Mentorship can help both new and established small business owners move on to the next step in their careers. Who better to help you get to the place you need to go than someone who’s already there? Mentors can help you move past a plateau, expose you to new clients, and generally help you get your foot in the door (and sometimes even help you step through). The key is finding the one that suits you and your career objectives and that means taking steps to plan for what you want out of the relationship.
Do your Research
When looking for a mentor, FreelanceSwitch advises that it’s important to do your homework. That means that you’ll need to find out the answers to “newbie questions” on your own. Have a specific list of questions that you can draw from and make sure to tailor them to the mentor’s background; there’s nothing worse than wasting your time asking questions that a quick Google search can answer.
Respect His/Her Time
USAToday recommends taking it slow when proposing a mentorship: “You wouldn’t propose marriage on the first date, and you shouldn’t ask someone to be your mentor upfront.” Instead, write a polite email or send a courteous phone call asking for specific time-and-place advice. Don’t call at inappropriate hours or pester them for contacts or job leads. Ideally you want to try to let the relationship grow organically. Moreover, remember that you’re the one responsible for making the mentor pairing work. For every meeting, phone call, or e-mail, prepare a specific objective. Ask yourself: What you want to know, why, and when?
Offer Your Help
Remember: mentoring isn’t just a one-way street. As Kristin Fischer writes “when asking a copywriter to become a mentor, it’s best to have some kind of relationship with him/her first. “If you’re looking to offer your services to a mentor or another person in your industry, you’ve got to tell them why they can trust you with their name.” In fact, when first approaching someone for possible mentorship, you should send samples and background information about yourself beforehand in case they do happen to request your help on a project at some point in the future.
Identify Your Goals and Needs
It’s important to know what your want out of a mentor before you begin closing in on one. Brazen Careerist says: “Before reaching out to potential mentors, create a mission statement for yourself that defines why you need mentorship. Make sure that your mission is clear during your exchanges with these people.” Some helpful ideas for goals include: help identifying client leads, learning how to break into a very niche industry, learning about the most cost-effective types of credentials to pursue, etc. Make sure to carefully look over your chosen mentor’s blog or personal website for answers to questions you may have in mind, as well.
Career advice guru Karen Burns writes that it’s important to be independent of your mentor. “Many mentors derive pleasure from ‘molding’ someone in their own images—great for them and great for you if you want to be molded. But beware of mentors who are too bossy, controlling, or judgmental. This is your path, not theirs.” Accept advice freely, but avoid turning into a sponge. Be as critical as you can without being dismissive, and don’t blindly obey everything your mentor tells you; think for yourself.
Professional career coach Adele Steele, PhD, says that people might needs more than one mentor to “fit various needs.” For example, “one might be a sounding board in times of crisis, while another might sit down with you to map out your next five career moves.” Diversifying your mentor relationships will help you maximize your areas of expertise.