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 5 simple things to look for to help you find the right mentor:
- Target somebody 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.
- Target somebody 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.
- Target somebody 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.
- Target somebody 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 5 simple tips, the mentor you land will be a lot more beneficial for you.
Travis Steffen is a serial entrepreneur with multiple successful exits and is currently the founder of UP (upshare.co). Travis is one of numerous founders and VCs sharing their insight and advice with other entrepreneurs at MentorMojo -- an entrepreneurial e-learning platform. Follow him on twitter @TravisSteffen.
Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launchedStartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program.