As a startup founder with no connections, how can I get connected with mentors, investors, and friendly business owners? Originally appeared on Quora: the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.
Mentorship implies some sort of contractual relationship. One individual is designated the mentor, tasked with providing innumerable bits of knowledge, while the other is the mentee—the fortunate recipient of this insight.
But, as I’m sure you’re noticing, this isn’t really the way it works these days.
Everyone is busy. And adding another obligation to an already filled day is a hard ask.
That’s not to say finding mentors, investors, and people willing to help is impossible. You just need to do it the right way.
First, finding the right people can be broken down into 3 steps:
- Identify your field. It might seem a bit obvious, but your mentor should be involved in and successful at your chosen line of work. More importantly, they should have a specific interest in your niche.
- Figure out what you want out of the relationship. Are you looking for a new job? To perfect a new skill? To get feedback on a project you’re working on? Your desired outcome will help to narrow down the list of potential candidates.
- Find the right person for the job. It can be tempting to swing for the fences and try to land the Richard Branson’s of the world. While that’s a great eventual goal, you’ll have more luck right off the bat reaching out to rising stars.
Next, you need to figure out how to get noticed (without just sending a cold email):
1. Use Writing as A Trojan Horse
When Ryan Holiday first met New York Times Best Seller Tucker Max, he was writing for a school newspaper. Holiday wrote a column reviewing Tucker’s website and sent it to him to read over. Over time, a relationship was born.
If you’re a writer that can offer a featured quote in an upcoming publication, that’s great. If not, you can still use writing as the vehicle for an introduction. Start a blog and feature other individuals within your field. Ask if you could interview them and offer to feature their recent book or product. Everyone likes a bit of good press.
2. Volunteer at Relevant Events
Tim Ferriss used volunteering as an opportunity to meet influential individuals when he first moved to San Francisco. He met Jack Canfield, co-author of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series and catalyst of The Four Hour Workweek, through a volunteering event for The Silicon Valley Association of Startup Entrepreneurs (SVASE).
Find an organization or event that could offer you a chance to interact with potential mentors. Many events will even offer you a free ticket for pledging your services for a few hours. Use that time to interact and network with attendees.
3. Actively Engage with Your Potential Mentors
Everyone loves to have their work shared with others. Blog comments and social media interactions are a terrific way to get noticed. Alex Turnbull used both as a way to engage with a list of ‘target’ influencers while building his company’s blog. His method for reaching out is a perfect starting point:
- Follow on Twitter
- Two tweets
- Two blog comments
- Two blog shares
- Personal email
Lastly, put together the perfect ask:
Do Your Background Research
Has your mentor already answered your questions in a blog post? Do they offer consulting or teach a workshop that might answer your question while also giving you hands-on experience? Failing to acknowledge either one of these items shows you didn’t do your homework.
Articulate What You’re Looking For
While potential mentors are often eager to impart their wisdom onto others, they likely won’t spend hours reviewing your business plan. Asking for hours of their time is a quick way to get shot down.
Instead, make it easy for them to say yes. Keep your request simple and to the point. As investor and entrepreneur Brad Feld says, “If you want a response, ask specific questions”.
Bring Something to The Table
You’ve found a mentor and received some priceless wisdom to carry your career to the next level. How can you possibly repay them? Deliver.
Just like coaches love to see their players smash a home run, mentors like to see their mentees hit it out of the park. The best thing you can do is put their advice to work.
Executing on the advice might take a bit of time. What if you want to repay them sooner rather than later? Here are some recommendations:
- Recommend a book you think they might like (Bonus points if it directly relates to your conversation).
- Make an introduction you think they would benefit from. This can be touchy since you don’t want to come off like you’re the one offering advice. I would only go this route if you think the introduction will be really beneficial. Even then, I would ask for permission to make the introduction ahead of time.
- Share their work. This is a common thread throughout: Everyone appreciates having their work shared.
Don’t Be Annoying, But Don’t Be Forgotten
In the past, I’ve built relationships with individuals I consider to be mentors. I asked the right questions, listened to their insight, and executed on their advice. My worst nightmare after all of that? Being forgotten.
There’s a fine line between staying relevant and being annoying. Too many email updates is a surefire way to end the relationship, but too few? Well, you might as well be Joe Schmo on the street.
If someone invested in you enough to impart some advice, they care about what you do with it. The frequency of updates is going to depend on the relationship, but I’ve found that a month is a good timeframe provided you have something to update them on. “Still working on it” doesn’t cut it. Be specific and let them know about big changes you’ve implemented.