I get messages almost daily from people who read my blog and want to meet with me by phone or in-person. As a rule, though, I won’t meet with anyone unless they have interacted with me several times, or they give me a good reason (not just “let’s chat”). I realize this may make me seem snobby or elite, which isn’t my intention.
My intention is to avoid time sucks. I would love to be everyone’s friend, but it isn’t a reality for me at this time. I have work, school, a house, and a family that all need my attention too.
Plus, I realize some people are just out there to use me, and some people are one-hit bloggers who will disappear in 2 months, and some people don’t have that much in common with me, and it’s hard to sort through whom I should spend my time getting to know, especially online.
Six tips to connecting with a mentor
I think anyone with any amount of clout can probably relate to this. So if you want to meet someone you admire, here are six tips on how to make it happen:
Tip #1 – Choose someone local
While the internet holds a vast number of possibilities, at the end of the day my most useful connections are made offline. In my experience, the value of having a local network is at least tenfold the value of a having an online network in terms of job leads, collaboration, and sales opportunities. So it helps to find someone you have a chance of meeting in-person someday.
Maybe you have endless financial resources and “local” for you means anywhere in the US, or anywhere in whatever country you live in. That’s cool. For me it means people in the Chicago area, usually, or people who are deep enough into social media that they will always be attending the big blogging and social media conferences.
Tip #2 – Bring something to the table
Mentors are at the top for a reason; they surrounded themselves with talented people throughout their careers. To get a mentor you need to give him a reason to think that helping you will somehow benefit him. Otherwise, he will not make time to meet with you.
If you can’t think of a good reason to meet with someone, here’s a default: tell him you want a career like his, and that you have questions about how to pursue the same path. It’s probably true to some extent, right?
But then you also have to prove you have the potential to go all the way. Force the person to see himself in you; that’s your in. Because who doesn’t want to help someone that is where he was once?
Your mentor will not want to mentor you if you don’t act on his advice. If he is going to make time for you, he doesn’t want to feel like his efforts are going to waste. Plus, acting on a mentor’s advice is a sign of your deep respect for him and his experience. So stop making excuses or explaining why you can’t. Just do what he says; it did work for him, didn’t it? Mentors hate “can’t.”
But before you act, make sure your mentor is giving you good advice, because that can be a problem too. And if it is, why is this person your mentor still? People can waste your time too, so don’t let them.
Tip #4 – Report back
Once you’ve taken your mentor’s advice, let him know. It shows that you can take direction and it makes him want to keep mentoring you. And then you’ll get more advice. But it’s lame to ask for more advice before you’ve acted on what you’ve already been given.
In fact, don’t report back unless you’ve acted on advice. It makes you go from “interesting mentee” to “wasting my time” very quickly. See point #3.
Tip #5 – Know the difference between a friend and a mentor
Raise your hand if you wish you were friends with Barack Obama. Even most republicans would be all over this; but realistically, you probably won’t ever be friends with Obama by contacting him out of the blue about his policies.
If you want to be friends with someone, don’t ask for advice; instead, invite him to a party, or meet up with him for drinks. And then let it be. Don’t contact him 15 hundred times afterwards for advice. Friendships develop naturally out of common interests and fun; mentor relationships develop professionally. Friendships develop out of mentor relationships too, but usually when the two become equals.
So choose which relationship you actually want before you contact someone, and expect to wait for either the advice or the camaraderie, depending on which you pick.
Tip #6 – Avoid public screw-ups at all costs
This one is by far the most important, because when you ask someone for mentoring or contact information, you are borrowing that person’s brand. Mentors with power are afraid that their mentee will do something stupid and it will reflect poorly on them also.
And honestly, of all these tips, #6 is what worries me most when I collaborate with others. The more power I get, the more guarded I become against these types of requests. And I think about how I’m nowhere near the top, and how people who really are at the top must feel. Do they worry about this too?