Mind Your Mentors Learn from those who've been there before. Here are five steps to inspire a small biz guru to be your guide.

By Romanus Wolter

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

When faced with a challenging business situation, how many timeshave you thought "I wish I didn't have to figure this outalone-I need an expert's opinion!" Problems presentthemselves at unpredictable times and bring new questions: Whatshould my next business goal be? What step should I take next? Whatis the best way to increase my sales?

To succeed, you don't need quick fixes. You need someone whounderstands your goals, acts as a sounding board and providespersonal guidance-a mentor.

How can you inspire someone to mentor you? First, acknowledgethe fact that you need help. Then tap into others' expertiseby:

1. Defining your unique challenge: As a business owner,there are probably a number of challenges you face. Clearly defineyour greatest one so you can discover the person with the rightskills to help.

2. Identifying the right person to help: Decide on anexpert whose advice you want and whom you respect. A mentordoesn't have to be an authority-but he or she must haveexperience in your field of business. Look to people you meet everyday. A colleague, a member of a professional organization or analumnus from your school may be great candidates.

3. Making an appointment with your potential mentor: Mostpeople are flattered to be asked to be a mentor and feel animmediate inner sense of pride. Mentors are busy, so invite them tocoffee or lunch, and tell them your request. Clearly state yourgoals and their expected time commitment. Listen to their needs,and develop a plan that works for both of you.

4. Asking "bite-size" questions: When askingfor help, tell your mentor your main challenge and the actionsyou've taken to resolve the issue. Avoid asking for too muchinformation; rather, ask a question that can be answered in a fewminutes. Don't ask "How do I develop a better marketingcampaign?" Instead, simply ask "What are three actionsteps I can take right now to increase customerawareness?"

5. Showing appreciation: Find a unique way to thank yourmentor for his or her help-a simple handwritten note works wonders.Or donate your time to a charity he or she loves. During yourconversation, did your mentor express any of his or her ownchallenges? If so, do some research, and share any tips you learnwith your mentor.

Mentors want to know their advice is productive and thatit's helping you advance toward your goals. So give themupdates on your progress every quarter via e-mail or a quick phonecall. If you let them know you're following their advice,mentors will continue to help. Keep learning, and someday you maybe asked to be a mentor yourself.

Speaker and consultant Romanus Wolter, aka "TheKick Start Guy," is author of Kick Start Your DreamBusiness.

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