“Spoon feeding, in the long run, teaches us nothing but the shape of the spoon” – E.M. Forster
When I signed up for the AMWA national conference this year, I was excited. This was going to be the networking opportunity of a lifetime and a boon for the beginning of my business. I knew that finding a great mentor was number one on my to-do list.
I wanted to find an expert in medical marketing, my own mentor. I envisioned my mentor guiding me on how to run my business: they would provide me with connections, advise me through what important steps to take, and share valuable resources. I could just kick back and let their years of experience wash over me as we worked together to build my freelancing business into the next big thing.
Until I started doing research on how to find that “perfect” mentor. And, I realized I was an idiot.
Lose the Spoon
Mentors don’t come to you just because you want them to. Besides, the people who often have the most knowledge are too busy running their own companies or promoting their own services to help you.
Freelancers have to be believers in their abilities. That is why I can hear you all now:
“But, I’m sure that if I could just talk to [insert influential person here] they would find me charming immediately. They would love all of my business ideas and invest their time and energy into me.”
Sure. Maybe you can take long walks on the beach together as the sun sets and share your innermost thoughts and feelings too. Well, actually, that may not be a bad idea.
Why you should date your mentor
Ok, so you don’t want to actually date your mentor. Unless they are a good kisser. Just kidding. That could lead to a whole host of other issues I don’t even want to tackle. However, you should treat finding a mentor like a first date.
The problem is that most of us want to immediately label this mentor/mentee relationship. Just like our real life relationships, we often feel the need to define our social standing with others. This is why many often ask their potential mentors: “Will you be my mentor?”
Let’s be honest, just like the “will you go out with me” note you wrote in middle school, this type of question is as off-putting and awkward as it was when you had braces and acne. Would you ask a first date if they would be your girlfriend/boyfriend? No. So don’t ask your potential mentor a similar question.
Mentor relationships work best when grown organically. Don’t rush the first meeting with your potential mentor. Take the time to feel them out and see if you have similar interests. Just because they are at the top of your field, doesn’t mean that they would be the best fit for you.
Here are, in my humble opinion, the 3 keys to finding a mentor. Not surprisingly, it looks similar to what you would look for in a good date.
1) Find someone with similar interests
2) Find someone you actually enjoy talking to, not just someone you covet for title, job, or prestige
3) Find someone who can solve a specific problem for you
Number 3 is important. How can you ask someone to help you if you don’t know what you need?
I got 99 problems, but defining them ain’t one
It is unfair and naïve to assume just because you want help, those who can give it to you will be willing to do so. Before you start looking for a mentor you should know what problems need to be solved. Asking generic questions like, “How can I become successful?” will not only disinterest people, it shows a lack of preparedness on your part. Being specific helps you define who would, and maybe more importantly, who would not be a good mentor.
For example, I have many problems that I need to solve to grow my business: driving traffic to the blog, improving my writing, learning how to run a business. However, I can find most of that information on the internet. I need someone to solve problems that I can’t figure out on my own.
One goal I have for this blog is to produce a monthly interview with someone with knowledge greater than mine. I currently don’t have quick or direct access to those types of individuals. So here is how I defined my problem:
“I need a mentor who has access to individuals with many years of experience in medical marketing, content marketing, or medical writing. My mentor could vet me to those individuals allowing me to interview them for the blog.”
Boom! I have a specific problem and I can potentially find someone who can solve it. If I find someone like this at AMWA or elsewhere, I need to be able to get their attention quickly.
Going Up: The Elevator Pitch
Once you have established potential people who can solve your problems, you still have to get them to be actually INTERESTED in solving those problems. They don’t have to be awestruck by your fabulous ideas. You just have to stimulate their interest. Enter the elevator pitch.
Your goal is to be able to define, in a very short period of time, why they should be interested in you.
“What makes me unique is my lack of experience. When I went looking for advice on how to start my medical marketing business, I found it hard to relate to the information available. Perhaps those providing it had become so successful that they forgot what it is like to start from the bottom. Instead of hiding my inexperience as a weakness, I use it to relate better with my audience. That is why I call it Medical Marketing Freshman. We all start out as Freshman, but with hard work and sacrifice we can graduate.”
Just remember, the elevator speech is your proverbial foot in the door. Don’t make the mistake of assuming it will be all you will need to keep your mentor engaged. Remember Newton’s third law.
For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction
This is perhaps the most important point about finding a mentor. Will your mentor give you good advice, feedback, and network connections? Yes, but only if you can provide something in return.
As discussed above, the people you seek out are probably very busy. Even if you have a specific problem, an amazing elevator pitch, and dashing good looks, if you can’t find a way for this to be enjoyable or profitable for them, most people are going to turn away.
In medical marketing, especially for us “Freshman”, this can be intimidating. What could we possibly offer?
The American Massage Therapy Association (odd source, I know) has a very good list of 10 tips you can use to scratch the proverbial back of your mentor. I have 3 tips that I strongly believe would win over any mentor.
1) Work extremely hard and always be over-prepared for any meetings.
2) Listen to what they have to say, and use that advice in practice.
3) Have fun. Remember, people like spending time with those who they feel at ease with. Besides, if you aren’t having fun, then why are we here?
If you can do these things often, you will gain credibility and slowly be able to network your way up the ladder. Think of it like the guy who bought a house after starting with only a paperclip. Working with a mentor is just a series of small transactions that over time gets you to a greater goal.
See you in Denver!
I am now prepared to take on Denver, however, I won’t be actively seeking a mentor. Instead, I am going armed with the knowledge that I know what I need and if I happen to find someone who fits that mold, I can confidently explain to them what I do and how they can help me.
I am going to relax and just talk to people. I will get to know more about them as a person and worry less about how they could potentially improve my business. I am going to absorb as much information as possible, network like crazy, and enjoy some great Colorado craft beer.
If you see me, say hello!
P.S. If you want a quicker resource than this rather lengthy post, check out this study conducted by UCSF about good mentor/mentee relationships. Then, come back here when you have some time and read this article!
Tips for finding a mentor? Let me know how you did it in the comments.