Mentorship Is Less Common in Europe. Here's What You Can Do to Find a Mentor.

Follow these rules when approaching a potential mentor.

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By Maria Prohazka


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Most successful entrepreneurs agree on the great value of having a mentor. In the U.S., mentorship has been the norm for decades. But, to my great disappointment and frustration, European and Danish entrepreneurs and successful business people are much more reluctant to enter into a mentor-mentee relationship.

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As a self-taught entrepreneur I've had to learn all aspects of starting and growing a business myself. I soon figured out that to optimize my time and money I also needed to learn from other people's mistakes and successes.

It's still my conviction that the benefits from a mentor relationship can outweigh most schooling, education and even one's own natural ability -- making a meaningful team of mentors rank among one of the most important things I myself have focused on since I started my own creative agency, Levende Streg, seven years ago.

That why I started gathering information about how and where to find mentors -- and how to best reach out to the right people and ask for advice. In the process I've also talked to three prominent Danish entrepreneurs to get their take on mentorship and the unwritten rules on the subject.

Rule 1: Never ask for mentorship -- ask for advice.

Most successful business people are very busy people. And they can't commit to a mentor-mentee relationship before they know who you are, what you stand for -- and how you can be of value to them.

Try seeing it in the light of a dating metaphor: You wouldn't ask your potential new spouse to marry you right away -- you need to go on a few dates before any commitment can be made. It's just the same with mentoring.

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Rule 2: Be specific in your approach.

When approaching a potential mentor, you need to be very specific in your requests. You must ask for advice on a specific topic. And you must make the time factor clear as well. How long will it take for your potential mentor to address and answer your request?

Toke Kruse, a successful Danish entrepreneur, keynote speaker and founder of 10 international businesses, put it this way in an e-mail to me: "If you have a clear agenda, a lot of experienced mentors would be willing to help you. ... [A]pproach that person with a clear agenda in terms of what you would expect from that person, and how often you think you need to meet."

Rule 3: How can you pay?

Normally when you need people to help you and guide you, you'd have some sort of payment method. But, when it comes to mentorship you ask a successful person to commit to giving you their time and advice -- without a monetary fee. And I think that why so many people in Denmark and in EU has difficulties in approaching the subject.

Kruse, who used to live in U.S., explained that, in his experience, most people in Denmark expect to earn money when they work for others. But, when it comes to mentorship the payment is in social currencies -- and that makes mentorship unprofitable money-wise. In contrast, people in San Francisco talked a lot about the "giving back" culture, where you want others to succeed and learn from the mistakes you did yourself.

So, when addressing a potential new mentor in the EU or in Denmark, you need to be very clear on how you can be of value to that person -- not money-wise but with vitality, new stories and a fresh mindset.

Related: What Makes the Nordic Entrepreneurial Environment Different?

Rule 4: Start out with tiny requests.

In the business world, there are unwritten rules as to the size of requests you are entitled to make, when addressing a mentor. And like with a new romantic date, you have to keep your requests small in the beginning.

One of the most useful advice on this topic I got from Jonathan Løw, an entrepreneur, keynote speaker and author, who has started five businesses. He explained it this way to me: "In my The GuruBook I interviewed David Cohen, who shared with me his idea about the different kinds of 'requests' in the business world. [...] A tiny request equals an email response (one or two simple questions in a short email). A small request is an email response (three to five questions in a longer email). A medium-sized request equals a 15-minute phone call. A large request means a 30-minute phone call. And a huge request means a personal meeting."

So, according to Løw, in the beginning when you ask for advice, send the person you're addressing an email with one or two simple questions. Over time, you can make bigger requests.

Rule 5: Always be on the lookout.

When looking for a mentor, you shouldn't look to the most prominent people first. Do some research and see if you already know some skilled business people, who can help you.

Martin Thorborg, a self-taught entrepreneur, keynote speaker and co-founder of a number of big international businesses, handed me this great advice: "I would follow the newspapers and see who they mention, use LinkedIn to find business that are doing well in growth or in areas of expertise that could be beneficial to me. And then I would shoot the person a mail."

Rule 6: Be modest.

So, my conclusion is that the overall key to finding the right mentors seem to be modesty and hard work. A mentor-mentee relationship should not be all about the mentor giving and the mentee on the receiving end. Instead, it should be mutually beneficial for the parties involved.

As Thorborg explained it quite simply to me: "A mentee should show a lot of potential -- and be very humble. ... It would be important that that person could also inspire me in some way!"

Related: Despite High Taxes and Wages, Denmark's Entrepreneurial Spirit Is Strong

Seven simple steps to get started

  1. Check the newspapers and magazines -- especially those that cater to an audience interested in business and entrepreneurship.
  2. Write down names of successful business people mentioned often.
  3. Go to LinkedIn -- and find out if you know someone who knows this person. Don't start out by asking a super entrepreneur to mentor you. Ask someone you know for advice instead.
  4. Create a simple Word document with names of entrepreneurs that seem to have the skills and area of expertise that you lack.
  5. Do proper research on the people on your list. Learn as much as you can about them and write it down.
  6. Narrow the list down to four to five people that seem the most interesting to you.
  7. Contact your prospects by mail.

I also recommend giving a small presentation of yourself and what you have to offer when addressing a mentor. Then state your request. And always start out small -- then build to bigger and bigger requests when you've built a good connection.

Maria Prohazka

Founder and Creative Director of Levende Streg

Maria Prohazka is the founder of Danish creative agency, Levende Streg -- helping companies visualize strategies, dreams and goals. She works with sequential visual storytelling, animation and concept art, and covers most aspects of entrepreneurship, specializing in creativity and visualization.

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