Mentorship is no longer reserved for in-person 1-on-1 interaction. Today's world is full of free, high-value content that can be accessed on-demand at your fingertips. Mentors can be found at all corners of the Internet in the form of bloggers, podcasters, and YouTubers.

Whether you've met them or not, if you find yourself constantly learning from the advice of someone, by definition they are your mentor--a wise and trusted teacher-- and you are their mentee--a person who is advised, trained, or counseled by a mentor.

Most of my mentors are virtual, many of whom I have never met. I soak up their wisdom through online courses, webinars, newsletters, social media posts, videos, articles, and books.

With the goal of inspiring and equipping curious onlookers, many of today's thought leaders hold little back when it comes to publicly sharing the intimate details of their journey.

It's never been easier to access relevant and helpful information for your business or career, but without a personal connection, the learning can lack accountability or specificity for your unique needs.

How to establish a connection with a virtual mentor

Share your success.

Message your mentor--via email, social media, their personal or company website, or replying to their newsletter--and report the success you've had after applying their teachings to your business or career. This may seem self-centered but there is nothing more satisfying for a mentor than hearing firsthand about the impact their advice is having with their audience.

This may seem self-centered but there is nothing more satisfying for a mentor than hearing firsthand about the impact their advice is having with their audience.

In my experience, mentors have little patience for people who lack initiative and execution. Sharing your success communicates to the mentor that you are a person of action, you value their expertise, and take your personal or professional growth seriously.

The success sharing template can be as simple as this:

Hello,
Big fan of your work.
The strategy you shared about ______ has worked! I recently did ______ which resulted in ______.

The time you invest and the insights you share are propelling my business forward. I am deeply grateful.
Thank you.

How to maintain a connection with a virtual mentor

Share your progress.

Once the connection has been made, periodically (a few times a year) send your mentor an update on your business or career. Keep it simple and succinct with clear analytics. Highlight specifically how their teaching continues to result in your growth.

This may once again seem self-centered, but it's powerful because it puts the ownership on the mentee instead of the mentor. Any great mentor will have limited time so an unprompted message and an informal mentorship relationship can be refreshing.

I believe you should give more than you take in any mentorship role; however it's especially easy for a mentee to take more than they give in a virtual mentorship. That's why I end each mentor message with, "Anything I can help with?" This has kept the channel of communication open and the relationship mutually beneficial.

Over the last year, I have been using these mentorship strategies to strengthen connections with my virtual mentors. I continue to be amazed by how positive and abundant the responses have been. Here are a few additional mentorship benefits that this strategy offers.

Mentor Benefits:

  • Rewarding. Mentor can see how their teaching is paying off.
  • Testimonies. Mentee updates can serve as valuable testimonies for the mentor.
  • Motivation. The passion, excitement, and hustle of the mentee can rub off on the mentor.
  • Independence. The mentorship isn't bound by time, location, or expectations.

Mentee Benefits:

  • Relevance. Become top of mind with high-profile thought leaders.
  • Visibility. Consistent communication opens the door for more collaboration and/or assistance.
  • Gratitude. Provides an outlet to express thanks for the help received.
  • Introspection. The process serves as a good benchmark or reflective exercise for the mentee's business/career.

When it comes to establishing and maintaining a mentorship in today's digital age, there's virtually no excuse.

Published on: Feb 8, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.