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Follow Your Leader

Move forward faster by learning from the experience of a mentor.

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

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

How can you inspire someone to mentor you? First, acknowledge the fact that you need help. Then tap into others' expertise by:

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

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

3. Making an appointment with your potential mentor: Most people are flattered to be asked to be a mentor and feel an immediate inner sense of pride. Mentors are busy, so invite them to coffee or lunch, and tell them your request. Clearly state your goals 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 asking for help, tell your mentor your main challenge and the actions you've taken to resolve the issue. Avoid asking for too much information; rather, ask a question that can be answered in a few minutes. Don't ask "How do I develop a better marketing campaign?" Instead, simply ask "What are three action steps I can take right now to increase customer awareness?"

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

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

Speaker and consultant Romanus Wolter, aka "The Kick Start Guy," is author of Kick Start Your Dream Business. Write to him at

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