Whether you're self-employed or you work for someone else, you're new to business or a seasoned expert, one of the best ways to get ahead in business is to find a mentor. And some highly successful people even have more than one.
What's a mentor?
A mentor is someone who is willing to take you under his or her wing, give you advice and suggestions to help you improve your skills and business acumen, show you how they do something that helps them succeed, and help you reach your goals. He or she is someone who is already skilled, experienced and successful at what you need to learn.
For instance, one of my mentors is Joan Stewart, The Publicity Hound, a former newspaper editor turned publicity guru who is a very successful online entrepreneur. I chose her because she is a few years ahead of me with her Internet success and she has always been willing to help me. She offers excellent feedback on business ideas I'm considering, gives me suggestions about how to improve the idea, sends me resources, reviews my ebooks and newsletters, and provides mental support. I also have several other people in my business sphere who mentor me about other issues in my business. They are all people who have "been there/done that."
A mentor can work with you on an informal or formal basis. Joan helps me on an informal basis, but she also helps others more formally through her paid mentorship program. (Lucky me!) Some companies pair seasoned employees with newer ones to "show them the ropes" and help them succeed. Usually an arrangement like this comes with certain requirements, company policies and some way to evaluate its success.
In her initial one-hour consultation with mentee Michelle Tennant of Wasabi Public Relations, Joan Stewart gave Michelle an idea for her client, a cosmetic dentist. The result? A popular Top 40 radio station in Denver offered the dentist the equivalent of $250,000 in advertising, for free. Wouldn't you like this kind of mentor?
Identifying and recruiting a mentor may seem like a daunting task, but it doesn't have to be.
If you work in a big company, there may be a formal program already set up for you. Here's the route I'd use to find the right mentor if I worked in such a company.
First, I'd ask my boss if there was a formal program within the company and how I could become part of it. If she didn't know of one, then I'd go to the Human Resources department and talk to the human resources manager.
If there was no program, I would have a couple of options. I could try to develop one (which would be an excellent learning experience, as well as a way to showcase my organizational and team-building qualities), or I could create an informal relationship with someone I admired and knew I could learn from within the company.
If I chose to simply find a mentor without creating a whole program, I'd take a look at everyone "above" me in the company. Specifically, I'd want someone who:
- Was at least two levels further up the corporate ladder than I was.
- Was a good, easy-to-understand communicator.
- Was really good at his job.
- Had the confidence of his superiors.
- Was willing to teach me the ropes, and who I could help somewhat, too (perhaps by doing research or writing for him).
- Had mentored others in the past (if possible--I suggest you get a recommendation).
On the other hand, if you're reading this, you may be self-employed. So how do YOU find the right mentor? Here's what I did to find mine (and I believe in having more than one mentor):
- I decided what I needed to learn.
- I watched who was posting on discussion forums and who has authored books or articles on topics I needed to learn.
- I subscribed to their newsletters and visited their websites.
- I checked out the potential mentors -- meaning I tried to learn about their reputation, and I listened to seminars they gave and read books and articles written by my prospective mentors to see how they might help me.
- I looked to see if they had a formal mentoring program in which I could participate.
- I spoke to my prospective mentors to see if they were interested in working with me. (Sometimes I simply ask questions without trying to make it a formal thing, however.)
Should you join a paid mentorship program? It is often well worth the money you invest in yourself when you join a formal mentoring program. Not only will you have the full attention of your mentor on a regular basis, but it will also make you accountable for setting and reaching your goals, and your mentor will be there to give you ideas and help you every step of the way.
And being accountable to someone else for completing my tasks and accomplishing my goals has always helped me! If I know I'll have to tell someone that I made the phone calls, finished the project, or followed up on our previous conversation, I'll be much more likely to do it within the time frame we agreed upon. And when I do each of the steps that my mentor and I discuss, I definitely reach my goals...sometimes faster than a speeding bullet!
Are you ready to reach your goals? Find a volunteer mentor or join a paid mentoring program.
Lois Carter Fay, APR, is a 30-year veteran in the P.R. and marketing field who serves as a mentor for several people, both formally and informally. She produces three marketing ezines, Brainy Tidbits, Brainy Flash, and Success Secrets of Women Entrepreneurs. All are free. She's also the co-author with Jim Wilson of "Sales Success! Strategies for Women," a quick-to-read ebook containing 52 easy-to-implement sales tips. The ezines and ebook are available through her websites.
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