Tag Archives: mentor

How To Get A Mentor


Need a Powerful Mentor? Here’s How You Get One

By Minda Zetlin @MindaZetlin


“I would be a success if only I had the right connections.” I’ve heard this complaint over and over. It’s as self-defeating as saying, “I could have had a great business, only I didn’t have any customers.” In both cases, the answer is the same: Go out and get some!

There’s a lot of great advice about how to do just that in Susan Shapiro’s Only as Good as Your Word, a book devoted entirely to mentorship. Shapiro is a poet and memoirist so her mentors are literary types. But her advice about how to make the connections that matter apply just as well to anyone in any career, and especially to aspiring entrepreneurs.

Wish you could enlist the kind of powerful mentors who can help you reach your loftiest goals? You can. Here’s how:

  1. Go where the action is.

Shapiro started life in Michigan, but as soon as she was able, she relocated to New York City, the center of the publishing world. That’s where she met nearly all the mentors who helped her along the way. Admittedly, New York is expensive and Silicon Valley is worse. And even if it were affordable, it might not be feasible for you to move there.


But even if you can’t or don’t want to relocate, look for opportunities to visit the places and events where potential mentors might be. Attend a conference–always a great way to meet all kinds of people–or plan a pleasure trip to a hot location and then ask for a quick meeting while you “happen to be” in town.

  1. Don’t act entitled.

“Don’t assume somebody will assist you out of benevolence or awe, or because you’re so incredibly cool and special,” Shapiro advises. Instead, as she points out, keep in mind that successful people are almost always incredibly busy. Chances are they won’t have time to bother with you unless you make them really like you. So first and foremost, be likable.

  1. Look for personal connections.

Yes, Warren Buffett would probably be a great mentor to have in your corner. But unless you have a personal connection, sending a blind email or letter to Buffett is unlikely to get you very far.


The mentors who are likeliest to help you the most are those that have some personal reason to wish you success. That might be because you have friends or colleagues in common, went to the same schools, come from similar backgrounds or have some other connection. One of Susan Shapiro’s mentors was the late poet Harvey Shapiro–they weren’t related, but she used their shared last name to create a bond.

When you reach out to someone based on a personal connection, make sure you put that information right up front–ideally in the subject line of your email. Start by talking about yourself and your wonderful project and the recipient may not read down to the paragraph about how you were referred by a good friend.

  1. Do a little research.

Before you ask someone for help, learn what you can about him or her. If you can refer to a pet project, book, blog post, or presentation, you’ll start out on your prospective mentor’s good side. A few minutes of searching and perusing social media may tell you that your target is especially interested in saving the rain forest, or has backed a new product, or plays the banjo. Knowing these things may help you connect as a person, and not just someone looking for a favor. And it will show that you’re serious enough to put in some time and effort.

  1. Give before you ask.

Shapiro recalls how an acquaintance called her. She had a new book out and he began by apologizing for having missed her several readings and book party. Then he proceeded to ask her for a valuable contact. She apologized herself and said she was too busy to help him just then. “He might have saved the day by simply saying, ‘I just ordered your book from Amazon. Can’t wait to read it,'” she adds.

If you’re asking advice, introductions, feedback about your business idea, investment or anything else, you should always be looking for ways to give as well. Shapiro advises showing up to events–preferably with friends–bringing gifts, sending congratulations when warranted, and treating for drinks and meals. Donating to your prospective mentor’s favorite charity is always a good idea as well.

  1. Respect your prospective mentor’s time.

“I would love it if you would check out my new app.” I get this kind of email all the time. Even more often, I get a request for an introductory conversation with some executive or other. In each case, it seems like a small and completely reasonable request for my time. In the aggregate, it’s impossible to say yes to everyone, so I generally say no.

This is one reason why meeting prospective mentors at a conference or other event is a great idea–they’re already there so you’re not asking for an extra investment of time. If you can’t do this, then do everything you can to use your target’s time with maximum efficiency. Mention any personal connection right up front, along with full information about your project and the help you’re seeking. If you leave a phone message (which I would never recommend as a first point of contact), include your email address and mobile number for texting. If you send an email, include your phone number in case the recipient would prefer to call.

  1. Flattery will get you everywhere.

Saying how much you liked someone’s book, blog post, or video interview will always get you more attention than if you just ask for a favor. Even from me–though it’s an old PR trick that I’ve long ago recognized to begin a pitch by saying you liked one of my stories, I always do open those emails whereas I don’t open most others. As Shapiro says, “Though I’d usually ignore a total stranger’s request…I answer nice fan letters from anybody who appears sane.”

  1. Start with an easy request.

Don’t make the mistake of asking your prospective mentor to invest/introduce you to a bigwig contact/sit on your advisory board when you first make contact. You want your initial request to be something very easy to say yes to. “Can I send you a little information about my project?” is usually a fairly safe place to start.

  1. Share only relevant information about yourself.

Don’t make the fatal mistake of going on and on about how wonderful you and/or your project are. “One executive I know says if the first lines of the cover letter contain three ‘I’s in a row, the answer is already no,” Shapiro notes.

Yes, you must blow your own horn so that your target understands why spending time on you would be worthwhile. But only include information that’s likely to really matter to him or her. Y Combinator invested in your startup? Definitely mention that. You graduated Phi Beta Kappa? Unless contacting an academic, keep that to yourself.

  1. Don’t brag about your failures.

It’s surprising how many people begin their pitches by saying how many times they’ve been rejected, Shapiro says. Yes, it denotes tenacity which is a good thing. But if you tell people you’ve been rejected 50 times, they will inevitably wonder why that is. Instead, reframe your failures as near misses, or look for the small successes within them. (Maybe your product failed but you did a good job of getting it to market quickly, for instance.)

  1. Look for chances to return the favor.

Any time someone mentors you or does you a favor, keep your eyes open for chances to give back. This might mean promoting product on your blog, promoting their next event on your social media, or even investing in a pet project of theirs.

Another way to pay back is to pay forward–by becoming a valued mentor yourself. No matter who you are, there are people who could benefit from your advice and assistance, whether newcomers to your industry, interns, entry-level employees, or students. So extend yourself because it’s good karma. It’s also unfair to expect to receive if you aren’t willing to give.


“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” – Benjamin Franklin

My #1 Mistake in Life

By Craig Ballantyne

“The first thing I tell anybody who’s going to be doing interviews is homework,” said Barbara Walters about conducting a great interview. “I do so much homework, I know more about the person than he or she does about himself.”

This year I’ve been interviewed on over 50 podcasts. The best interviews, not surprisingly, have followed Barbara’s formula. The best interviewers did their homework, asking personal questions specific to their audience.

Doing homework on me is not hard. I’ve shared many personal stories here at Early To Rise, and in my book, The Perfect Day Formula. It’s easy for an interviewer to draw out my struggles of battling anxiety or my goose-bump-evoking journey of how I came to be the owner of Early To Rise.

Many interviewers have also taken Barbara’s advice of saving the toughest question to the end. That’s when I’m often asked, “Craig, what’s the biggest mistake you have made in your career?”

It’s a question that I can answer quickly and without fail.

My biggest mistake was not hiring a coach earlier in my career.

I made this foolish mistake because I was cheap, stubborn, and thought I was smarter than everyone else. My hubris nearly led to me losing everything. It contributed to my anxiety attacks, caused me a lot of frustration, and fed my jealousy as I watched others in my industry come out of nowhere and surpass me. And they did so because they were not too proud to do what I should have done.

By late 2003, I was making more than enough money from my online business side venture that I could have invested in hiring a mentor. But it wasn’t until 2006 that I finally set aside my ego and hired my first coach. When I did that, his advice helped me make more money and help more people than I had in the entire six years that I was trying to do things all by myself.

I regret going it alone for so long, figuring things out the hard way, and ignoring the easier path to success that had already been blazed before me by potential mentors. As a result, I was not nearly as successful as my friends and colleagues believed. They all thought I was making more money than I was, and I felt ashamed knowing the truth.

Once I smartened up, I quickly added many mentors to my life and my success continued to grow rapidly as a result. These mentors included paid coaches such as Yanik Silver, Dan Kennedy, Tom Venuto, Matt Smith, and Bedros Keuilian.

Having Professional Accountability from a coach is one of my Five Pillars of Success. It is different than just having friends giving you positive social support.

A coach brings you three gifts that a friend or colleague cannot.

  1. Expert Advice

  2. Experience from someone that has been there and done that

  3. A level of accountability that accepts NO excuses

Your coach should come highly recommended based on these three traits. They should be able to prove their success through client testimonials. They should have years of experience, and a ‘stern-but-loving-parent’ approach to accountability. If they become more of a buddy and stop holding you accountable, you’ll never get the full benefits of their experience and expert advice.

Seth Godin agrees.

“Mentorship works for two reasons,” Godin said. “Certainly, the person being mentored gains from advice and counsel and access to others via introductions, etc. But mostly, it works because the person with a mentor has a responsibility to stand up and actually get moving. The only way to repay your mentor is by showing the guts it takes to grow and to matter.

“Interesting to note, then, that the primary driver of mentor benefit has nothing to do with the mentor herself, nothing beyond the feeling of obligation the student feels to the teacher. Whether or not the mentor does anything, this obligation delivers benefits.”

When I hired my first mentor, Tom Venuto, I was in the midst of struggling with my crippling anxiety attacks. Before each of our weekly phone calls, I had to do a few minutes of slow deep breathing and said a little prayer hoping to make it through the entire call without having a full blown panic attack.

I often wanted to skip the calls, but as Seth said, I had the obligation of showing up. Thankfully I did, because with Tom’s expert advice my business rapidly became more successful than I ever expected. Tom’s coaching was also a big reason I was able to overcome my issues with anxiety. Without his help, I don’t know where I’d be today, and frankly I don’t even want to think about it.

So if you’re struggling, the best advice I can give you is to stop being so stubborn and go get a mentor. Hire a coach today. Find one that has achieved what you want to achieve in life, and that shares your morals and ethics, and find a way to work with them. This changed my life and it will change yours for the better, too.

It’s been 10 years since I hired my first coach. And since that time I’ve come to believe this old saying is true:

“When the student is ready the teacher will appear.”

You are ready. And I am here.

Don’t wait any longer.