• Advice

Why mentorship matters

Whether you are 18 or 65, there is value in recognizing when you need help or assistance. Many people who transition from other careers to freelancing, or who start off as freelancers, seek the advice and counsel of others who have, colloquially speaking, already put in the work.

There is even greater value when you are in a position to help someone who can benefit from your wisdom, expertise, and skillset. It is for this reason that I challenge you to add become a mentor to your list of goals for 2019.

Whether the relationship is formal, through an organization or a group, or informal, a good mentor can help a mentee navigate the intricate and nuanced terrain called business. A good business mentorship can provide a mentee with a blueprint for long term success. More importantly, mentors/mentees can build a relationship that is built on respect, common interests and a commitment to growth.

Sound appealing? Here are a few things to consider:

Be clear about your role as a mentor

Before entering into a larger discussion about mentorship, it is essential to first unpack what a mentor is. Because expectations are critical, understanding the role of a mentor is critical before becoming one.

In a recent article for Inc., Tony Tjan writes:

“Throughout history, different terms have been used to describe the various roles that mentors play. In ancient Greece, a muse was a source of knowledge and inspiration for songwriters and storytellers. Other mentors are more like coaches who guide and provide psychological support to players who may actually be more skilled than the coaches themselves.

Sometimes, mentors are highly respected practitioners, like artisanal masters of a craft to aspiring apprentices. Or think of the ultimate mentor of mentors, a Jedi Master like Yoda from whom younger hopefuls seek inspiration and wisdom. These and others are master mentors--the men and women who teach us to strive toward a dream while keeping us grounded to everyday realities.”

Of the various definitions that I have seen about business mentorship, I like Tjan’s because there is an element of realism threaded throughout his discussion. Being realistic in terms of a mentor’s role, as I will discuss next, can determine the success of a mentor/mentee relationship.

Set realistic expectations for your mentee and Yourself

I am currently mentoring a young science fiction writer whose writing and storytelling skills are so sophisticated and robust that I truly believe that she will become the next Octavia Butler. I have told her as much and the sentiment served as the ultimate compliment. I also shared with her that the process of pitching her book would be one that requires tenacity and an unwavering commitment to the process.

More than anything, she expressed that she needed me to hold her accountable. We have set realistic goals for her writing, including bi-weekly virtual check-ins. This process has worked marvelously for her and for me because we are able to set measurable and realistic goals while honing in on her personal and professional growth.

Because every mentor/mentee relationship will be different, it is important to be clear about what you and your mentee need from the relationship. Mentors are often part coach, part educator, part role model, and part friend. Each of these hats carries with it a series of responsibilities, but one of the most important ones that is embedded in each of these roles is being honest.

The fact that someone set out to be mentored speaks volumes about their willingness to be coached and their willingness to hear and receive the truth. As a mentor, we have an ethical responsibility to be clear about how we can help and how we cannot help.

Affinity matters

Prior to launching my freelancing career, most of my mentors came in the form of basketball coaches in my youth and other English professors during my adulthood. Our relationships were forged out of a general desire to see me evolve into a better player, professor and person. Because of the specificity of their mentoring, some of the advice was unique to that particular period in my life. Some of the more general life lessons are still applicable today.

What made these mentorships memorable was that they were an outgrowth of a natural affinity. Realistically, we tend to gravitate towards those who have prior knowledge about areas that we are most interested in.

The same is true with business coaching. As a mentor, it is important that you are comfortable imparting knowledge not just about business in general, but also about the particularities and peculiarities of your industry or field. This allows you to feel confident when sharing information. It also helps to build trust and respect.

Pass the baton

Because I had such strong mentors, I was not afraid to seek out a business mentor when I first started freelancing. There were more things that I didn’t know than I did know about the business side of freelance writing. Having a mentor allowed me to evolve in ways that could not be replicated in textbooks or in courses. Now, via mentoring, I share what I have learned with others. In other words, someone once passed me the baton; now, I pass the baton and encourage you to do the same.

As we enter into the new year, many of us are setting goals, projecting budgets, and scheduling clients and projects. It is a time often filled with excitement and anticipation as we think about the various ways that we can grow and improve. It is also an optimal time to reflect upon how we can help others in their quest to become freelancers and entrepreneurs.

Remember, the advice of a good mentor is a gift that keeps on giving, especially when you share what you have learned with others.

Happy 2019!

Tyra Seldon Tyra Seldon is a former English Professor turned writer, editor and small business owner. Her writing addresses the intersections of race, gender, culture and education.