mentor can’t truly help you if you aren’t truly honest.
Being upfront about your failures to your mentor will help her advise you on how to avoid them next time.
We’ve all made bad calls time and again and have fallen on our face as a result. Your mentor cannot only help you learn from your past mistakes but she can help you avoid future ones.
R is for Reciprocate
One of the best ways to cement a mentor relationship is to give back to it.
If your mentor is sharing his wisdom about sales, marketing or some other business advice, there is probably a way to give back to him in some other way.
Is he bad at tech? Help him set up his phone so it’s more efficient and useful. Are you great a graphics? Help him rebrand his business. Logo, website, anything he needs.
Do you have a mentor? Why or why not? If the answer is no, why don’t you have one by now? What is the #1 thing you would most like a mentor’s help with? How did you find your mentor?
Tell me in the comments below!
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