MONEY Getting Ahead

How to Convince Someone You Admire—but Have Never Met—to Mentor You

New York Public Library
Kyoungil Jeon—Getty Images

A little bit of flattery and a lot of research can get you everywhere, says entrepreneur Travis Steffen.

Five years ago I was living in a cramped three-bedroom apartment in East L.A., trying to build two startups simultaneously with no clue what I was doing and no seed capital. I had very little income, no connections and, frankly, no friends. Nevertheless, I was determined to find a way to become successful.

I had recently attended an entrepreneurship conference and bought a DVD profiling young millionaires. One of the lessons from that DVD was to find a mentor—that is, a person who currently is where you want to be, who can take you under his or her wing and show you the ropes.

I hadn’t really made an effort to network with other entrepreneurs up until that point, so I couldn’t just call one up and ask for an intro. So, I carefully crafted a series of emails and follow-ups to all of the young millionaires profiled in the DVD I was watching!

Not only did I get responses, but I impressed one of them enough to agree to mentor me. This individual guided me when I needed it and eventually granted me access to her incredible network. I have since started, scaled and sold five companies.

The key to my success was simple. I didn’t want to blend into the crowd of others like me who I was certain were going after the very same entrepreneurs, so I set 8 simple rules for myself, as follows:

1. Do your research.

Before you seek out a mentor, know which industry you want to learn about, and in what way. Then, come up with a shortlist of people you’d like to target—and do your research on each. See if you can find their bios online; look for articles written on them; and check out their LinkedIn profiles.

When you do reach out, make sure your research is apparent. This attention to detail will show your prospective mentor that you’re not just blanket emailing a ton of people at once—that you actually want to learn from him or her specifically.

2. Don’t be desperate.

Many people seeking a mentor will resort to begging. They’ll talk about how they don’t know what they’re doing, how their company is failing, or whatever other negatives they think will demonstrate their need for a mentor.

However, just as a bank won’t loan to somebody who’s broke as they don’t want to risk not being paid back, successful people won’t mentor somebody they feel they can’t make an instant impact on as they fear wasting their time.

3. Show that you’re a self-starter.

You need to remember that the best mentors out there will often be the toughest to get.

To give yourself the best chance of success, demonstrate that you’re not starting from complete scratch, that you’ve made it pretty far on your own already.

If you’re an entrepreneur, for example, you’ve might explain that you’ve already got a business plan or spent a significant amount of time getting to know the industry. If you’re a career changer, you might show that you’ve taken some classes on the topic. If you’re looking to climb in the field in which you currently work, you might describe what you’ve done so far.

4. Demonstrate self-confidence.

Successful people were not always successful, but most of them were confident—even early on in their careers or entrepreneurship—in their ability to learn and become successful.

In your communications with your potential mentor, your ability and passion to make things happen needs to be apparent not just in what you say and do, but how you say and do it.

5. Establish specific, low-pressure terms.

Asking a successful entrepreneur, “Will you mentor me?” is akin to a man asking a woman he’s never met to marry him. He’s much more likely to be successful if he instead has a nice conversation and asks if he can call her sometime.

Approach a prospective mentor in the same way.

Don’t flat-out ask them to be your mentor. Instead, let them know that you really respect them and have learned a lot from what they’ve done, and then start with one specific question that shows you’re actively working on building your own empire. Get your first positive response, and then go from there—slowly.

6. Don’t create work for them.

When starting to work with somebody you want to mentor you, make it known that you’re aware how busy they are and how valuable their time is. Then propose something as simple as a 15-minute call once per month when their schedule permits.

7. Showcase your implementation.

There’s nothing more encouraging—and more flattering—to a successful businessperson than someone showing them how much they’ve learned from them, how they’ve implemented it, and the conclusions and next questions they’ve come to as a result.

After you ask your first question or two, don’t even think about asking anything else until you’ve implemented the advice they’ve given you and can show it.

8. Show your gratitude.

By and large, if you’re asking a successful person to give you their valuable time, you need to acknowledge that you understand that they are making sacrifice on your behalf.

While you likely don’t have much to offer them at this point, you can remember to thank your mentor each time you talk. But also show your appreciation in a unique way now and again, perhaps with a gift around the holidays or when they help you with a particularly challenging problem. I prefer something like Edible Arrangements as it shows how thankful you are without sending an inappropriate message.

Travis Steffen is currently the founder of UP (upshare.co) and one of the founders and VCs sharing their insight at MentorMojo, an entrepreneurial e-learning platform. Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs.

 

MONEY Careers

What To Do When The Boss’s Daughter Is Tough to Work With

140605_AskExpert_illo
Robert A. Di Ieso, Jr.

Q: I work for a small firm of about 20 people. The problem is that the boss’s daughter also works there and is a trial for everyone. She is 25, not particularly bright, and very arrogant. She acts and speaks like it is her firm and has alienated just about everyone. No one will dare say anything to the boss, not even during reviews. What should I do?– Name Withheld

A: You have two options: Find a non-confrontational way to make your boss aware of the situation and see if he or she is inclined to act. Or look for a new job.

The latter might seem unfair, but that’s the reality of working for a small, family-run business, says Dana Brownlee, a corporate trainer and founder of Professionalism Matters. “Your boss clearly wants his daughter to play a role in the company, and he calls the shots,” says Brownlee.

It’s not clear if her behavior is just unpleasant or if her attitude is affecting the business in a material way. As much as your boss loves and supports his daughter, if she is driving valued employees away or hurting client relationships, he may not want to jeopardize the business, says Brownlee.

Even at a small firm, your boss may not be aware of what’s happening, especially if no one is speaking up at reviews. If you can get your boss to see what’s going on, there’s a chance the situation will change.

Set a meeting with your boss. Don’t criticize his daughter. Instead, talk about the issues that are having an impact on business and ask for advice on how to handle them. For example, if you have a client who has complained about dealing with the daughter or a decision she made, you can report that and say you’re worried about losing business. Your case will be stronger if you can get several colleagues or even the client to bring the problem up with your boss too.

You could also recommend a change in how reviews are done so that staffers have a way to give honest and frank feedback confidentially. Brownlee recommends a 360-degree review process, in which employees receive anonymous feedback from the people who work around them. That might not be an easy sell in a small organization, but if you have any influence with your boss, this would be an objective way to raise his awareness, says Brownlee.

The best you can hope for is that your boss gets concerned enough about her behavior that he talks to her about it. Even if your boss does that, however, it’s not very likely he will fire his daughter. “If that’s not a situation you can live with,” says Brownlee, “your best strategy is to find a new job.”

Have a workplace etiquette question? Send it to careers@moneymail.com.

MONEY Small Business

3 Important Lessons Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Macall B. Polay—HBO via Everett Collection

There's a lot that real-life startups can take away from the Emmy-nominated fantasy series.

The acclaimed HBO series Game of Thrones—which is up for 19 awards at tonight’s Emmys—provides interesting commentary on the modern state of politics and warfare. But speaking as the founder of an online folder printing company, I’ve noticed that the show also demonstrates some valuable lessons for first-time entrepreneurs.

These might not help you become king of a fantasy kingdom, but they’ve been invaluable to me throughout my more than a decade of successful entrepreneurship.

(Reader beware: This article contains several spoilers.)

Lesson #1: Knowledge is power

In Westeros: The Game of Thrones characters who are most likely to survive are the ones with the best information: Where would Varys be without his network of spies gathering secrets from all across the Seven Kingdoms, for example? Would Cersei and Littlefinger still be around if they didn’t have dirt on their enemies?

In your business: Knowledge is your best asset. But that doesn’t mean you need to train swaths of children to uncover your competitors’ deep, dark secrets a la Varys. You simply must to get to know your industry inside and out, so that you can identify what it is that you can provide your consumers that others aren’t already providing. When you understand your field and the needs that aren’t being met, you’ll be better positioned to fulfill those needs.

For me, recognizing an unmet need was the impetus for starting my own company. After discovering that those seeking custom presentation folders faced extremely limited choices, I set out to provide materials of more variety and greater quality.

Lesson #2: Unearned confidence can be dangerous.

In Westeros: Pride often precedes a fall. Ruthless, arrogant King Joffrey mocks his enemies and abuses his subjects in a display of power and privilege, only to be poisoned at his own wedding. Viserys Targaryen shamelessly proclaims his superiority to the people around him, one of whom happens to be a powerful warlord who “crowns” him with molten gold. Even fan favorite Oberyn meets a messy, head-crushy end when he lets his careless bravado get the better of him.

In your business: Know the difference between confidence and an overgrown ego. Starting a successful business requires boldness, determination, and trust in your own abilities and resources, but be careful not to let it turn into hubris. Make sure your actions are grounded in fact or reason; check yourself against someone you trust before making any rash moves. Overconfident people take risks that they can’t afford, and they often don’t listen to their peers’ good advice (“Trust me, Oberyn, wear a helmet”).

Back when my company was first beginning, I did a lot of different odd jobs on the side. A friend of mine told me that I should concentrate on my core competency: custom printed folders. I didn’t listen to that advice, and it ended up losing my business money in the long run. Once I started concentrating on folders, the company grew much stronger.

Lesson #3: A good mentor helps secure your success.

In Westeros: Each of the Stark children has flourished with the help of mentors, albeit unconventional ones. Arya Stark learned swordplay from her “dance instructor” Syrio; Bran has developed his psychic powers with the help of mysterious companion Jojen; and even Sansa seems to have picked up some lessons in court intrigue from Littlefinger.

In your business: Reaching out to a mentor can be a little scary, since it means acknowledging your own weaknesses as an entrepreneur. But remember that the person helping to guide you probably achieved their success with the help of a mentor of their own. When you make the choice to work for yourself, the only people you have to turn to for guidance are those who have already done the same.

Many of my friends are successful business owners, so I make it a point to consult with them periodically. Learning from their experiences helps me to avoid common pitfalls and ensure that my company is running as efficiently as possible.

Mentors aren’t just there to make you feel good about the work that you’re doing, though; they should have enough experience to tell you when you’re doing something wrong. Sometimes the advice that you need most comes from someone as bluntly honest as the Hound—though ideally, your mentor will be a bit more supportive.

Can you think of more business lessons to be learned from Game of Thrones? Share your thoughts on Twitter, with the hashtag #GoTbizadvice

Vladimir Gendelman is the founder and CEO of Company Folders, an innovative presentation folder printing company.

Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of promising young entrepreneurs. YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program.

TIME Small Business

This Is the Deeply Moving, Almost Unbelievable Story Behind Auntie Anne’s Pretzels

ABC's "Secret Millionaire" - Season Three
Auntie Anne's Pretzels founder, Anne Beiler. Fred Watkins—ABC via Getty Images

Sex, loss, grief, redemption and a Mennonite chicken farmer who made dreams come true

The genesis of most small businesses is filled with some measure of triumph and sacrifice, the natural elements that make up the heroics of entrepreneurship. But few “how I got started” tales are quite as rich as Anne Beiler’s, the woman behind mall staple Auntie Anne’s soft pretzels. Her’s includes devastating personal loss, grief, adversity, an abusive sexual relationship, long odds, achievement and at least one wildcard that appeared in the form of a Mennonite chicken farmer capable of writing million-dollar checks.

Fortune wrote about Beiler’s story last year (behind a paywall). Now, the site has a video (not behind a paywall) in which Beiler talks about how she grew her soft pretzel business from a single store to a worldwide brand with over a thousand locations. Here’s an excerpt from the 2013 story:

I was 19, and my husband, Jonas, was 21 when we married in 1968. We were a happy couple, and my only dream was to be a mom. We had two daughters until my daughter Angela was killed accidentally in 1975 when she was hit by a tractor on our farm. My life turned upside down. My husband and I weren’t able to connect emotionally, and I sought counseling with a pastor outside the Amish-Mennonite community. For six years I stayed in an abusive sexual relationship with that pastor, living in guilt and shame. The pastor’s license was revoked when his behavior with several women came to light. In 1982, when I began a life again with my husband, we were living paycheck to paycheck. My husband was a mechanic, and during our marital crisis he had studied to become a marriage and family counselor. He wanted to offer counseling services for free to our community, and we needed income. So I told him, “You’ve stayed with me despite all that I’ve done. So do what you want to do, and I’ll go to work.”

A friend told me that an Amish-owned store selling pretzels, ice cream, and pizza in the indoor Downingtown, Pa., farmers’ market was for sale. The owners wanted $6,000. I was astounded at the price because those kinds of weekend stores can bring in anywhere from $25,000 to $200,000 a year, depending on the location. We had no money, so we went to my husband’s parents, and they gave us the $6,000.

For anybody even remotely interested in starting their own business (or just reading an unbelievable yarn), it’s worth checking out.

TIME Food & Drink

The 13 Best Cheese Shops in America

Star Provisions, Atlanta Heidi Geldhauser

Travel + Leisure names the shops that stock the finest local and imported cheese

Cheese—in all its gooey, crumbly, farm-fresh, or cave-aged incarnations—is having a moment. Thanks to the restaurant trend of gourmet mac and cheese and the opening of at least one grilled cheese truck per town, even kids are learning to distinguish Emmentalers from Edams, Goudas from Gruyères. Historic or hip, America’s best cheese shops are as widely varied as the dairy products they peddle.

Cured, Boulder, CO

Leave it to an active town like Boulder to support a cheese shop owned by a professional cyclist: Will Frischkorn, who oversees Cured with his wife, Coral, rode in the Tour de France before going to culinary school. Although the Frischkorns are partial to American creameries, each summer they honor Will’s past life with a Tour-themed tasting series, featuring a regional cheese and a beer or wine from each leg of the race.

Cheesemonger’s Choice: Fruition Farms’ sheep’s-milk ricotta, from nearby Larkspur, which is available seasonally, while its flock is at pasture from spring to late fall, and is delivered still warm from the farm ($28/pound).

Star Provisions, Atlanta

Atlanta is considered the capital of the New South, so it’s only right that its best gourmet market stocks the largest selection of southern cheeses in the U.S.—made in Georgia, Tennessee, the Carolinas, and beyond. Its Cheese & Crackers program lets members sample three regional offerings per month. Located in the Westside, Star Provisions is attached to fine-dining spot Bacchanalia and also includes a butcher, a bakery, and a seafood counter.

Cheesemonger’s Choice: Hunkadora, an ash-covered, farmstead chèvre round from North Carolina’s Prodigal Farm, where goats live in and around old school buses ($9).

Formaggio Kitchen, Cambridge, MA

Renowned for its rare selections, Formaggio Kitchen was opened in 1978 by Ihsan Gurdal, a former member of the Turkish Olympic volleyball team. In 1996, the store added America’s first man-made cheese cave, constructed in a subterranean office space to mimic the same cool, damp environment used to age cheeses throughout Europe.

Cheesemonger’s Choice: Ekiola Ardi Gasna, which takes its name from the Basque for a mountain hut—the sort that husband-and-wife owners Désiré and Kati Loyatho take turns sleeping in during the summer while their sheep graze in the high Pyrenees pastures ($31/pound).

Fromagination, Madison, WI

Nicknamed America’s Dairyland, Wisconsin produces more than a quarter of the nation’s cheese. Fromagination (est. 2007) stocks a wide assortment from the state’s creameries, plus Madison-made items, such as crackers, charcuterie, preserves, and relishes—perfect ingredients for a picnic just across the street in Capitol Square.

Cheesemonger’s Choice: Martone, a mixed-milk cheese from LaClare Farms in the nearby town of Malone, which features a mild, buttery flavor imparted by cow’s milk and a tangy citrus note from goat’s milk ($19.99).

James Cheese Company, New Orleans

Richard and Danielle Sutton opened their Uptown shop in 2006, a year after Hurricane Katrina, when the city was still in its rebuilding phase. But it wasn’t the first time they took a major risk in the name of cheese: in 2002, they left their jobs and moved to London, where Richard became manager of the 200-year-old Paxton & Whitfield cheese shop. The store’s location in the St. James neighborhood inspired the name of their cheese company upon their return to the Big Easy.

Cheesemonger’s Choice: Dancing Fern from Tennessee’s Sequatchie Cove Farm, a delicately grassy Reblochon-style wheel with a slight walnut flavor ($26.95/pound).

READ THE FULL LIST HERE.

More from Travel + Leisure:

MONEY Small Business

The Best Way to Keep Your New Business from Failing

Conjoined paperclips
Find the right partner if you want your startup to succeed. Helen Sessions—Alamy

Making sure you're compatible with your business partner is a key to success. So ask yourself these questions before you pair up.

Nearly two-thirds of high-potential startups fail because of conflicts between co-founders, says Harvard Business School professor Noam Wasserman. Make sure you know these things about a prospective partner:

How does he respond to adversity?

With a startup, “the highs are high, but the lows are very low,” says Eric Del Balso, founder of Ignite Advisors. Ask the person’s friends, family, and former co-workers how he handles letdowns and curve balls.

What are her goals for the business?

Discuss key decisions you’ll make together—like, Will you raise outside money? Pay top dollar for talent or hire temps? “If you can’t resolve those, there is a high likelihood the team won’t be aligned,” says Wasserman.

How does he handle money?

An overspender may burn through funds before you find revenue. But a timid spender can hold you back. Pull a credit report on your compatriot. Then discuss “what you each think is worthwhile to spend on and what’s lower priority,” says Wasserman.

More on starting your own business:

TIME Small Business

Recycle, Reuse, Reprofit: Startups Try to Make Money Selling Your Stuff

Phones, clothes and even food get a second life on these sites

In a bustling San Francisco warehouse, a buyer for a startup called Twice is inspecting a pair of used jeans. She checks the buttonholes and zipper for snags, the legs and cuffs for wear. If the pants pass inspection, the old owner gets paid and the pants are cataloged, steamed and photographed before being listed on Twice’s website–at a fraction of their original cost (perhaps $19 for Levi’s). When someone else buys them, they become a pound or two of the 400 tons of clothing that Twice will resell this year. “It’s environmental,” says co-founder Noah Ready-Campbell of Twice’s mission. “It’s about reusing clothing and avoiding manufacturing more.”

Twice is one of many startups attempting to make the environmentally sound choice preferable and easy for consumers while making a profit in the process. The statistics driving these efforts are shocking: In the U.S., 90% of mobile devices are thrown away rather than recycled. Up to 40% of the food produced gets trashed. Americans junk some 12 million tons of textiles each year. “There’s no way we can continue to produce waste at the level that we are and survive on this planet,” says Adam Werbach, a co-founder of Yerdle, a site where people trade things they might otherwise throw out. “It really is much easier to click a button than it is to knock on your neighbor’s door.” And that is the convenience gap these enviro-preneurs hope to close.

Consider the steps involved in listing a used iPhone on eBay: take a picture, set a fair price, outline the specs, connect your bank, pay fees, wait a week for bids to come in and then hope it actually sells. These are inefficiencies that Silicon Valley types seek out like bloodhounds. “People actually feel guilt that they’re holding onto these items,” says Ryan Mickle, founder of the electronics auction site FOBO, where bidding lasts only 97 minutes and the company suggests starting prices for you. But in surveys with potential users, he found that ignoring old stuff still causes less angst than confronting what can be the messy process of getting it to someone else.

Many items cluttering closets and garages are less desirable than gadgets: DVDs, picture frames, bird books, an old wine carafe. These are items companies like Listia and Yerdle want on their sites, where by giving things away, people earn credits that they can spend on other users’ property. The sites aim to replace the rush that accompanies buying something new with the fun of bartering and the satisfaction that comes from giving away something you don’t need. “People are seeking out human connection in our day-to-day economic transactions,” says Arun Sundararajan, a business professor at New York University who studies these budding economies. “There is a noneconomic value that comes from giving your stuff to other people.”

Sundararajan says that if a company like Yerdle achieves its aim of displacing 25% of new sales, that’s good for the economy because it decreases waste. On the flip side, there is a possibility of job losses among people who make those new items. But he believes that other jobs in newer sectors would replace them, as happened when technological innovation put farmers out of work. “Efficiency is the name of the game in all of consumption,” says Ready-Campbell of Twice, “and in the whole economy, really.”

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