Imagine what it would be like to have the support and backing of your hero, to heed their warnings and benefit from their pearls of wisdom. How much could you achieve if your hero believed in you and your ability? How much action would you take, if they actively encouraged you to push past your comfort zone? How many walls would you leap over if you had some insider knowledge?
What is a mentor and why do you need one?
A Mentor is someone who has achieved the success that you want. Someone who can help lead the way, encourage and push you beyond what you thought you were capable of doing.
Here are some, special powers a mentor can offer you:
- Warn you of things they’ve tried which didn’t work
- Inform you of the things they did which were successful
- Be there to bounce ideas off and have them give you an experienced opinion
- Point out errors in judgment that you may be unable to see
- Push you further than you would stretch on your own
- Ask you the right questions so you can solve your own problems
- Help keep you motivated when things get tough
- Keep you accountable – it’s harder to avoid doing things when someone checks up on you
- Help you network with potential collaborators
All these things could save you time and money and heartache, plus help you raise your game and reach your full potential
Famous mentor relationships.
Yoda was mentor to Luke Skywalker.
Madonna was a mentor to Gwyneth Paltrow.
Stanley Kubrick mentored Steven Spielberg and Tom Cruise.
Bruce Lee mentored Jackie Chan
Someone who has been a good mentor to me is the author and BAFTA Award winning script writer Geoff Thompson. A few years ago, after reading many of Geoff’s fantastic books, I approached him to do an interview, so I could learn more about his creative journey.
Geoff’s knowledge and experience has been invaluable to me and I’ve learned so much from him over the years. You can read our interview with him here: http://paulmontreal.com/geoff-thompson/.
The Problem With Finding A Mentor
So it’s easy for people like us to have mentors because we’re meeting and interviewing interesting people all the time. But it’s going to be impossible for you to get a mentor because you don’t have the contacts and you don’t have much to offer in return, right?
The only thing preventing you from getting one of your heroes as a mentor, is the belief that you can’t. When we’re grinding away towards our goals, but we’re not quite where we want to be yet, it’s easy to think we don’t have anything of value to offer. It’s that lack of self belief which prevents most people putting themselves out there and risking the rejection of a potential mentor.
Time for a reversal of perspective.
Why Your Hero Wants To Mentor You
There are several advantages a mentor gets from nurturing a hard working, ambitious talent…
- Mentoring can be an extremely rewarding experience when the student takes action on your advice and gets results
- It allows the mentor to strengthen their coaching and leadership skills
- It reinforces their expertise and credibility in their industry
- Providing support and guidance to a protégé motivates mentors to live up to and raise their own standards.
A few years ago, one of my friends from University did some design work for me. He did an excellent job and it was a pleasure working with him. A year later I sent him an email to catch up and I was surprised to discover that he was finding it hard to get a graphic design job. This was someone who was extremely talented, hard working and reliable. So I offered to mentor him to fill in the gaps and help him get the great job he deserved.
I gave him some tips on letter writing and email construction and also the mindset you need to foster when contacting anyone in business. He tried this out when submitting his work to a magazine and got an instant result. From his very first email he received a positive response, saying it was the best email they’d ever had and they were happy to feature his work.
With his confidence lifted, he applied for his dream job. I gave him some strategy advice and tips on how to attract attention. I also helped him through three interviews with his dream company. Each time he felt more confident. The company were obviously impressed with him, and at the end of the process they could see what an excellent candidate he was and they offered him the job.
The problem wasn’t a lack of graphic design talent or knowledge. The problem was a lack of marketing skills. He didn’t know how to highlight his achievements and demonstrate his core abilities. He had the attributes the company was looking for, but he didn’t know what they were or how to present them.
As a mentor I was able to quickly and easily help him fill those gaps, but most of all it was a pleasure for me to help a talented person, who was willing to listen and take lots of action. I got as much out of it as he did.
So now you understand that a good student is as important to a mentor, as a mentor is to a student, it’s time to go find your own. You can start the process with 100% confidence that it will be a mutually beneficial relationship, because you’re going to put in 100% effort to being a great protege.
Your Mentor-Getting Plan
You’re going follow this plan to get your own mentor:
- Choose the right mentor to approach
- Play a game you can win
- Write your first letter
- Handle rejection and stick with the process
Choose the right mentor to approach
You may have a number of heroes that you think would be ideal. If not, here are some tips to help you decide.
You want to choose a person who has been where you are now and has overcome the obstacles and problems that you’re experiencing.
The word ‘success’ has different meanings to different people. You may consider success as gaining public recognition, being a master of your craft or being able to demand a large amount of money.
Whatever, your definition of success is, you need to choose a mentor who shares your values and has achieved exactly the success you want to achieve.
Don’t worry about aiming too high; the whole purpose of finding a mentor is to get the very best advice you can.
“Aim for the sky and you’ll reach the ceiling. Aim for the ceiling and you’ll stay on the floor.” – Bill Shankly
When I was studying Fine Art at University, I became interested in Urban Vinyl and I wanted to interview all the top Urban Vinyl artists to find out more about the industry. I researched online and found the top 10 players in the whole industry and contacted each one. I used this process and to my surprise every single one replied and agreed to do the interview.
Play a game you can win
Contacting someone who is successful takes time and patience. You have to understand and appreciate successful people are in demand. They have lots of people wanting their time and attention and they can be deeply involved in work projects for months at a time.
I’d recommend you choose at the very least 4 people you would like to be your mentor. (If you think 4 is a lot, consider that we spend at least half of our week seeking council from potential mentors!) Whether you pick 4 or 14 potential mentors you’ll still have to put in 100% effort with each one. As long as you follow that rule, the more people you contact the better chance you ultimately have of getting someone to say yes. If you put all your effort into just one person, you’re not giving yourself the best chance of success. There may be many reasons simply out of your control that one person might not be able to mentor you.
Never play a game that you don’t have any chance of winning. Set up the rules, so that with time and effort your success will be inevitable. We never stop reaching out to people whose work and talent we admire.
When you have your list of candidates, be prepared to contact each of them 7-10 times before you get a useful response. This may take several months. I know you need the support and guidance right now, but guess what, nobody cares. Just like planting seeds, you can put it off forever, because you “need” immediate results, or you can start now and reap the benefits in the future. When you do find your mentor, this would have been an extremely wise investment of your time. It could fast track your business or freelance career and open physical and mental doors that have been firmly shut to you.
Planning your campaign
Write a simple plan of how you’re going to communicate with your potential mentors until one or more of them agrees to help you. Then make a note of what action you need to take each week and put it in your calendar. Commit to carrying out the whole plan!
- First contact – hand written introduction letter and sample of work.
- Second contact – follow up letter and second example of my work.
- Third contact – follow up letter with testimonial proving I take action.
- Fourth contact – follow up letter proving I value their time.
- Fifth contact – follow up letter proving their work has inspired mine.
- Etc…Etc.. for at least 10 steps.
Make your letter personal, entice them to read and give you a favorable response. Be creative, use your imagination and have fun with it.
Write your first letter
First of all you need to do some thorough research of your potential mentors and find a way that you can give them something to show that you value them and their time. After all, they aren’t a charity and you aren’t asking them for charity.
We’ve already highlighted some of the benefits a mentor gets from a good student, but you haven’t proven you’re a good student yet. At this stage you must prove you’re not just someone else placing one-sided demands on their time.
There is always a way you can help someone, it just needs some creative thinking, and this is probably something you’re good at.
Here are some examples to get the ball rolling:
- Help promote their latest project or product in the real world. Offer to contact newspapers, magazines and radio stations to get them valuable publicity.
- Offer to manage a Facebook or Twitter page and help them attract new fans. Make intelligent comments on their posts and help spread the work they are already doing.
- Turn up to their trade show or exhibition and ask how you can help out. Find some grunt work and do it with passion.
They earned their success, you must earn their respect
More than anything you must remember that successful people worked damn hard to gain their success. They earned it and they deserve it. If you want a slice of that hard-earned experience, you better be prepared to show them that you value it and back that up by being willing to trade for it.
Other key points to think about when writing your letter:
- Remember, your potential mentor’s time is valuable so you need to get to the point as soon as possible. You can add additional info after you’ve made your purpose clear.
- Start the letter with a strong reason for them to continue reading it.Tell them how they will benefit and what you can offer them, then go into what you would like in return.
- Be specific about what you want – for example, to be able to email them once a month with a single question, and include your first question.
- Don’t ask for the earth before your potential mentors know you. You want this to be a long term relationship that lasts and grows.
It’s also beneficial to make it clear why you are an ideal candidate for them to mentor.
- How committed you are.
- How willing you are to take action on their advice.
- How ambitious you are.
- Point out your past achievements.
- If you have testimonials or feedback from clients or previous employers include these, if you’re straight out of college then contact some of your tutors and see if they are willing to provide you with character testimonials. These only have to be one liners, something brief and to the point.
Treat this project as though you’re interviewing for a job. Imagine their time is money and you need to show them why you deserve it and how the thing you are offering them is a fair exchange.
Handle rejection and stick with the process
Once you’ve sent your first letter (and it’s far better to hand write and post a personal letter if you can) don’t expect an instant response. If you get one, that’s wonderful, but don’t be surprised if you don’t. It’s nothing personal. There could be many reasons why they haven’t responded. They are too busy. Their staff haven’t passed it on to them yet. They’re out of the country. Or more importantly – you didn’t convince them enough yet!
Many people will ignore the first letter, just because it filters out 99% of lazy folk who aren’t really committed. And their brain won’t even start to see your communications in a meaningful way until the 3rd hit. So keep at it.
You’re going to keep contacting them with interesting letters until you get a response.
The biggest mistake people make is taking it personally when they don’t get an instant reply. And with each apparent rejection getting angrier with their would be mentor. Demanding to know why they haven’t written back. Or changing the tone of their letters from confident to needy.
So make sure each letter maintains a positive vibe and you add new information about the things you’ve been doing since the last letter.
Time to put it into action
Remember, most people will send just one letter to one potential mentor before they lose confidence, lose interest and give up completely. But this isn’t you. I already know you’re ambitious and committed. Most people won’t even have made it to the end of this article. After reading the first couple of paragraphs and looking at the pictures, they’ve decided this all sounds like far too much hard work and they’re now looking for the next short cut to success.
But that’s good news for you, because you now have information that they don’t. Picture yourself 6 months in the future, after you’ve made the choice to put in that little bit of effort each week, and you now have your own personal mastermind group of super successful high-achievers.
Can you picture it? Good, now start the ball rolling and let us know in the comments who you’re committed to getting on your team.
“You don’t have to be great to get started, but you have to get started to be great.”- Les Brown
Article by Angel Greenham. Edit by Paul Montreal. Illustrations by Karl Mountford.