As a soloprenuer it is easy to get caught up in the belief that you are on your own. And you are to some point, but there is also relatively easy access to a much bigger world through social media.
When you function as a business of one, it is easy to get caught up in your own beliefs, understanding and experiences. This is where finding and working with a mentor is important. As most people focus on how to use social media as a marketing tool, I want to discuss how to use social media to find a mentor.
I have had the privilege of both having mentors and being a mentor. When it is done formally (both parties are actively participating), it is usually a learning experience for everyone involved. However, in the world of social media it is no longer necessary to only have mentors in the real world. It is also possible to have mentor relationships in cyberspace. These can still be formal relationships with meetings via Skype or Google Hangouts or they can be informal by following a particular expert or guru.
The power of the internet is the easy availability to discover your perfect mentor(s). Whereas it was once necessary to spend time getting to know someone in person, much of the best experts’ wisdom is available for free via their blog, podcast, Facebook page, Twitter feed or some combination of all of the above. This is also beneficial for them as true mentors really do want to share their knowledge and help others grow, but can only dedicate so much time to helping individuals. That said, their online presence not only provides some mentoring, but also is usually a means of creating income for them as well. So it is a win-win!
The Needle in the Haystack
The challenge with finding a virtual mentor is not in finding an expert in your particular area of interest. It is finding the RIGHT mentor. Just as the internet has given us greater access to experts all over the world, it has also made it much easier for individuals to “establish themselves” as experts. This is where an investment of time can greatly enhance the final return.
Start with Who You Trust
As you work through how to use social media to find a mentor, begin with the folks that you know and trust already. Even if they are not an expert in the area for which you are looking for a mentor, they may have a mentors in your fields of interest. Ask yourself some of the following questions:
- Who do they follow?
- What blogs are they reading and/or linking to in their post/tweets/etc.?
- Are some names coming up repeatedly across several trusted associates?
Once you discover some of these names, begin following them for yourself. Read their blog posts, listen to their podcasts, like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter. In some cases you will find a match. In other cases they will lead you to yet another short-list of names to be researched.
Go with Your Gut
In my experience, it doesn’t take too long to determine if a potential virtual mentor has the knowledge and experience you are seeking. If everything is full of sales pitches, they may only be a marketing machine. If they use language that you find offensive, then they probably are not a good match. If they don’t actually provide any “new-to-you” information, they might be a good resource, but not a mentor. If they tout ideas or philosophies that just don’t seem logical or reasonable, they most likely are not a true, experienced expert. All this to say, go with your gut instinct. If they aren’t the right person, move on. There are lots to choose from.
Make a Plan
Once you find the right mentor(s) develop a plan to learn from their wisdom. This can include focusing a chunk of time each week reading their blog, subscribing to their mailing lists or reviewing their social media feeds. Regardless, making a plan helps ensure that you stay engaged while simultaneously helping to you manage your time.
As part of your plan, decide how you will interact with your mentor and what you expect in return. Commenting on blogs, retweeting and responding to email messages are all potential options. The “bigger” the name, the less likely you will be able to generate much personal interaction. However, that is not always required to gain helpful personal insights.
Finally, at least once a year, re-evaluate if your virtual mentors are still providing value. Circumstances change and there is no need to invest time and energy following a virtual mentor that is no longer meeting your needs. No one’s feelings will be hurt, since the relationship is virtual. Just start the process over and find the next person to take you to the next level.