Finding a mentor is next to impossible.
Strike that, finding an awesome mentor is next to impossible.
It’s easy to find someone who will give bad, impulsive advice, especially at the start of the year when you begin working on the adventure that is 2012.
But, in order to find an awesome mentor, you’ve got to do some legwork. Like I tell my friends who want to be married but refuse to date, the person you’re looking for very rarely delivers a pizza to your living room where you are waiting.
There are a million ways to look for a mentor, but the one I want to talk about today is email. Chances are, at some point, you’ll send an email to a potential mentor. And when you do, there are three very critical things you should never say in that email.
1. “Do you have any advice?”
Wait, I thought we were looking for a mentor? Isn’t advice what we’re seeking? It is, but not via an email, especially in one of your first emails. When you ask a broad, lazily defined question like, “Do you have any advice about business?” you dramatically reduce the odds of the mentor ever emailing you back. How in the world is he or she supposed to answer that question? Do they have any advice on business? There are 92.3 million results if you Google the phrase “business advice.” Which one of those should the mentor cover in the reply? Instead of asking for advice, ask one very specific question. “Do you have a copyright lawyer you could recommend to me in Alpharetta, GA?” You’re much more likely to get an answer to that, and hopefully the door will be open for you to ask other questions down the road.
2. “I’m sorry my email ended up being so long.”
No you’re not, or you would have made it shorter. Chances are, your potential mentor won’t even see this sentence because they stopped reading a long time ago. Instead of saying you’re sorry, just fix the problem before you actually send the email. Keep your emails to mentors incredibly short and to the point. Unless you’re trying to meet with one of those mentors who is wildly successful, but somehow blessed with huge amounts of time to tuck into a long missive from a stranger, go short. If you can, try to stick to under 200 words.
3. “That doesn’t work for me.”
A friend taught me a really important lesson about mentoring a few years ago. He’s highly accomplished in his industry and gets lots of requests from people who want his advice. Since he’s busy, if he’s able to meet, he makes it an early breakfast that is close to his office. Often, people respond to him, “That doesn’t work for me, can we make it 7 a.m. instead of 6 a.m. and on the other side of town?” My friend always tells those people no. Why? Because, if someone seeking a mentor is not willing to pay the price of getting up a little early, chances are they wouldn’t have acted on his advice anyway. Nothing tells a mentor, “I’m not really that interested in hearing what you have to say,” like being inflexible on when you can meet. If a mentor says, “Let’s grab breakfast at 5:30AM at a diner near my office,” your response should be “yes.” Unless you don’t really want to meet with them.
Those are my three tips.
One question. Keep it short. Be flexible.
How about you?
Have you ever contacted a mentor via email and had some success? What would you recommend?