I have been thinking about the concept of virtual mentors a lot lately. The idea of having people “advise” you and your company – people you may never have communicated with or met personally – was something I learned about from Pamela Slim, the author of Escape from Cubicle Nation. I loved her blog post “Who is on your High Council of Jedi Knights?

We all need help as we are starting our businesses, so I took this idea to heart and started identifying people whose work or personality struck me and developed a mentor-type relationship with them. It was like an imaginary friend (except that they were obviously real people) and I was neither a child nor insane. OK, I was as insane as any other entrepreneur, but that is a topic for another post.

I knew very little about social media 18 months ago when I started my business. In my wildest dreams, I never imagined interacting with these people, much less actually meeting them. Here is the funny thing, over time you can build relationships with even the most “famous” people and when you meet them, they seem like old friends even though it may be the first time.

Let me give you an example.

I am a huge fan of Michael Port. For those of you who don’t know him, he is the author of Book Yourself Solid, a book that is a must-read for anyone looking to establish and grow a services business. He also wrote the forward for Carol’s book. I was amazed when I finally got to interact with him on Facebook and Twitter. I also started attending his weekly free calls. I felt like he was an integral part of building my business.

Fast forward to this May when I attended SOBCon in Chicago and I found out that he was going to be speaking. It was a small event with a very limited number of seats and I knew that I would actually get to have a conversation with him and many other of my virtual mentors. I tweeted that I was really looking forward to meeting Michael and he replied that I had better run up and give him a big hug when I saw him at the conference.

His flight was delayed, so he wasn’t at the party the night before the conference started. He came in during one of the breaks the next day and I jumped out of my chair and ran across the room (no doubt looking like a crazy stalker) and gave him a big hug like he asked. What I didn’t take into account was that our Twitter exchange took place several days before, he had probably forgotten saying it, and we had never met.

I am pleased to share that he was a great sport about the whole thing. I introduced myself after and reminded him that he had told me to do that. We had some great conversations over the next two days. And you can check out the tweet where he says I am the best hugger he has ever met. It’s in my “Favorites” on Twitter @PointA_PointB.

So, what can you learn from this?

  1. The support you need for yourself and your business is available everywhere and often for free. Find it and leverage it. Don’t try to recreate the wheel!
  2. Many of us start our own businesses hoping to stay behind our laptop screens in our PJs. I hope you will consider getting dressed and getting out to some live events. Connecting with other entrepreneurs feels great and can make you feel less like a lonely-preneur.
  3. Relationships can make or break your business. Connect with mentors, peers, and people just starting out so you can measure your progress and determine best practices. You can learn from everyone.

The gatekeepers that used to stand in the way of connecting with well-known people have gone away and social media can enable you to make a connection with almost anyone these days. Don’t be afraid to try it.

Do you have a story to share about meeting one of your heroes or mentors? We would love to hear about it in the comments below!