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An ear to bend Featured

6:31am EDT April 2, 2003
You don't have to be in the early stages of your business to seek a mentor. If you're thinking about expanding, consolidating, or taking your company in a new direction, an experienced adviser could help make those decisions easier.

Radio talk show host, author and entrepreneur Patrick Gilligan has been on both sides of the mentoring table.

The Detroit-area business expert just finished a book "Patrick Gilligan Says Be Your Own Boss!" (1st Books, $8.95), which covers everything entrepreneurial including finding a mentor.

"You'd be surprised how receptive people are when you ask them to be a mentor," says Gilligan. "People like to feel that they're an expert in their field."

Gilligan says don't be afraid to seek out the upper echelon in your industry when choosing a mentor. Early in his broadcasting career, he faxed a letter to Larry King seeking the CNN talk show guru's advice. His lack of modesty apparently grabbed King's attention.

"I said, 'I think I am one of the best pure interviewers in the country'" Gilligan says. "'I'm really that good. How do I get to your level?' I guess he was impressed with that and called me at home. He gave me some good advice, gave me some contacts."

Since then, Gilligan's tapped into the knowledge of Mark McCormick of IMG, hair care mogul Paul Mitchell, publisher Dan Poynter and infomercial legend Carlton Sheets.

"Choosing a mentor can save you a lot of time, effort and money because invariably they have made a lot of mistakes that you can avoid," Gilligan says.

Here are some of Gilligan's tips for finding and keeping a mentor.

Background matters
Choose a mentor in your industry or a similar one (obviously not a competitor). Find someone with more experience, who has been through whatever issues you're going through in your company. If you don't know who the most respected people in your field are, call colleagues to get their opinion.

Don't be a nag
Save the phone calls or meetings with the mentor for only the most important decisions. The more often you call, the less receptive your mentor will be to your questions.

"These are busy people," Gilligan says. "When you're dealing with these very high level people, only call when you've got something new."

Give back
Although it is an honor to serve as a mentor, reward your trusted advisor with a gift after an important meeting or phone call. It can something as simple as desk clock or more extravagant like cruise ship tickets.

How to reach: Patrick Gilligan, "Patrick Gilligan Says Be Your Own Boss!" (888) 280-7715 or www.1stBooks.com.