If you’re thinking about asking someone to be your mentor, chances are, they’ve been asked before. Successful entrepreneurs are inundated with requests from people vying for their expert advice, but time is a finite resource.
With that in mind, it’s important that you do your homework before asking for their time. Seek out a mentor who would be most qualified to help you with your business challenges (not just an impressive name), and do so in a way that fosters a mutually beneficial mentor-mentee relationship. And don’t approach anyone if you don’t have a clear idea of why you need their help.
Thirteen entrepreneurs from Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) expand on these tips and more below.
1. Respect his or her time.
Entrepreneurs are extremely busy — it’s important to understand that they are approached almost daily with mentorship requests. You need to be realistic about what you want to get out of the relationship. If an entrepreneur agrees to mentor you, understand that you might only receive 15 minutes of his or her time weekly. Be thankful for every second — it’s being carved out of limited free time.--Jonathan Long, Market Domination Media
2. Develop a relationship first.
I’ve found it most effective to develop the relationship over time informally before making it formal. Start with an email asking one or two concise and specific questions and build from there, seeing if the entrepreneur can eventually spare time for a short call or in-person meeting. Make sure they truly feel they can add value to your development to increase the odds of them wanting to continue helping.--Diana Goodwin, AquaMobile Swim School
3. Do your research.
Take the time to research who you are talking to and understand their background and strengths. Also, be very specific about what you are looking for, and how they could provide value, with a specific “ask.” I would also recommend not leading with the mentor request. Request 15 minutes to go for coffee as a start, then establish a rapport with the entrepreneur and learn how you can help each other.--Farzana Nasser, Gallop
4. Don’t ask generic questions.
You can answer almost any question about business with some quality Google searching, so don’t waste someone’s time when you can find the answer on a blog. Instead, show the entrepreneur why she can uniquely help you by asking a specific question, and explain the difference it will make for you or your business.--Fan Bi, Blank Label
5. Prepare an agenda and follow up.
You better bet he or she is busy. Have at least some learning milestones at the outset, prepare an agenda for each meeting and come with solutions to discuss so that I can get to know how you solve problems. You should also take notes and follow through, and be sure to follow up in planning the next meeting. Bonus points if you offer to help me or my company in any way.--Heather McGough, Lean Startup Company
6. Don’t only approach well-known names.
Fame isn’t everything. Understand that sometimes the best mentors aren't the most famous ones. You need an entrepreneur mentor who will get in the trenches with you — look at your product, look at your financials. Sometimes a less well-known entrepreneur who has had a couple of exits will be an excellent resource.--Daniel Lambert, BoardVitals
7. Find a mentor for a specific challenge.
A startup is the sum of many parts: product, marketing, operations, finance, etc. When approaching an entrepreneur about being a mentor, seek out those who can add value to a specific area that you need help with. For example, if your strengths aren’t in marketing or one specific aspect of marketing, seek a mentor who has proven expertise in that area while building their company.--Rahul Varshneya, Arkenea LLC
8. Know what you want to do.
When approaching a potential mentor, make sure to have a clear idea of the direction you would like to go. You should know what you want to do and also have a game plan for how you are going to get there. A mentor is not there to pave the path of success, but only to aid in your journey on the way to the top.--Jayna Cooke, EVENTup
9. Look for someone with ample availability.
The best mentor is one who has time to actually mentor. Some entrepreneurs seek accomplished mentors with long careers in any field, even if it isn't relevant to their venture. Furthermore, availability is crucial, because a mentor who doesn't have the time to mentor is probably not going to be very useful.--Jason Thanh La, Merchant Service Group, LLC & K5 Ventures
10. Make sure the fit is right.
There are many great business leaders, but not all may be relevant to your business and personal goals. Be sure that the person you are looking for brings value to the table in the spaces where you need help the most.--Josh Sprague, Orange Mud
11. Know your “ask.”
First, find a mentor who can help you develop into the entrepreneur you want to become. Once you decide who that is, make sure you can communicate why you are excited to learn specifically from them, and what you are hoping to get out of the relationship.--Shradha Agarwal, ContextMedia
12. Show your worth.
Focus on making yourself as useful to them as possible — or expect to pay them for their time and attention. Once you receive advice from your mentor, let them know that you’ve gone out and put their advice into practice. It’s disheartening to mentor someone and then see them not follow through on what’s been discussed.--Brian David Crane, Caller Smart Inc.
13. Be honest.
Let the person who you are approaching know exactly what you are looking for. In order for this to be a good relationship, you need to disclose what you want to learn from the mentor. This lets the mentor decide if they will be a good fit, if they have time for what you are looking for and so forth. -Phil Laboon, Eyeflow Internet Marketing