Because I am dedicated to serving small, independent and start-up business owners, I receive a lot of questions about how to find mentors. Most of the time, the people who ask about this are looking for me to suggest people who can encourage and guide them on their small business journey. Also most of the time, they are looking for someone who can do that without any compensation. I shared my thoughts on this with a small business owner last week. She told me that my insights were helpful so I'm sharing them with you.
The act of managing a business takes you from the highest heights to the lowest lows, so we must surround ourselves with people who can inspire, encourage and offer words of wisdom. We must surround ourselves with mentors. Here are some of the pointers I can offer in this regard.
Mentors Are All Around Us. Mentors, both living and deceased, are all around us. I watch experienced business owners constantly. If they are no longer living, I read books and articles about how they overcame obstacles to be successful.
If they are living, I follow them like a hungry bear. I look at what they do and what they don't do. I read their blogs and newsletters to see what works and what doesn't work. I watch their Twitter streams to see what they do that I can also do. I go to networking events where they can be found.
I write about them in my blog. I post comments to their blogs. I tell my friends and colleagues about the wonderful things I see them doing. I have never met most of these people, yet they are my mentors because I watch and learn from them.
Much of what we need is usually already at our fingertips. We can select and learn from countless mentors that we never ever meet.
Every successful business owner I know of has several mentors with whom they have never had a single conversation. Taking the initiative to be mentored from afar is a great way to encourage and lead ourselves without spending a dime.
Here are some of my mentors from afar, and links they mentor me from without even knowing it: Martha Stewart, Oprah Winfrey, the late Patricia Harris, Madeleine Albright, Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton, Colin Powell, Julie Aigner-Clark, Carly Fiorina, Andrea Jung, J. Bruce Llewellyn (whom I actually did meet once but didn't know who he was at the time) and Suzy Welch.
- Free One-On-One Resources Are Everywhere. We must look for helpful resources in their own back yards. The US Small Business Administration has offices in every major city where all kinds of free and low cost mentoring, consulting and coaching services are offered.
The Service Corps of Retired Executives also offers free coaching services, and from personal experiences, I can tell you that they are fantastic. Local chambers of commerce and business networking groups that you can find at places like Meetup are also wonderful resources to seek out and put to good use. And let's not forget the endless number of free and low cost teleseminars offered by every imaginable expert and author. (I offer free monthly coaching on the last Wednesday of the month. Yesterday's was fantastic and you can check out next week's scheduled event at my social networking site.)
Further One-On-One Mentoring May Cost You, And Rightly So. I use the heck out of the free resources and long-distance mentors as described above. However, I realize that no one is going to invest many of their resources in me unless I show a willingness to first invest in myself. When I need one-on-one attention and I really want someone to proactively invest in my success, I pay for it in the form of business coaching services.
I have found that this is the most effective way to get someone to focus entirely on me, to the exclusion of everything else, during our time together. We are both accountable to one another and I can count on her to give me her undivided attention because I have paid for it. I consider paying a business coach to be an investment, not an expense.
Yes, it costs money, but it also gets me results — tangible ones that are worth far more than the few hundred dollars (or so) an hour that I pay for them.
Of course there are times when people have invested in me out of the generosity of their hearts. But I have been very careful about how I approached them. I have always done what I could to help myself first before asking for free help. I have also done things to be helpful before I ask someone to help me. And lastly, I have made sure that, however it's termed, our relationship does not produce additional stress or obligations for them.
But mostly, I find out in advance if the person I want to meet with me offers coaching or consulting services (at their blog or website), and then I contact them fully prepared to pay for their time in advance.
Question: What have I left out? What other ways can we find the mentors we need to make our businesses a success?