Who is Your Freelance Mentor?

A freelance mentor is like an any other – a trusted advisor, well-versed in areas you are not, and willing to share their smarts. The right one will have travelled a path like yours or some key aspect of it, ideally as an independent or a founder themselves. They will get the idiosyncrasies of your niche and the challenges of freelance work. And in the best-case scenario, they are also an accountability partner.

The search for the right mentor looks different for each freelancer because the guidance you seek is unique to your work or stage of business development. The advice you need to launch your web design business will be different from what you might need a year later with increasing fees or branching out. Your knowledge gap might be freelance-specific, related to your craft, or specific to an area of business administration like accounting or contracts. While the quest is not uniform or static, it is true for most that a great mentor can determine whether you quit, survive, or thrive.

  1. Start With Your Network

Your personal network is the obvious place to start. List all the areas where you need input and who you know who has insight in each: There might be several areas and ultimately, there could be several prospective mentors. Some gaps can be addressed by non-freelancers so don’t rule out past coworkers, managers, or professors. Mentors come in many forms – they can work in different industries or can be half your age. For example, think of all the college students you know who are social media-savvy and ninjas with Instagram or TikTok who could help you with marketing.

  • Join relevant communities or start your own

There is an online community for everything and everyone imaginable. They can be a rich source of shared knowledge and voices that resonate. Contribute to the conversation and notice who posts and the value they add. If you can’t find the right group, start one. Alternatively, create a blog or newsletter and recruit followers or subscribers. This is a longer-term approach, but we can all benefit from mentorships near-term and longer-term. Great mentors are worth waiting for.

  • Apprentice, intern, or barter

There are several ways you can “pay” for mentorship. Identify someone who has the knowledge you seek and offer to work with them as an apprentice (learning their specific craft) or intern (learning more generally) at a reduced rate or free of charge in return for their knowledge. Maybe barter your expertise to their business in exchange for their advice. They might know about content creation, but you are a whiz with coding, for example. Outline in a brief email precisely what you seek and what you can offer in exchange for their guidance. Look for these opportunities through professional organizations, alumni associations, and freelancer groups or unions.  

  • Hire a mentor

With the “Great Resignation” underway, freelancing is hot. Employees are leaving full-time employment in record numbers and many need advice. In response, for-hire coaches and mentors are popping up everywhere offering full-service packages or à la carte services. Paid coaches can work with you in many ways and set you up for launch, growth, and overall success.

  • Swallow your pride and ask

If an introduction might lead to a mentorship, it’s worth putting yourself out there and approaching that “stranger.” Maybe this person is a relatable blogger or the director of a local nonprofit whose purpose you admire: Take a chance and reach out. They might be flattered! It won’t kill you if they say no and again, if you can offer them something in return your chance of success will increase. Start with an email explaining what you’re seeking from them and why, and what you can offer in return. If they bite, set up a succinct informational meeting and see where it goes.

  • Don’t give up

Finding a good mentor takes time. Don’t take rejection personally—the person you ask may be overwhelmed currently with other obligations. Explore different options until the right match occurs; the freelancer who finds an excellent mentor is the freelancer who doesn’t give up!

  • It’s a two-way street

Once you find your trusted advisor, remember that it’s a two-way street. While your need might be the immediate one, there must be some way to reciprocate. Whether it’s practical IT help, a few introductions, or even the occasional lunch or coffee invitation, let your mentor know you value them and don’t take them for granted.

In Conclusion…

There is no formula for finding a freelance mentor. It might happen instantly, or it could take months. When you put in the work, let the world know about your talents, and prove that you’re someone worth investing in, you’ll find them.

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