This article originally appeared in www.businesscollective.com.
While many people decide to wing it and learn the hard way when building their business, trust me when I say having a mentor in the form of somebody much more experienced and knowledgeable than you can drastically increase your likelihood and rate of success.
That said, having a mentor is good — but having the right mentor is incredible.
When you’re putting together a list of prospective successful people to approach with the intention or hope of starting a relationship like this, do your research. Make it a point to be sure you’ve clearly targeted the specific people you’d like to learn from. Here are five simple things to look for to help you find the right mentor:
- Look for someone dominating an industry you’re passionate about. If I were an aspiring tech entrepreneur, I may be able to learn some things from a successful real estate entrepreneur — but not nearly as much as I’d learn from somebody who is crushing tech. This seems obvious, but many people settle for a successful person they already know. And while their advice is likely sound in their own industry, it may not always be applicable to yours.
- Look for someone with a similar upbringing or situation. If I were coming from a poor family, I would learn much more from a fellow entrepreneur who also came from a similar scenario than from one who came from money. Their experiences and the lessons they learned and can then impart to me will likely guide me through experiences I’m currently having or am about to have. At the very least, try to find parallels between their situation and yours to learn in a context that’s most helpful.
- Look for someone who has seen both success and failure. Many entrepreneurs have failed at things before, some on a grand scale. While this isn’t sexy when you’re a newbie, you have no idea how much more powerful this person’s advice will be — especially if they bounced back afterward. While this isn’t a necessity in a great mentor, it’s certainly a huge bonus.
- Don’t target a huge celebrity. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing inherently bad about a celebrity’s advice or guidance. However, people who are very much in the public eye are constantly inundated with questions just like yours, and the persistence it would take to stand out from the crowd early on in your journey could be perceived negatively. If you’re going to try this, you’ll need to build significant traction prior to attempting it so your accomplishments — not your persistence — make you stand out enough to be noticed.
- Look for someone you highly respect. No matter who you target, go after people you really respect. How much do you think you’re capable of learning from somebody you don’t respect? How enthusiastic do you think you’ll be to demonstrate to this person that you’re enacting their advice? Make sure you respect a prospective mentor enough to know that you’ll be excited to totally knock their socks off.
Even if you never actually establish a mentor-type relationship with them, you’ll still benefit from closely following and learning from their decisions and their advice you find elsewhere — but if you follow these five simple tips, the mentor you land will be a lot more beneficial for you.
–written by Travis Steffen
Travis Steffen is a serial entrepreneur with multiple successful exits. He is currently the founder of Upshare, the industry leader in viral marketing tools. He also teaches about all things viral marketing along with his panda superhero sidekick, Growth Panda, over at Viral Hero. Follow him on twitter @TravisSteffen.
BusinessCollective, launched in partnership with Citi, is a virtual mentorship program powered by North America’s most ambitious young thought leaders, entrepreneurs, executives, and small business owners.