I’m sure you’ve read about the many different ways to find a mentor and how the benefits of having a mentor are numerous. They can guide you on those important but tough decisions, offer a new perspective, and inspire you.
But people often make key important mistakes in their search that not only limits them but also makes the potential mentor less likely to engage, especially when trying to grow their business. Here are a few mistakes to avoid when looking for a mentor.
1. Asking instead of being.
“Will you be my mentor?” is probably one of the more dreaded questions. While it may be flattering, it may imply a time commitment that people may not have. It can also be a lot of pressure.
Instead, build a relationship and ask specific questions. If you can do a bit of research and ask a concrete question that is relevant to them and helpful to you, you’re more likely to be heard and answered (plus it shows that you’ve been paying attention).
Be engaging with their work. It’s easier to speak to people when I know they are being genuine about how my work has helped them. However, don’t have expectations on who they are and what they should be to you.
2. Overlooking places you already visit.
This may be a given but engaging with people at places you frequent can open up unexpected doors. The gym, favorite pizza place, your place of worship, or even your niece’s birthday party may all be good places to connect. I recently made several connections with local business leaders at a wine tasting event.
However, be aware of the appropriate time and place to approach. You don’t want to come off as needy or aggressive. Having a natural conversation and letting the topic come up on its own can lead to a much better and more willing connection.
3. Limiting your search to someone older or more experienced than you.
You may have an image of a mentor being a wise, older person who has 25 plus years of experience under their belt. While that is impressive, it isn’t necessarily great for you. They may not be able to relate to the issues that you are experiencing. I’ve personally learned important lessons from my own peers because they were facing similar challenges that I was.
Colleagues who are on a junior level may have excellent insight on consumer demands. Or you may find inspiration from the young couple who opened their second restaurant down the street. Don’t underestimate what people around you are doing. Their insight may be more relevant to you than you realize.
4. Focusing on one person.
No matter how amazing a mentor is, everyone has strengths and weaknesses. A mentor might be great at seeing opportunities but terrible at understanding the financial risks involved. Realizing and understanding that can help you look for the right people for the right tasks.
Perhaps your hairstylist is great at marketing while your local coffee shop owner is great at branding. Building relationships with them can provide a new perspective. They may even be able to connect you to someone else. The point is to build a network of people who can share their lessons and experiences with you.
5. Avoiding distance.
It’s understandable to feel that the relationship between a mentor and mentee is strongest if the people are in the same location. Sure, it may convenient but it is definitely not necessary. In fact, it may be more helpful to have a mentor that is hundreds of miles away. It may be easier for them to schedule a phone call with you rather than having to find a time and place to meet in your city.
They may also be located somewhere that has faced the challenges that you are now meeting. For instance, perhaps they worked with their local officials to get better sidewalks or more parking spaces. They can offer advice on how to connect with your own officials and get the funding for these special projects.
6. Disregarding other channels of communication.
Mentors don’t have to be people you’ve met. I’ve been mentored by books and speeches from people I have never met that sometimes weren’t even in the business world. People can inspire and share some of their best ideas through articles, books, interviews, etc.
It takes time and effort to produce media that can be shared with the public. Often this media contains important lessons that they’ve had to learn. Don’t be afraid to try new mediums like podcasts, especially if you can listen while commuting or going for a daily run.
There is no doubt that a mentor can have a positive impact on you and your business. Mentors are there to teach and share what they’ve discovered. Fortunately, we have technology and resources that allow us to learn and connect with people all over the globe.