Everybody could benefit from the helpful guidance of a mentor. Whether you're searching for an industry pro to bounce ideas off of or simply looking for someone open to sharing general business advice, it's never a bad idea to widen the scope of your current network by directly seeking out those you admire professionally.
The question is, "How do you make their acquaintance in the first place?" Try one or more of the following:
1. Don't be just another face in the crowd. If someone you admire is scheduled to speak at an event or conference near you, you're in luck. But before you attend, do your research. Find out as much as you can about the talk's focus. Take steps to learn more about the topic so that you're fully prepared to ask an intelligent question during the Q&A portion of the event. If it feels natural, consider lingering afterward for a post-presentation chat. Do be conscious of your potential mentor's time, though; let them leave if they're eyeing the door. Afterward, solidify the connection by paying a visit to their most-frequented social network and thank them or possibly add depth to your earlier discussion.
2. Meet up with a mission by networking actively. Joining a networking group can be painful if nobody in the group is in a line of work remotely similar to your own, or if—as is often the case—most of the attendees are as green as you are. That's why you need to try out a bunch of different groups before you settle on one or two. Websites like Meetup.com and Eventbrite.com are great places to start. When you find yourself surrounded by people who are smarter than you—or who are at least more experienced—then you know you're in the right place. Once you've done that, make it your mission to talk to the one or two most interesting people in the room and exchange cards with them.
3. Get engaged—online. Seek out business professionals who make good use of their blog, Facebook page or Twitter account. If your mentor-to-be shows lots of activity online, there's a chance they'll be open to interacting with you, at least virtually. Try to find two to three voices in your industry who truly inspire you. Then it's simple; subscribe to their feeds and read what they write. Once you know more about them, get ready to engage them. You want to catch your prospective mentor's attention, but not bother, or worse, bore them. Therefore, find an opportunity to provide value. If they pose questions or hold contests, that's your cue to jump in. If they're looking for recommendations for great iPhone app developers and you happen to know the best, get that information to them quickly. Keep your eye out for patterns: Perhaps your would-be-mentor answers @replies on Twitter but rarely responds to Facebook comments, or always gets back to blog-post feedback but isn't so speedy when managing email correspondence with strangers (including you). Don't get discouraged when a reply isn't received. Decide which medium works best.
4. Be ready to meet your mentor whenever or wherever. By this, I mean be open to chance meetings. Stop wearing sweats to the airport, brush your hair before hitting the farmers market, and file your nails before that midnight movie. Sometimes, the most random encounters can turn into budding business relationships. For instance, while waiting for a flight recently, I met a potential fruit supplier for my company. He lives in Ecuador, I'm in California, and we happened to bump into each other in a Costa Rican airport on the way to different destinations. We passed the time chatting about our businesses and are now in touch over email. He has already given me a lot of great advice and broadened my perspective on a couple of matters. Mentors can pop up anywhere.
5. Notify your network that you're on the hunt. When looking for an adviser, don't forget to keep tabs on what's happening in your immediate circle. Oftentimes, family and friends can offer sound professional advice. Even if they aren't able to help you themselves, they may know someone who can. Don't be afraid to let those close to you know that you are on the hunt for someone who can guide you in your career. Your loved ones are the people happiest to see you succeed, and are often eager to connect you with others who can assist you on your journey. Make sure to tap into the potentially excellent source of guidance that's in your own backyard.
Amanda Congdon (www.amandacongdon.com) is a California based on-camera personality, new media pioneer and healthy food entrepreneur. She has produced and hosted many web and mobile TV projects: Amanda Across America, Rocketboom, and Sometimesdaily. Her show, AC on ABC, made Amanda the first video blogger for a major network, ABC News. Amanda's career has been documented in The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, NPR, CNN, MSNBC, PBS, The CBS Evening News, The Washington Post, The LA Times, The Hollywood Reporter, WIRED, People Magazine, Interview Magazine, Cosmopolitan Magazine, and on countless blogs. She is currently Co-founder and Director of Operations at Vegan Mario’s™ Organic Kitchen.
The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only nonprofit organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. The YEC leads #FixYoungAmerica, a solutions-based movement that aims to end youth unemployment and put young Americans back to work.