When you work as an employee, you often have mentors. This is true, even if there is no formal mentorship program in place. You can nearly always count on your boss or even a more seasoned coworker for guidance and feedback. You may even find someone to help keep you sorted when it comes to your future goals. For freelancers, this doesn’t happen automatically.
This is a shame because freelancers, especially new ones, need mentors just as much as anyone else. Here are five reasons why as well as tips on how you can find potential mentors and build relationships with them.
1. Mentors can provide industry-specific insights
If you can find a mentor who is experienced in your field, they can provide you with insights that you may not get anywhere else. Think of them as kind of being a walking, talking, unofficial guidebook. They know the unspoken truths.
They can, for example, let you know which ‘influencers’ are actually considered to be quite disreputable. A valuable mentor will be able to tell you which tools and training are valued by others, and which are a waste of time.
2. A mentor can offer an honest perspective
One challenge freelancers have is setting goals for business and personal growth. Without someone to provide an objective, outside in perspective, all you have is your own wishes and opinions on your abilities to go on. Sadly, those aren’t always objective or accurate. This is why it’s so important to connect with a mentor who is willing to be truly honest with you.
For example, let’s say you work in web development. At this point, you largely work as a coder, but you want to get more into the design side of things. Without a mentor, you might simply dive right in and start marketing yourself in web design. Maybe you even pick up a few graphic design tools and learn those as well. After all, why not help people design logos along the way.
The only problem is that you don’t have an artistic eye whatsoever. Your designs are off-putting. You pick colors and fonts that simply don’t work. You don’t ‘get’ how visuals and branding go hand in hand.
If you have a mentor who truly cares about your growth and success, they’re going to be willing to have that tough conversation with you about your skills and give you a reality check.
3. Having a mentor creates accountability
“I’m going to take three classes next semester.”
“I’m going to revamp my website.”
“I won’t end a week without having made 10 cold calls to potential clients.”
As a freelancer, you undoubtedly make promises to yourself that you will do things to grow your business and improve your skill set. The problem is that nothing happens if you only have yourself to answer to.
With a mentor, you have accountability. There’s someone that you have to report back to. It’s illuminating how flimsy the excuses you use become when you direct them at someone else. This provides additional motivation for you to stay on top of things, and accomplish the things you need to in order to advance your career.
4. Your mentor can be a career sherpa
Speaking of career advancement, mentors are amazing career sherpas. If they believe you have potential, and that you will make the best of your efforts, many are happy to give you a hand up. This could mean introducing you to industry insiders or recommending you to potential clients. A mentor may even allow you to partner with them on some of their projects.
Another area where they can provide guidance is dealing with difficult clients. For example, they may be able to provide advice on negotiating the terms of contracts. They may even tell you potential clients that you should simply steer clear of.
5. You can bounce ideas and frustrations out of your mentor
Freelancing is difficult work. You have stressors that you must deal with that simply aren’t present in other types of work. Not only are you your own boss, you wear many other hats as well. You are your marketing team, salesforce, technical support, and likely financials person. There’s no buffer between yourself and people who may be rude, clueless, or incompetent. In the fact of all of these things, you must remain polite, professional, and accommodating.
A good mentor gets this. They understand your frustrations. Even better, their experience allows them to provide advice and perspectives that can help you to deal with these things successfully. Not only that, when you have new ideas, they are your perfect first audience. They’re there to be supportive of your goals, but also honest enough to give you valid input.
If you are new to freelancing, you should consider connecting with a mentor. There are so many career and personal benefits to doing so. Reach out to someone who is more experienced in your field, and you might be surprised at how much you can learn from them.