If you’re new to the workforce, recently graduating from college, you might be looking for a mentor to help guide you through the uncharted sea, to help you find success early in your voyage. If you’re starting a new business, having a mentor to be a sounding board for your ideas, and to advise you on when you should zig or zag can mean the difference of learning the easy way, through advice and the successes and failures of others, versus the hard way, learning through loss.

When I got started in the digital marketing world, I realized quickly that one of the best ways I could shortcut my way to success would be to find a mentor and use their experience as my starting point. By making my first relationship with a mentor, my success skyrocketed 3-5 years ahead of schedule, since he had gone through a number of problems in his business and could advise me on how to keep my business strong.

I think a mistake people make is to look for a single mentor and to hold onto that person for a long, long time. To let them advise them when you need them, and then once you’re successful, allowing that mentor to continue advising you on something that may not be based on their direct experience. Consider a DIY home-builder. He or she may reach out to a mason to learn how to build the foundation of the house, but that mason has limited knowledge when it comes to, say, wiring the home, or plumbing. It’s at that point that you need to find a mentor for your current questions and roadblocks.

In order to find a mentor, you first need to be clear about the outcome you want.

The goal for your personal success (finding a job in the market), your business success (leveraging relationships with Chinese manufacturers), or fitness related (losing weight, gaining muscle). Have a clear and concise goal. Once you’re clear about what you need help with, tweak the goal to make it audacious. There’s nobody in the world that actively wants to work, for free, with someone who has uninspiring goals. They’re boring. They don’t activate the level of commitment in a mentor because they’re not engaged in the multiplication of their efforts. Said another way, when a mentor gives you a 1-to-1 benefit, just helping you, they are only helping a single person. If your mission is bigger, to do something grandiose, mentors will see that their time with you means the improvement of tens, hundreds or thousands of lives. That’s what makes a mentor want to skip their life of productivity and money-making to help a single person. They want to see something change on a large scale that they can be attributed to.

Here’s an example of a boring goal: “I need a mentor to help me break into the world of corporate consulting.”

The grandiose, inspiring spin on that goal: “I want to find someone that can help me actualize who I am as a problem solver so I can spend more of my highly active years helping organizations grow their bottom line while creating social goods. I want to personally be able to raise $50,000 a year for a charity I believe in, all while improving the success of companies I am inspired by.”

In a way, they are the exact same goal. You could want to break into the job market to become a corporate consultant so that you could work with businesses you support and donate a percentage of your income, but if you weren’t clear about that in your “ask” to a possible mentor, you’re going to look like just another guy.

Successful people inherently want to give back and help others.

Many successful people had mentors themselves, and want to continue the tradition of helping others achieve success. If you plan to approach highly successful individuals, you’ll find that they are approached often. Maybe even weekly, they’re receiving a request for mentorship from someone who is aspiring to have a similar level of success, and they’re turning everyone down. Odds are, without a personal relationship with a possible mentor, you have no chance they’ll accept you and diligently work hard to improve your position in the world.

In order to compete against the dozens of others who are asking your potential mentor for help, you need to display why you’re the better person to invest in. This is why an audacious goal is so important.

Once you have your goal laid out, you need to setup the Law of Reciprocation in your favor. To do this, you must first work to help your potential mentor in a way that they see your value. It’s too common for people to reach out to a potential mentor and say “Give me your time, your experience and access to you regularly and I will give you nothing in return.” This “Gimme Gimme” relationship is exhausting for any mentor. Don’t be the “Gimme Gimme” professional. Instead, help first without asking for reciprocation, then later, when the time is right, you can ask for help.

Let’s say that out of 5 people you’d like to be your mentor, one will say yes, if approached in this manner. You don’t know which person out of those initial five you’ve researched, so you’re playing a bit of a numbers game. Draft your “Dream 5 Mentor” list by:

  1. Identifying your goal or the problem you need to overcome
  2. Creating an audacious, exciting spin on the goal that multiplies your mentors ability to help more than just you
  3. Figuring out who has overcome that problem
  4. Create a list of those people, ranked by relationship and distance from you. Obviously those who live in the same town as you and have relationships with your family are the easiest to build a relationship with yourself.

Take that list of your “Dream 5 Mentors” and find ways you can use your unique talents and strengths to help them. If you’re a digital native, jump onto their website, their social media. Do they have Google Analytics installed? Is their LinkedIn profile up to date? Are they tweeting correctly? Are they using an old version of Google Analyics code? Do they have an opt-in below the fold, reducing their conversions? Can they add some on-page keywords to improve their search engine results ranking?

If you have a specialty, or a better understanding then they do about a particular thing, offer to help them for free. Be sure that they understand there are no strings attached, that you want to see them succeed. Give freely.

This isn’t a sneaky way for you to “trick” someone into seeing that you’re a good person for them to mentor, you’re instead playing the game of “give from your heart and receive what they’re able to give back.” Nothing is owed here.

You’re giving a gift to help them be more successful, and in return, they’ll want to find a way to help you.

Spend a week or two building your list and finding ways to help your Dream 5 list. It shouldn’t take your more than 10-20 minutes to identify something you could do that would help them with their business or missions. Reach out to them and offer the gift freely, telling them explicitly that you are not looking for anything in return… you’re not. You’re just priming the pumps for reciprocity to kick in and increase your chances of them wanting to help you because you helped them.

Once you’re able to do the work and help your Dream 5, provide to them results. Show them what you were able to do. Give them a report on the traffic to their site, increase in SERPs ranking, increased conversion rate, etc. Show them the value you provided. It’s at this point in the conversation with them that you can make your ask.

You’ve freely helped someone you admire and respect, and you’ve shown them that you get work done. You’ve flipped the game to say “here’s some value!” instead of “Gimme Gimme!” You’re now a friend of your possible mentor, someone they respect. Now, all you need to do is ask the question. Create a compelling question based on your audacious goal and position it to your Dream 5 after you’ve given them the results of the work you’ve done.

A conversation could go like this…

Me: … and here’s the results of me moving your optin for your newsletter from the bottom of your website to the top. A 182% increase in people who sign up. Not bad, huh?!
Possible Mentor: Casey, that’s incredible! Thank you for helping, I really appreciate it.
Me: Well John, I just want to see you successful. As I told you when I first reached out to you, I found you because you’re where I want to be. You’ve got the kind of success I’m after, and I am thrilled to have the opportunity to help you.
Possible Mentor: That’s a kind thing to say, Casey. At this rate, you’ll be successful in no time. Is there anything I can do to help you?
Me: Thanks for asking, John. Actually, I do have a problem. Maybe you could point me in the right direction? You see, I have this goal to shortcut the typical roadblocks people my age face when they are getting into corporate consulting. I have a mission to make $150,000 a year in as short of time as possible, and since I’m single, I can be pretty risky. I know I’ll be successful, and I want to use my position to give back to this community I’m working with. In my dream, I want to help for-profit companies grow through social goods, so that their shareholders can increase profits while creating lasting change in their community. Right now, I’m stuck with breaking into the market. I have some processes I’ve defined and taken a few companies through, but I haven’t been able to really break into the Fortune 1000 companies. Is there any advice you can give me?
Possible Mentor: Absolutely. Have you tried…

I’ve had a number of conversations in my life that are like that. All a little different, but all along the same equation: Give, show results, make a small ask. It’s like you’re giving $100 to someone, then later asking them for $5. The time I have taken to improve others businesses versus the time it’s taken them to help me is grossly disproportionate. I might spend 5 hours doing something for someone, then an hour pulling together an effective report. In return, I’m asking them for a single piece of advice to help me solve my current problem, all while enrolling them on my mission. Their single answer might tell me a book to read, or a seminar to join, or it might lead to an introduction. This is where mentorship starts… with the first “mission.” If you listen and do the work of your new mentor, you turn around and report the change that happened.

Back and forth. Ask for help around a specific issue, get their input, and report back with what happened. Without fail, you must always show your mentor that you took their advice, once it was clear to you, and applied it. Show them the outcomes and provide your reasons why it worked or didn’t. Think critically and always keep the audacious goal top of mind. You’ll find that your mentor will be excited for your call, your questions, and respond earnestly. They’ll see that them answering a simple email removed a 2-3 week long roadblock for you, and you give them gratitude, all while showing them the results they’re creating.

Once a person has enough income to pay their bills on time, with a little left over for fun, they want to get paid with impact. They want to know that the 10 or 20 minutes they put into a phone call with you turns into a cleaner city, or children fed, or your new startup having the best month ever. There’s a lot of joy with that, and it’s your job to “pay” them that currency.

Have you tried this method? What was the outcome? Comment below!