By Sreeram Sreenivasan, 10x Management Guest Writer
Although mentoring can conjure up images of a full-time, corporate environment, mentoring is equally useful for freelancers. If you don’t have a mentor in your professional life, then it’s high time you find a mentor and start learning from someone with experience. In fact, did you know that 79% of millennials believe that a mentor is crucial for their career success?
The importance of mentorship
Freelancers often have to work alone. Sometimes, they can spend entire days isolated in their home office, or only communicating with their clients and peers via emails and phone.
This can give them tunnel vision, limiting their exposure to new skills and market trends. It’s very easy to get stuck doing the same kind of work for various clients, without having a clear roadmap about how to develop your freelance career: which projects to pick, which ones to leave out, how to build a great portfolio.
A mentor is the right person to help you evolve in your business as well as professional life. According to Rush University’s Women mentorship program, the single greatest benefit of mentorship is to be guided by someone who has preceded your path and knows the way. It allows you to work with an experienced professional who has come before you and has a good idea about how you can reach your goals.
For example, if you’re just starting out, a mentor can tell you where to find new clients for your business and how to position yourself. A mentor can also pass on valuable resources, such as contacts and pitch email templates, that you can use to land projects and get your business off the ground.
It can be easy to lose motivation when you’re a beginner or when you’re in the midst of a dry spell with projects. A mentor will motivate you to keep going, since they’ve been through the grind themselves.
Furthermore, a mentor can help you evaluate each client and price your service optimally so you don’t undercut yourself. A mentor can review your final deliverables and help you polish your offering, so that your clients consider giving you repeat business. You can also learn how to manage client expectations and communicate in a professional manner.
As your freelance career grows over time, your mentor can guide you on how to balance multiple projects at the same time. A mentor can also help you achieve a healthy work-life balance. If you’re overwhelmed with work, a mentor might be able to guide you in transforming your solo business into a flourishing team.
Whether you’re a software engineer wanting more tech clients, a writer searching for writing gigs, or strategizing how to get more coaching clients, mentoring and networking can help. A huge benefit of a mentor is the potential for access to clients and other helpful connections. If you build a healthy relationship with your mentor and prove that you’re ambitious and hardworking, your mentor can open many doors for you:
- Pass on some of their own work to you, and hire you as a contractor
- Introduce you to some of their connections and help you grow your network
- Give you referrals that help you build your freelance business
- Invest in your business, helping you grow faster.
How can freelancers find a mentor?
- Start with your personal network
Is your friend or colleague in the business? Does your college professor know people in your line of work? Do any of your relatives have connections relevant to your business? The first freelance project often comes from our own circle of influence. In fact, I got my first customer from a friend who was freelancing for a small Canadian business. However, ensure that you don’t end up working for free to keep your friends/relatives happy. Charge a nominal fee, no matter how small the work.
- Tap into mutual connections
If you’re familiar with the concept of six degrees of separation, you’ll know that you can connect with anyone in this world through mutual connections. Once you find a potential mentor, look for mutual connections on LinkedIn or Facebook who can introduce you. Also, look at their interests, hobbies and social groups to find a common topic of conversation to start with.
- Join freelancer communities
You can also join local freelancer or Meetup groups. Attend seminars, workshops, lecture and networking sessions in your locality. This way you’ll not only meet freelancers in your own niche but also come across more experienced people you can learn from or partner with.
Similarly, there are plenty of online communities, social media groups, and forums where you can find guidance. Analyze the conversation that happens in these groups to determine if they’re useful or not.
Ensure that you keep your portfolio/resume handy to show them what you’ve done.
A few things to keep in mind
No matter which of the above methods you use, ensure that your mentor actually has freelance experience. There are plenty of experienced professionals who have never stepped outside the corporate world. Although they may be well-meaning, they likely won’t understand your challenges.
It’s even better if your mentor’s experience is actually relevant to your own line of work. For example, if you’re a web developer, look for someone in the software industry. Otherwise, their ideas and suggestions may not be easily applicable to your own situation.
Also, be clear about what you want out of the mentorship – are you looking for leads? Do you need recommendations? Do you wish to gain work experience? Are you simply looking to understand the industry landscape? This will help you make the most of your mentoring sessions.
Every freelancer should consider having a mentor – someone who can share their knowledge and experience with you, and help you spot pitfalls and avoid them beforehand. Every mentoring relationship is different. The key is to find a mentor that helps you meet your freelancing goals and grow your business.
Sreeram Sreenivasan has worked with various Fortune 500 Companies in areas of Business Growth & Marketing Strategy. He’s the Founder of Ubiq BI, a BI Platform for SMBs & Enterprises. He also runs the Fedingo blog that covers a wide range of marketing topics.
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