We’ve all met someone, whether in real life or online, and thought, “I’d love for that person to be my mentor!” Some of us move on it, stalking them on Twitter, filling up their ask.fm, or connecting with them on LinkedIn. And then, we email them with “I love your work. Can you be my mentor?”
Here’s the thing: that’s not how it works. Do you know what your potential mentor is thinking when they read your unsolicited message about them adopting you as their mentee? Read: How To Properly Ask for Business Advice Via Email.
You either get a response that they don’t have time for coffee without you submitting payment, or they just mentally respond “or nah” before they send you to their trash folder. But don’t fret!
The best of the best have all been groomed and mentored by other people. Puffy (or Diddy, or whoever he is today) had Andre Harrell. Oprah had Maya Angelou. Of course you want someone to help you get from point A to point B. Depending on your industry, a cosign from a successful person in the field can rub off on you too. The process of finding the right one, however, is simple, but not easy.
Establish What You Want Out of a Mentor Relationship
Before you even get started, you should check your motivation. Why do you want a mentor? What role will they play in your life? How will they help you professional? Do you have a specific goal in mind, or do you feel like you need all the help you can get? Figuring out your motivation will help you decide whether you need a mentor, or whether you need a coach in a specific area. They are not the same thing.
Identify Potential Mentors and What Draws You to Them
Chances are, you have someone in mind. Write down your dream time of mentors on a piece of paper, and write down why you would want them to choose you as your mentee. Are you impressed with their history? Do you want to work for the same company they work for? Again, you’ve got to know the motivation behind it, because chances are, they will ask you.
Be a Mentee From Afar
If your dream mentor is successful, chances are, they don’t have time to take you on for free. Time is money, ladies and gentlemen, and if you don’t have the coins to hire them in an advisory capacity, or a coaching role, you may want to look into some free options. One way to do this is choose a mentor you will never meet. By that, I mean observe people from afar and take notes. That can be reading books by or about them, and keeping up with their history. Watch how they’re working and learn from that.
Start Within Your Network
Chances are, you have amazing potential mentors within your network already! It can be someone you used to or currently work with, a family friend who is familiar with what you want to do, or just someone in your field who is not quite A-list status, but is at a place where you want to be. These people are much more accessible than the people you wrote down on your dream list, and will have more time to invest in your success.
So with that being said, some well-established and respected business people had some tips to give people who are looking to find mentors.
Tips From Heavy Hitters
Two people who are often asked about mentorship include Lamar Tyler and Stacey Ferguson. Lamar is one half of the Tyler family duo who created the award-winning website Black and Married With Kids. Branching off from their flagship site, Lamar and his wife Ronnie also run Tyler New Media and produce documentaries, as well as speak at conferences about technology and social media.
For those looking for a mentor, Lamar has this advice:
“My best advice is to not come with a generic request for mentorship, but instead, be specific about what you’d like to learn and what you’re seeking. It’s also good to find out what you can give instead of just focusing on what you can take from the relationship. For example, propose an internship where you can learn while you also provide value to the person you’re asking.” – Lamar Tyler of Black and Married with Kids
Stacey Ferguson is a lawyer turned entrepreneur, and founder of the premiere multi-cultural blogging conference for women, Blogalicious. As a consultant and all lifestyle and business powerhouse, Stacey is constantly asked to be the mentor to up and comers. Her solution? Starting a group just for those interested parties. Stacey recently launched a formalized mentee program so that she could make sure the mentees and herself were getting the most out of the relationship. There’s a FB group, monthly Hangout calls and Homework assignments based on the mentee’s goals.
I asked some other amazing people “Let’s say someone has been reading your blog/buying your products/loving your work/watching you from afar for YEARS and they want to be your mentee, what approach can they take that would make you receptive to mentoring them?”
“Mentoring is an intimate relationship and it builds over time. In my experience is being mentored, I have tried to be a good protegee. I asked myself what do I bring to the relationship. With all my amazing mentors, I sought to help thing with things that I may be good at, as a younger person. Every relationship must be a two way street.” – Tayari Jones, creative writing professor and author of Silver Sparrow.
“They can start with publicly supporting your work. Sharing it, dialoguing with you on social media, genuinely showing others that they believe your work to be of value. And then, much later down the line, hit you up and ask if it’s okay to hit you up with questions every now and again about the industry because they find your insight to be valuable.” – Erika Nicole Kendall of A Black Girl’s Guide to Weight Loss
“Before even thinking of finding a mentor, creative folks should be intentional about making connections with other creatives. You can do that through classes…FB groups…by sending notes to your favorite writers…etc. Try to be generous with your knowledge and your support. The point is: Be a part of the creative COMMUNITY. In that way, organic partnerships and mentorships grow.” – Tamara Winfrey Harris, author of The Sisters Are Alright: Changing the Broken Narrative of Black Women in America
So please, delete that draft asking that person to “pick their brain.” Either be willing to invest the money in a coach or advisor, start with the people who are already in your circle, or come correct to the big wigs in your niche by being respectful of their time.
The moral of this story is: Please do not randomly message someone and say “can you be my mentor?” Especially if you have no prior relationship with them. That is the wrong way to do any of this.