How to Properly Ask for Mentorship or Business Advice Via Email
There’s someone out there who you admire and has valuable knowledge that you’d love to tap into. They are often people you’ve never met. You want to learn more from them and emailing them is a great way to open the doors of communication.
There is nothing wrong with asking for help but how you do it makes a world of difference to how you’re responded to (and IF you’re responded to at all). We are inundated with hundreds of emails every day. What you want is for yours to be noticeable and for someone to be compelled to answer it.
And truly, I’m tired of getting emails from people who don’t come correct and drop into my inbox (or DMs) rudely or in very long-winded ways that leave me confused as to what they really want.
People also show up with a lot of entitlement. It is time to do better.
Before I even get there, let me put this up here: do not DM me on social media about business inquiries. Find my email address (it’s not hard AT ALL) and send there. It boggles my mind how often people will send DMs over and over again and then get mad that they got no response.
My hope is that this serves as a guide for people to reach out well, with home training intact, so their chances of success can be higher.
So, let’s talk about:
How to Properly Ask for Mentorship or Business Advice Via Email
Tell them who you are and say what you do. 3 sentences max. Even 3 is too much. Do it in 2.
Tell them why you connect with their work.
When you tell them why you admire the work they’ve done, it means you’ve done some research and they are the right person you want to reach out to. It also shows that you aren’t sending some basic template message that you’ve sent to 30 other people. Yes, flattery gets you everywhere.
Clearly state your intention or question (be specific).
What do you need help with? Be clear about what you’re looking for guidance on, with specific questions that aren’t super open-ended. Asking an open question like “How did you build your brand because I want to build mine?” can be overwhelming to whoever receives it because that isn’t something that can be replied to easily. Imagine if someone walked up to you at work and asked “How do you do your job?” Where do you even begin?
BE CLEAR. BOLD the questions you’re asking too, so they stand out. Not caps, but BOLD so we can skip to that, if we want.
Avoid the following questions:
- What are your thoughts?
- Can you give me feedback and tips?
- Can you help me?
None of these give the person you sent the email to any idea of what you really WANT and oftentimes, the person doesn’t have the time to decipher it. Make it easy.
Please don’t ask “Can I pick your brain?” It has become a nuisance. Avoid it all you can.
Bonus: Do not ask “can you mentor me?”
Mentorship is an exchange of information on a regular basis. To ask someone to mentor you is to ask them to commit to you. If this is your first ever email, can someone truly feel familiar with you enough to commit to that long term guidance?
Don’t ask for mentorship; ask for a meeting or call FIRST. Establish warmth so this person can feel open to giving you access to them. You get a mentor organically when you know you can text or email this person and they are invested in you so they will make themselves available.
Anyone who I call my mentor is someone who I met or emailed, then we talked on the phone (or grabbed coffee) and then we did that a few more times. Or we exchanged more emails. They became really interested in me and my future and I felt comfortable going to them for advice. I HAD THEIR PHONE NUMBER! If someone has not given you their phone number, do not ask them to mentor you. I said what I said and I’m not arguing.
Mentors aren’t about labels or transactions but relationships and access.
Express how there can be a mutual benefit there.
This is where you offer up something. You might be saying “mutual benefit?” Yes. It doesn’t have to be something substantial or equal in value, but what can you do for this person, to show you aren’t a SERIAL TAKER? It’s less about what you are actually offering and more about the thought. It is the sentiment of being generous as you’re asking for someone else’s generosity.
I don’t care how big somebody is, you can offer something up to them, even if they don’t accept. Maybe offering up your service or the thing you’re really good at? If you’re out of ideas, look at their social media and ask if you can give them admin help. EVERYONE needs admin help, even if they already have an assistant.
Thank them for their time.
Show that you appreciate the person for taking the time to read (and hopefully answer) your email. A simple “Thanks for your time” at the end never hurt anybody.
Keep it short.
Do not send someone a 10-paragraph email telling your story and talking about yourself. When the recipient opens it and they see all those words, they’re apt to close it right back because it’s a lot to be faced with. Say what you need to say in the most concise way possible. If your first email is longer than 300 words, it is too long.
Oh, and spell check. SPELL CHECK. Do not spell their name wrong, above all. That’s sloppy.
Let’s put this into action. Let’s say I would like to reach out to Oprah Winfrey and I’ve never met her or she might not know who I am. Below is how I’d do it.
Good morning Miss Winfrey,
I’m Luvvie Ajayi Jones and I’m an author and speaker who thrives at the intersection of comedy, technology and justice. I’m clear that my purpose in this world is to use my words to make people laugh, think critically and do better.
I have had so much respect for you for decades, as I’m also a Chicago girl who wants to live life authentically. You are proof of what it looks like to soar when you live in truth and it inspires me endlessly.
This email is in your inbox because I would like to ask for 30 minutes of your time on a call. I am currently looking to level up in my career and there are certain nuanced decisions I’m being called to make. You have been where I am right now, and your insight would be helpful to me in this critical moment I find myself.
I know you have a whole team at your disposal, and I cannot adequately compensate you for the value of your time. But I am really skilled at digital communications. Do you or the OWN team have any needs there I could help you with? Online strategy is where I excel and I can certainly fill any gaps you have there. How can I help you?
If you’re able to speak with me, I’m thrilled! If not, I’m still thankful, as I’ve already learned a tremendous amount from you from afar. This would certainly be a bonus.
Thank you for reading this up to this point. Your time and consideration is already appreciated.
This email is 266 words. Dassit! I don’t want to waste her time.
Notice what I did:
- Hyperlinked my name so she can click and read more about me on my website if she’s curious, instead of me telling her my whole life story and overwhelming her
- I bolded my ask
- I bolded my thank you
- I kept it short
Keep in mind that I might be really thoughtful, and send a great email and still not get a response. That is okay. I am not entitled to anyone’s time or energy. All I can do is send a followup.
Do not follow up before 48 hours after you sent the original email. Relax yourself. Give it a few business days (at least) before tapping on someone’s proverbial shoulder. There’s a thin line between pestering and being persistent, and often, the nuance is in the HOW. Two people can do the same things, but the way one person does it might mean they get a response and you don’t. If you do not get a response, do not take it personally.
It’s not that people have an unwillingness to teach and mentor. It’s that if we carved out time for every single person who emailed us asking for advice and guidance, we’d do nothing but that and we’d have no time for the work that does pay us, that allows us to be in the position to mentor.
I share these things because I realized that a lot of people haven’t had this feedback given to them. I am hoping this helps you also as you are engaging in the world and sending people emails and DMs. Come correct.
In summary: when you email someone you don’t know for business advice, please keep it short, be clear about what you want and ask specific questions. Introduce yourself. Ask 1-3 very specific questions. Say thank you and be done.
Share this with someone who could benefit from it.
Great advice, thanks.
Great advice! Definitely saving this for later. And thank you for taking the time to mentor by writing all this out!
This is excellent and sound. Very practical. Much appreciated.
So timely! I wish I saw it before the New Leaders Council Women’s Caucus call on this topic last night. I appreciate the concrete examples you provided with the sample letter and infographic. I’m definitely forwarding this article to the attendees and friends.
This was very helpful! Thank you!
Wow cousin Luvvie that was powerful and I respect you for sharing this with us. This article will go along way in my life. I appreciate this so so much.
This is a beautiful and helpful article.
Your sample letter is priceless. Thank you.