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Find a Business Mentor -- or Fail Trying The right mentor can connect you with the right tools, experiences and opportunities.

By William Harris Edited by Jessica Thomas

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


Before getting into marketing, I was a nurse. I was always coming up with business ideas, inventions and other ways that I could turn my creativity into something more than just a dream.

I had a very thin connection to Dave Mortensen, global chief executive officer of Anytime Fitness and decided to send him an email asking if I could show him a medical innovation that I'd been working on during my free time.

To my surprise, he agreed to a meeting.

When I went to meet with Dave, I wanted to bring a "gift of appreciation" that would stand out. I remembered that he had been on the TV show, "Secret Millionaire" and I think I remembered that he liked mayonnaise on that show. I brought the global CEO of one of the fastest growing franchises in the world a jar of mayonnaise.

Related: 5 Secrets to Finding and Working With a Mentor

I was way over-dressed in a black suit (almost a tuxedo, it was the only suit I had that fit me) and as I began to present my idea to him, I got so nervous that I blurted out my IQ.

And then I told him not to be intimidated by my IQ.

I'm honestly surprised he even let me stick around in his office past this point.

He patiently listened to my slide presentation. When I finished, he offered to help me out with the legal costs of pursuing a full patent (I only had the provisional patent at the time).

Having someone at his level, take the time to listen to my idea, and even offer to help, gave me the confidence I needed to pursue my dreams. It validated that I really could do whatever I set my mind to if I was willing to put in the hard work. But most importantly, it reminded me that I couldn't do it on my own.

If I wanted to grow my career, I needed to find a good business mentor. I needed to find someone that knew how to get from point A to point B and could connect me with the right tools, experiences and opportunities to make it happen.

Some great business mentors.

It's pretty safe to say that anyone who's ever been successful at anything in life could probably identify at least one or two people, if not more, that have significantly impacted their rate of success. Here are five notable examples that I wasn't aware of.

  1. Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg. Did you know that Steve Jobs, the visionary that made Apple what it is today, gave Mark Zuckerberg advice on how to grow his company, Facebook? Zuckerberg even posted on Facebook after Jobs passed away, "Thanks for showing that what you build can change the world."
  2. Warren Buffet and Bill Gates. Bill Gates has seen his fair share of tough situations as he led Microsoft. He needed to think about success long term, and he credits learning those two things from Warren Buffet.
  3. Suze Orman and Jillian Michaels. Suze Orman was an important mentor for Jillian Michaels, even though they're very different and are involved in entirely different fields. This relationship helped Suze learn -- as can we -- that a mentor doesn't have to make the mentee into a carbon copy of herself. It's really about helping people discover their own path and how to pursue it with the best chance of success.
  4. Michael Bloomberg and William R. Salomon. Bloomberg started out as a trader at the investment bank where Salomon was a managing partner, and he remembers learning the most impactful leadership lessons of his career by watching the way Salomon led. He didn't talk down to Bloomberg but merely set an example in the way he conducted his professional life.
  5. Robert Herjavec and Warner Avis. While Avis was never an official mentor to Herjavec, he still taught him one of the most valuable lessons of his career. He helped Herjavec learn to focus his energy on taking advantage of the opportunities right in front of him instead of trying to create opportunities out of thin air. Rather than getting caught up trying to find the perfect mentor, he suggests those seeking advice simply talk to and ask questions of the leaders around them.

If you're still on the fence about needing a good business mentor, maybe this horror story from Vinnie Fisher, the Founder and CEO of Total CEO, will convince you.

"I was a breakout story from my upbringing and as such I really didn't understand the value of mentorship and coaching. And then things changed. I was in the midst of our hosting company really growing, and we got some interest to sell it for $24 Million. I was so arrogant in my vision and growth plan that I ignored signs of the management team and other operational issues. We ultimately turned down the offer in hopes of doubling the size and value of the company. As a result, the management and operational issues that I missed severely damaged the company, causing us to sell it simply for parts -- a mere fraction of the possible sale."

How to find your perfect mentor.

Finding the perfect mentor isn't easy -- but it's easier than trying to figure everything out for yourself. Don't do what I did. Cold calling someone completely out of your network and bringing them a jar of mayonnaise probably isn't the best method.

This is the framework that I used when I began a relationship with the mentor that really helped me skyrocket my professional life. In fact, this process worked out so well, that my mentor, Sujan Patel, ended up coming out and working with the startup I was growing, essentially training me one on one for several months.

1. Look to someone you know who is successful.

It's unlikely that a cold email is going to lead to a long-term mentoring relationship (I realize that's how I reached out to Dave, but I don't recommend that approach). A successful mentorship requires time invested from both parties. It requires listening. It requires acting. It requires being open, honest, and real with your mentor.

For that reason, you should start by finding someone that's already in your network. As you progress, you can always find a new mentor to take you to the next level. It's rare that only one person is going to teach you everything you need to know about success in life -- so find someone that can help you get to the next level. They will be happy to have played a role in your "graduation" to another mentor.

2. Reach out to your potential mentor.

If you picked the right person in step #1, they likely aren't already bogged down with an inbox full of "mentorship" requests. Regardless, you probably shouldn't send them an email asking them to mentor you. It should be more personal.

Related: What No One Tells You About Seeking A Mentor for Your Startup

Another thing that most mentors get tired of hearing is, "Can I take you to lunch and pick your brain?" If you want them to invest a lot of time in you, you need to stand out from everyone else that's asking them for (almost) free "help."

Ideally, this is someone that you see on a somewhat regular basis. If so -- the best thing you can do is simply walk up to them, tell them that you're impressed with what they've done and that you'd love it if they would be willing to mentor you as you grow your business.

Think about picking up a mentor like you would picking up a date. Be real, be direct abut your intentions, be proactive and don't be creepy. If the person you chose isn't interested, don't continue pestering them.

3. Establish a framework for success.

If you go into this without much thought about how you would structure it, you likely won't get much value from it. You'll end up meeting once or twice, then life will get busy and you'll both go your separate ways.

Figure out the frequency you both are willing to meet -- and then set up a date and time for the first meeting. At the first meet, try to set up a recurring meeting while establishing the time and place.

Also, think about your objectives. What do you want to learn? How will learning that help you be more successful?

4. Give back to others.

Don't be greedy. Your mentor doesn't expect you to pay them for their time, but they likely want you to pay it forward. You don't need to do this one week into your mentorship, but be aware that you might not ever feel like you're ready to "be a mentor." But, the truth is, a few years into this mentorship, and you'll be far ahead of several people in your network -- people that would love for you to share your experiences and knowledge with them, to help them reach the next step in their business success.

Related: Why Entrepreneurs Need Mentors and How to Find Them

You can't help all of them. But be willing to give back to at least one more protege the same what that someone invested in you. The culture of mentorship continues because it works. Don't break the cycle.

5. Don't stop learning.

Keep going. Keep reading, networking, mentoring and being mentored. If you plateau, it's ok to graduate to another mentor. That expectation should be set from the beginning of the relationship.

You can be mentored from dozens of great people in your life. Most people would never claim to have only been mentored by one person. You reach different stages. You develop different goals.

Just remember to keep learning and continue giving that knowledge back to others that are right behind you.

William Harris

Growth Marketer & Entrepreneur

William Harris has been critical to driving growth for multiple startups in ecommerce and SaaS, has helped facilitate both sides of acquisitions, and consults for the CMOs of multi-billion dollar Fortune 1,000 companies — all while running Elumynt, an advertising agency.

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