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Starting out in business, sometimes you feel very alone. Wouldn't it be great to know people who've been there, done that and would share their hard-earned knowledge?
They're called mentors, and Barry Farber believes they're absolutely essential to success. "It just makes sense to get feedback and insights from someone who's been there already," says Farber, a national speaker, author and TV host whose Livingston, New Jersey, company, Farber Training Systems Inc., provides sales, management and motivational training.
Farber shares secrets for developing strong mentor relationships in Diamonds Under Pressure: 5 Steps to Turning Adversity Into Success, due out next month from Putnam Berkley.
Business Start-Ups (BSU): What should you look for in a mentor?
Barry Farber: Somebody who sees the skill in you and believes in you--but also gives you the critical feedback that'll help you grow.
Start by looking for people with similar businesses. A mentor could also be a vendor or customer of that business, or someone with connections in the industry. Having diversified mentors gives you more varied feedback. You should have at least five mentors.
BSU: How do you approach potential mentors?
Farber: Do research. Call headquarters and find out who's the top-producing dealer or business in that area. Read magazine articles. Before approaching someone, find out as much as you can about them.
If you don't want to call, write a letter. Suppose you find an article about them. Highlight it and write: "I was very impressed with this article about your company. I'm just starting out in this industry and was wondering if I could ask some advice. I'll follow up with a call on this date," etc.
BSU: Will people really respond?
Farber: I've called all kinds of people--people you might think are so famous and successful they'd never call you back. But most successful people know that giving back to others elevates their own success. When you're sincere and persistent, they'll return your calls. Recognition is the greatest motivator. If you write a letter recognizing someone's success, it's very hard for them not to call back.
BSU: When they return your calls, what do you say?
Farber: There's a saying, "Don't go to the soil with need; go to the soil with seed." Don't just ask for help; find out what will help them. Ask, "What are your challenges? What are your goals?" Then think of ways to bring value to them. That separates you from someone who just comes asking for favors.
BSU: What if you're just starting a business and don't think you have anything to offer?
Farber: Everyone has something to offer. Ask what their needs are. Then go to the bookstore and get a book on that subject. They say, "We're trying to get a new kind of customer." You go get a book on marketing to new customers and send it to them with a handwritten note. I send little cards after phone conversations. Take them to lunch or dinner. Little things go a million miles.
BSU: Should you set up regular meetings? How should the relationship be structured?
Farber: I like to keep it open. Before I meet with them the first time, I'll think of key questions to ask. During the meeting, I ask about their needs and challenges, so I'm not just saying, "What do I do? What do you recommend?"
Often, I get what I need from that one meeting and don't need to call them again. Even if it's someone I want to stay in touch with, I don't ask, "Will you be my mentor?" A relationship has to be built.
Back at my office, I look at my notes about their needs and try to find answers--maybe through another mentor. "By the way, you should call so-and-so." When I team my mentor up with my other mentor, I look like a genius! Both of them benefit, I can call them again and I'm adding value.
Always add value, every contact you have. As you sow, so shall you reap. That's fundamental to success.
Farber Training Systems Inc., 66 E. Sherbrooke Pkwy., Livingston, NJ 07039, (973) 535-9400.