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Developing a Meaningful Mentor Relationship for Your Import/Export Business

Set expectations right at the outset

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Many people relish the idea of starting an import/export business, yet have no idea where to begin or how to get help. For most people, it’s very beneficial to have someone to bounce ideas off of or to go to for advice. That’s where a mentor becomes a highly valuable asset in your import/export business. This article takes a look at how to develop a mentor relationship, what a mentor can offer you, how to find one and how to establish expectations in the relationship.

The Mentee (You!)

Got a new product idea that will wow the world? What are you waiting for? A mentor? That may not be the solution to all your challenges but it most certainly will help speed you along with minimal hiccups on your journey. Before you decide to find a mentor, draft a list of sample questions you want answered right at the beginning of the relationship so that you have something to go by when you email an individual or have a telephone conversation. Your list might look like this:

  1. Where’s the best place to __________ (insert whether you desire to import or export) ________________ (insert the product you have in mind; olive oil soaps, for example)?
  2. How can I transport it?
  3. Will I need a contract to protect my interest?
  4. Is there a best way to structure payment?
  5. How will I find companies to help me sell the product?
  6. Must products be warehoused and, if so, how will the fulfillment and distribution be handled?

These are just a few of the questions that everyone has when they start an import/export business. Start out from a position of strength–knowing what you are going after rather then contacting a mentor and acting wishy-washy. Nothing turns off a potential mentor faster than a clueless mentee. After all, you want the mentor’s helping hand, not a handout.

The Mentor

An effective mentor can guide you, take you under her wings, teach you new skills and offer sage advice in your field of interest. Most mentoring relationships succeed and are satisfying for both parties when both the mentor and the mentee take an active, committed role in developing the relationship.

Look for a mentor through online platforms such as LinkedIn (particularly subgroups), Facebook or blogs where the blogger appears knowledgeable in your industry and is open and accessible to readers. In addition, network at local community events (Chamber of Commerce, international trade associations, professional associations or import/export programs).

A mentor typically donates her time and expertise willingly to someone who she thinks has the potential to be successful. This doesn’t mean you, as the mentee, never give back to your mentor in some subtle, meaningful way.

Getting What You Need Out of the Relationship

You’ve got your list of pressing questions. Beyond that, here’s what you need to establish with your mentor right at the outset.

1. Explain why you need her help. Go over your sample questions, for example, but be clear on the type of mentoring you are looking for, such as coaching, a door-opener to opportunities or an answer-woman to your pressing questions and concerns.

2. Establish goals to ensure you achieve them. That includes where you will meet, how often and what expectations you have for the relationship. How will you measure success? Draft it out so you are both on the same page about driving results toward success.

3. Select a mentor who is aligned with your values, ethics and goals and is familiar with the industry you operate in.

4. Take action on her advice and report back to her how it helped or didn’t help and why.

5. Express appreciation for your mentor’s time and sharing of her expertise. It’s valuable and you need to acknowledge that constantly. It can’t hurt to send a snail mail thank-you note once in a while or a thoughtful gift to let the mentor know how grateful you are for the relationship. And invite your mentor on any opportunities (networking event or keynote speaker program of interest, for example) where she might benefit and enjoy as well!

A good mentor is worth her weight in gold. To ensure a long and mutually beneficial relationship, be mindful of how to give back to the mentor. Select one wisely and you will accelerate the learning curve on managing an import/export business.

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