Adler and Parker's mentoring relationship is not uncommon. Similar mentoring relationships are forged every day. The results are often a successful enterprise as well as a lifelong friendship.
Anne Donnellon, an associate professor of management at Babson College in Wellesley, Massachusetts, knows firsthand how valuable a mentor can be. Having been a mentor as well as a conduit to other mentors and "mentees," she's seen the value of these relationships in action.
Before beginning your search for a mentor, make a list of the skills and expertise you need, advises Linda Phillips-Jones, principal consultant of The Mentoring Group, a Grass Valley, California, business consulting company. Rather than go off half-cocked, have a personal vision. Make a list of your needs and logical matches. For example, if you need advice on pricing a product, find a mentor who's a comptroller, accountant or CFO. If you want to identify vendors, seek a mentor who's a supplier or distributor. If you need help hiring employees, make a match with a human resources manager or consultant.
"In addition to identifying the skills, knowledge or opportunities you need, think specifically of what a mentor could do to help you achieve your goals," says Phillips-Jones. Ideally, mentors show you how to function on your own.
When you're ready to seek a mentor, invest time and effort into finding the right person. The idea is to find someone who not only has the right credentials, but whom you can work with as well. "There are organizations and community groups that [can help with this]. The SBA, for example, has a program that matches mentors and mentees," says Andrea Silbert, executive director of the Center for Women and Enterprise, a Boston-based educational organization that provides business advice to women. "By doing it yourself, however, you control the whole process."
Don't be embarrassed to knock on doors. Donnellon advises being aggressive about making the appropriate contacts. The good news is plenty of mentors out there are willing to help you launch your enterprise--it's your job to find them and negotiate a time to meet. "Most people are flattered that you deem them a valuable information source, and they [enjoy] helping someone get their business started," says Silbert.
Where do you find mentors? Typically, they're right under your nose. Sometimes they're people you'd least consider, such as relatives, acquaintances, even friends.
Refer again to your list of needs and the kind of help you require, suggests Phillips-Jones. Next to each need, write the names of all the people you know who seem competent in that area. Your list might include your last boss (actually the first person you should approach), past managers (even those in different locations and organizations), and those peers whom you admire, respect and trust.
Don't stop there. "Expand your list," says Phillips-Jones. "Think of anyone who might be helpful, even for a one-time information-sharing exchange."
Although you shouldn't get uptight about approaching people you don't know, you should prepare as if you were facing a job interview. "Find out all you can about the person's work, special interests and interaction style," Phillips-Jones advises. "If you know someone who can put in a good word for you, ask for the favor."
Often, you have no choice but to follow Adler's lead and simply call high-profile candidates who have mentoring potential. Adler took his chances and hoped for the best. He was lucky--out of three contacts, he found the person who met his parameters. "If first tries don't work, find other people and try again," Adler says. "Persistence pays off."
You may be able to meet potential mentors at such business-related events as conventions, trade shows, conferences and networking groups. If you're open and friendly, you never know where you might stumble across someone with mentor qualifications. The more active you are in your industry, the better your chances of meeting valuable contacts who are potential conduits to other people.