by Matthew Loomis
As you get older it is harder to have heroes, but it is sort of necessary. ~Ernest Hemingway
When we were young, it was easier to find heroes. Wasn’t it?
A hero in this context is defined as a person noted for special achievement in a particular field. For example, “the heroes of medicine.”*
Or, the heroes of writing…heroes of marketing…heroes of design…heroes of illustrating…
Stay with me here, and you’ll see how these “heroes” can help you reach freelance success.
The Peach Fuzz Years
As children, we gravitated to those who had the mad skills to do what we admired.
Those larger than life “grownups” with abilities that seemed supernatural to us as kids–like launching baseballs to the moon with a piece of wood…picking up a saxophone and making it talk to your soul…revealing the pure joy found in Calculus…
We can all look back at our youth and recall a yearning to be great at something. Do you recall praying for a teacher to step in and help you excel?
I’m talking about a life changing relationship that pushes you to excellence.
That’s what a freelancer needs.
When the student is ready…
There’s an ancient proverb that goes something like this: When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.
As kids, mentors come easily…
A teacher…coach….uncle…scout leader…tutor…neighbor…
Then we grow up.
So why does the mentor well seem to dry up around the time we reach our late twenties? Is it because our baby faces sprout whiskers that steal our innocent appearance, making us look more like a teacher than a student?
Or could there be something going on inside us as we mature that repels the mentors around us rather than attracting them to us?
Like an acceptance of mediocrity. Fear of rejection. Perhaps a pride that says “I don’t need any help.”
Whatever the reason, we end up traveling through adulthood (the bearded years) Not ready for a teacher. So, the teacher never appears.
At best, a freelancer without a mentor will develop at a turtle’s pace. At worst, they won’t make it at all.
Whatever you do, don’t blow off your need for freelance mentoring or career mentoring today if a teacher or coach in the past disappointed you.
I’m sorry if you were taken advantage of during that relationship. You have a right to be skittish about this.
Or, maybe you are skeptical about this freelance tip because of your own experiences with past figures you placed on high pedestals. You thought they were a god, then discovered they were more like a toad–warts and all.
Yep, they weren’t perfect.
But they still helped you get better, right? Just because they’re human doesn’t mean they can’t train you to be a better freelancer–or person.
Please, whatever your reasoning might be to resist this freelance tip, somehow set it aside and find a freelance mentor.
Here is the way to do it.
How Do You Find a Mentor to Help Your Freelance Business?
Answer: 2 ways: through circumstances and/or through simple networking.
Let’s start with “circumstances.”
Sometimes, your circumstances will provide a mentor. You may unexpectedly stumble upon a mentor through situations. Like a job.
Some freelancers reading this have held a job in their chosen freelance work. Or they currently have a job but are close to shifting into self employment. Whatever case fits you, think back on your previous experiences at work and see if a mentor figure jumps out at you.
This mentor may actually have a job today. They may not be self-employed. But, they can still provide mentorship to your specific skill set, right?
For example, you can be a freelance designer, yet still get design mentorship from a creative director working at an agency.
She may not be much help with certain self employment topics like how to write a proposal for a client, negotiate pay, or tax advice, but she can still mentor you on the latest techniques and trends in B2B Design.
So, don’t be afraid to approach someone you work(ed) with and ask questions about your line of work. They will likely be flattered.
Maybe my story will give you some additional ideas…
One of my web copywriting and content marketing mentors is a guy named Demian.
He’s a Mentor Provided by Circumstance
In this case, I did not intentionally pick Demian out and ask him to mentor me.
That’s just the way things worked out.
You see, we were both hired to be staff writers at the same employer several years ago. We developed a friendship the first year, and I started picking up a few writing tips from him on a casual basis.
Two years later, he gets promoted. So my friend became my supervisor, which isn’t something that is guaranteed to turn out well.
Thankfully, this experience turned out to be a beautiful thing. His promotion is where the mentoring really took off.
For the next two years, I received personalized training from someone who today is a rising star in the web copywriting and content marketing universe.
Normally, you would have to pay someone to get as much one-to-one mentoring as I did during those two years. (The cool thing about this setup was that I was getting paid while I learned.) You see, he was not only editing and critiquing everything I wrote, but he also conducted weekly writing workshops for the editorial team. And, I received a biweekly one-to-one meeting with him for an hour.
This. Was. Priceless.
His mentorship greatly enhanced my writing skills and my confidence. Actually, my writing was transformed in many ways. My approach, attitude, thought process and style are still influenced by him today.
If your current job or some other circumstance enables you to have access to a “hero” in your line of work, do yourself a favor and make the most of it.
If you are ready, don’t delay the appearance of the teacher.
Because the opportunity likely wont’ last forever.
You see, after two years working under his tutelage, Demian left for freelancing.
This was sad news at first. In fact, one morning before he left, I cried in his office. (I’m not a crier, either.) Because I knew that something good was coming to an end.
Or so I thought…
It’s the 21st Century, Baby! Connections Can Last a Lifetime
With the internet today, Demian still is a writing mentor to me. (And a freelance mentor, but specifically more so with the craft of writing.)
I can still learn from him through his blog articles and webcasts.
And occasionally, I can pry him out of his home office for a lunch.
Power Lunching with a Mentor
But today, he is more a friend than anything else. But a busy friend (like me), so I don’t expect him to take frequent phone calls from me to answer questions. I don’t bombard him with emails. I seek to maintain the friendship along with the mentorship.
To this day, I still pause to read what he’s sharing online or (when I can) listen to him talk about the craft of writing in a Google+ hangout or webcast.
So, what about you? Is there someone in your life who is mentoring your skill set and/or your freelance business? How did it start? Let us know with a comment!
But hold on first…got another story for ya.
My second mentor is a guy named Steve. He is an example of a mentor who has been instrumental in helping develop my freelance writing skills along with self employment tips.
Steve is experienced in many years of sales along with years of freelance copywriting, and is now transitioning himself to spending 80% of his time mentoring others.
Steve is someone I met online. I did not know him until several months after starting my freelance business.
These pics were taken a few months ago when I had a chance to meet with him in person.
Freelance Writing Can Be Learned While Dining
Steve provides individual mentoring in my line of work (copywriting), along with writing retreats where you can spend a few days with him (in great locations) while learning.
Plus, Steve’s mentoring in the area of running a freelance business has been well worth the investment. He’s provided some great advice on some dealings with clients, time management, and proposal writing.
He also has a gift of encouragement and helping people dream big.
These services are not always free, by the way. But that’s okay.
Think back to some of your childhood mentors. It’s possible your parents were paying that person for the opportunity. That’s why I recommend investing in a personal mentor, as long as you enjoy your interactions with the person.
If you don’t feel comfortable with a mentor, then by all means, move on.
So, now what are you going to do?
Is there someone you admire in your line of freelance work, but you haven’t had the nerve to introduce yourself? Be bold and tweet them, leave a comment on their blog, or simply email them.
The success of your freelance business will accelerate with a little mentoring.
Please share your take on freelance mentoring in the comments. Ciao
*The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2009. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.