An Entrepreneur’s Guide for Finding Awesome Mentors

Successful businessmen like Steve Jobs have been notoriously open about the inspiration they derive from powerful historical figures and personal mentors; and it’s common for CEOs and other professionals to meet with advisers for guidance. Any entrepreneur understands the importance of looking to other successful individuals to supplement their own knowledge – to help them see opportunities they may miss on their own – and to overpower their negative thoughts and self doubt with positive thinking.

So whether you just quit your day job to aggressively pursue a startup or you’ve hit a roadblock with an established business, you will also benefit from having at least one good mentor. As a startup ourselves, Transifex knows the importance of learning from other success stories, and shares the following guide for how to identify awesome mentors, and most importantly, how to approach them with class.

Identifying Potential Mentors

While anyone who’s found success in his or her industry can inspire you to work harder, you should select your mentors with great care. One strong mentor is often better than a stable of mediocre mentors. You’ll know you’ve found the perfect match when you come across someone who is:

  • Further along the entrepreneurial track. It’s great to connect with those at your own level or with less experience, but the best mentors have a proven track record from which you can learn and grow. That’s why you’re looking for a mentor in the first place, right?
  • Just as interested in mentoring as you. Mentorship, even if it’s just an in-person meeting once a month, is valuable. However, if you can find a mentor willing to communicate with you more frequently, they can become a sounding board for which you can test new ideas, kill negative thinking, and brainstorm creative solutions to problems. Their willingness and enthusiasm to help is a great motivator for you as well.
  • Not personally invested in your business. All entrepreneurs and business owners get too close to their own problems and struggle to see their brand as it is perceived by customers and competitors. The best mentors aren’t personally invested, and can give you an outside view, delivering valuable insight that you can’t obtain on your own.

Creating a List of Inspirational (and Realistic) Prospects

Start your list by identifying successful people you know in real life who may have mentor potential.  Expand your list by connecting with new people. Attend networking events and start participating in online professional groups. Join local clubs, boards, and organizations dedicated to business-minded individuals and entrepreneurs. Attend seminars and conferences where you may meet others interested in growing their businesses. When someone catches your interest, add them to the list and try to get to know them better.

So, that all sounds great. But how do you find the events that are right for you? Here are a couple great places that can help you find speaking engagements, events, and seminars to attend:

  • Meetup.com – Quickly growing in popularity among professionals, meetup.com is a great resource to connect with like-minded and successful individuals in a wide variety of industries. The company describes itself as, “neighbors getting together to learn something, do something, share something…” and has a large group of active users which means endless networking potential. Another great feature of meetup.com is the ability to create your own meetup, which can be tailored to your specific networking and business goals.
  • Lanyrd.com – Lanyrd.com is a website devoted to professional events, serving as a directory of the top events by state and city, while also offering a library of information including what’s going on at each scheduled event as well as presented slides, video, and podcasts so you have access to information from any conference you attend. And we’re not the only ones who like Lanyard. The company was acquired by one of the largest ticketing and events platforms, Eventbrite, with the goal of providing customers around the globe with the opportunity to network face-to-face, while enhancing the quality of professional events for speakers, attendees, and companies.

For an even more comprehensive list, add well-known businessmen and women, and even celebrities that you find inspiring. You might never have the opportunity to sit down with them personally, but you can attend their professional conferences, read their books, and follow them on social media to form an indirect mentorship. We also love listening to podcasts created specifically for entrepreneurs, which can give listeners unique insight into the backgrounds of successful individuals in a wide range of industries.

Approaching Potential Mentors

Asking a professional to serve as your mentor is a bit like asking the most popular girl in high school to the prom. You know many other entrepreneurs would enjoy working with this person and you know they have a schedule just as packed as yours. You want to convey your genuine interest, but you don’t want to sound needy or make them feel guilty if they aren’t interested. Don’t complicate the situation and select the most natural form of communication for your current relationship. If it’s someone you don’t see in your daily life, you may send them an email message. If you have their phone number and have spoken with them over the phone before, a call may work best. If this is someone you know personally, invite them out to dinner or meet them for coffee.

When speaking to a potential mentor, put all of the following information on the table right from the start so that your potential mentor can determine their level of interest:

  • The reason you have selected them as a potential mentor.
  • The communication channels you are willing to utilize. Do you prefer to meet in person or are you open to Skype, phone conversations, and/or text messaging?
  • How frequently you would like to meet.

You’re more likely to get a yes from someone already familiar with you on some level, so look for opportunities to interact with potential mentors prior to approaching them with your request. You may end up with one golden mentor or a stable of professional friends. But you’ll never know until you step beyond your comfort zone.

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