You know the value of having a mentor, but do you know how to get one? One thing experts seem to agree on is how not to land a mentor. You can't simply walk up to someone and say, "Will you be my mentor?" like you're an elementary school student asking someone to be your best friend.
You have to allow a mentor-mentee relationship to develop naturally, out of a genuine need.
Mentorship can be crucial to a startup's success. Founders that have help from mentors learn to effectively track their efforts, raise seven times more money, and have 3.5 times better user growth.
But with so many other things on your plate, how do you begin the process of finding the right mentor to help you on your path? These pro networking tips from previous Startup Grind events may help.
A Natural Evolution
As founder of LinkedIn, Reid Hoffman's career advice is sought by business owners around the globe. The rapidly-growing company is a top networking tool for business leaders, who use it for networking, researching job candidates, and brand building. Hoffman believes that mentors are extremely vital to any business owner, but he also believes the connection should be a natural one.
"The way you seek them is through the natural operation of your life," Hoffman says. "Have something that you need advice on. Go to the people who know you and trust you and will refer you to people and say, 'Who are the top one to three people I should meet?'"
But it's important that you describe the specific goal you have in mind in meeting those people. Through getting help with a real issue you're facing, you'll naturally draw the people into your life who can guide and inspire you.
The Right Intros are Gold
When making an introduction, one of the most common mistakes I see is sending an unsolicited email to the prospect and simply copying the person who wants the intro. This has now put the prospect in a possibly awkward position. What if they aren't interested or don't need what the seller is offering? The seller then reaches out and most often the prospect ignores the calls and emails and is a waste of time, and awkward, for all involved.
Lee Blaylock from Who@ says A "double opt in" intro is almost always best. First, have the prospect send you something brief, very brief, that they know will be forwarded to the prospect asking to see if they'd take the call of the seller. Email or call the prospect based on your relationship and relay "the ask." Then, if the prospect says yes, an email to both parties (or call to the seller to set the stage), and including the phone # of the prospect assuming they're ok in giving it out, will ensure that both parties are interested and willing to talk and the seller is given the signal to instigate the call. Both parties will appreciate you going the extra step to ensure a successful intro is done.
Coffee Meetings Work
Jess Whiting from Startup Grind Boise says everyone has time for a quick coffee. If you are looking to grow your network, set a goal of starting with two coffee meetings a week. The most important advice:
Pick One Person and Focus
When attending a networking event, StrategyHack founder Peter Crysdale suggests to pick one person you'd like to stay in touch with and focus on holding a deeper conversation with them. Then make sure to follow up based on the topics of your conversation. In the long run, this method will be so much more valuable than having several 60-second conversations and exchanging business cards.
Seek Out Failures
When looking for a mentor, you'll inevitably be drawn to those who have experienced phenomenal success. However, this can leave out an important group of people who can help you tremendously. Instead, founders should seek out people within their industries who failed at their startups and are now out of the business. By learning what went wrong, these professionals can avoid making the same mistakes themselves.
Privacy-focused search engine DuckDuckGo may be experiencing phenomenal growth since the NSA leaks, but founder Gabriel Weinberg has been working for years to grow his brand. He has been surprised by the number of startup founders who fail to research the history of a particular industry before attempting to tackle it.
According to Harvard Business School, startups often fail because entrepreneurs adopt a single focus on their brand. This research can alleviate some of that risk.
Niche Your Conversation
The best advice I can offer to anyone starting out or already with an established business is to niche down as much as possible and be the "go to" person within that niche. For example, it seems like everyone is in "social media" right now. Instead of just talking about every aspect of social media, choose a specific niche within in it (such as social media tools for business), master it and become the expert. By doing this you can focus your efforts in one specific area, charge a premium for your expertise and have a valuable brand and business in the process. Zac Johnson, Blogging.org
Know Why You're Networking
Know why you're networking and listen to why others are networking. Joe Famalette says the biggest mistake entrepreneurs make at networking events is wasting time. Your attitude with every person you meet should be, how can I help this person and how can this person help me. By putting the other person's needs before your own you will learn more about them. After thoroughly analyzing their motivations, you will know whether this is a person you can help, that can help you, or both.
Focus on Two to Three People
When networking I've always found one of my most helpful tips to be avoid trying to network with everyone and instead find two or three people to focus forming a meaningful connection with. By doing this together with having a list of clear concise goals with each networking interaction, before starting, you avoid losing focus in the moment. Lastly, avoid spending the entire time making it just about you and find out what the other side is hoping to gain from the interaction and if you can't help them introduce them to someone who can or keep your ear open for someone who can. This way your interaction stands out, but don't forget to follow up with everyone about a week later too.
Simple Email Approach
Networking is like a walk in the park, for some people is boring, in the mean time for others is the best thing ever, says Pablo Lascurain from Intrinno. My advice is focus on identifying the people that are easier to approach with something relatable, and try to have an "email kind of conversation." These tend to be easier to approach. Provide a subject upfront to them, if they show any interest, move to a quick intro and deliver your value and what you could help and be helped.
Friendship Before Business
Michael Gasiorek from ThriveTribe suggests, "Networking has as bad a reputation as speed dating, and in large part it's for the same reason: everyone in the room is trying to close the deal in 10 minutes or less. Think about your best business partnerships and largest clients. What percentage of those did you sign with a quick exchange of business cards and a coffee? How many more were partnerships with whom you grew in trust and understanding, with whom you have exchanged advice, who you would call your friends? How have the two different in value? Friends are good for business. They know and trust your skills, they bring you referrals, and they increase your credibility. A good friend is worth multiple clients, which they will often literally bring you. Make friends, not contacts. Not only will business be better, but you'll make networking suck a little less."
Have a Plan
As a founder, your time is precious. It's important to make the most of every networking opportunity. While everyone a founder meets can be useful to building his business, Steve Case of Startup America says to be most successful, an entrepreneur should know exactly what he hopes to accomplish before attending a networking meeting or asking the advice of an associate he admires.
"Especially if you have to cross town or deal with traffic or get on an airplane," Case says, emphasizing the importance of carefully thinking through what your goal is before carving time out of your day. "The only thing you have as an entrepreneur is your time. It's the most valuable asset you have."
Mentors come in a variety of forms, bringing a wide array of benefits to your business. By opening your mind and accepting advice from those who are both successes and failures, as well as your own peers, you'll get the diverse range of information you need to grow and thrive.