When people ask Kristi Porter for business advice, she first tells them to find a mentor.
Porter is the “chief do-gooder” at Signify, an Atlanta-based business specializing in marketing for nonprofit and for-profit organizations helping specific causes. Over the years leading up to and after the launch of her company in 2016, she sought the guidance of several mentors on how to set up her website and run her own business.
For freelancers, entrepreneurs and people who work independently, she says, it can be easy to fall into the trap of thinking they have to do everything by themselves. But that’s not the case. Mentors can be a support system offering guidance on overcoming the hurdles preventing your business from improving.
“It’s just great knowing that you’re not doing it alone,” she says. “Having outside perspectives and voices help[s] you get through the good and bad times.”
So having a mentor can be beneficial, but how do you find one if you’re a freelancer, an entrepreneur or someone who works from home? To find out, we ask some experts what to do when finding a mentor.
Full-Time Remote Worker? Make Yourself Visible
Not reporting to a central office can make finding a mentor seem impossible. That’s why Brie Reynolds, senior career specialists at FlexJobs, encourages remote workers to be as visible as possible. You can get on your co-workers’ and your boss’s radar by sending weekly job-related updates and setting times to chat about things other than work.
By making time to reach out and get to know your remote co-workers via instant messaging programs, phone or email, you’ll start to build a solid rapport. Those people may develop into potential mentors or point you toward someone who’s a better fit.
“Finding a mentor is ultimately about building a relationship with somebody, so you have to start at a small level,” Reynolds says.
Leverage Your Networks
According to Porter, one of the easiest ways for people to find a mentor is by letting their personal and professional networks know that they’re searching for one.
When the Atlanta-based nonprofit Plywood People introduced its new community manager, Porter seized the opportunity. She asked if the manager knew anyone with expertise in running an online business.
Within a day or two, the manager responded and set up an introduction with someone who she thought might be a great match. The recommended person ended up becoming a mentor to Porter. Over their yearlong mentor-mentee relationship, Porter learned the technical side of setting up an online business.
“Sometimes it’ about being bold and putting the ‘ask’ out there, and letting people know rather than continuing the hunt on your own,” she says.
Attend Professional Networking Events
During her days working as a restaurant sales manager, Beth Lawrence was regularly attending industry and non-industry-specific networking events around Philadelphia.
But after a layoff, she decided to become an entrepreneur and open her own event planning and marketing company, Beth Lawrence LLC. This time she wanted to seek out business groups featuring people going through similar situations.
Now she attends networking events aimed at helping female entrepreneurs and freelancers from different industries. “I just always find that I really learn a lot from people who aren’t necessarily in my same profession,” she says. At these events, she was able to develop new skills and get her business-related questions answered in a group setting.
It was at these networking events she found one of her mentors, an attorney. Despite not being in the same industry or having a similar career path, Lawrence always sought her advice when making major career decisions.
She says if you’re a freelancer or entrepreneur considering attending a networking event for the first time, go with a friend. By going with a friend, someone you know or a group member, it’s easier to make casual in-person introductions. “At the end of the day, a warm introduction is way better than a cold email or cold call,” she says.
Consider Creating an Accountability Group
When looking for potential mentors, Reynolds says, you don’t have to stick to the traditional mentor-mentee relationship. Try lateral relationships to start.
“I think sometimes people hear ‘mentor’ and think that it has to be this very formalized relationship, but it doesn’t have to be that way,” she says. “It can really be even just a couple of freelancers who are at the same level helping each other out.”
Porter says accountability partners — or mentor groups — are peers who are in the trenches with you. These are often fellow freelancers or entrepreneurs all working on their personal businesses who are willing to lend you a hand when needed. Her accountability partner’s background is in selling physical products online, but Porter’s is in service-based business.
While working together in person is one way to hold these accountability or mentor groups, Reynolds says there is no specific format when structuring these relationships. They can be done in person or with email chains and instant messaging threads. She says, “It really just depends on what you are all comfortable working on.”
How Do You Ask Someone to Be Your Mentor?
After all the networking, email exchanges and coffee dates, if you see someone as a potential mentor, all you need to do is ask.
It doesn’t have to be something incredibly formal. When Porter asked her mentor if she wanted to take the role 10 years ago, it was done via email following a coffee meeting. Porter recalls they both hit it off so well that she decided to be bold and ask.
“I know a lot of people in high-level positions are willing to give back in some capacity and do want to share what they’ve learned,” she says. When Porter’s mentor opened the email, she was flattered. “She thought, ‘Yeah, this is something I can do. I like you and want to see you succeed,’” Porter remembers.
But if a potential mentor isn’t willing to take you under their wing, don’t worry. Porter tells freelancers and entrepreneurs to be patient when searching for the right person.
“It sometimes takes quite a while to find these people, so don’t give up, keep trying,” she says. “Once you find somebody that works with you, it’s a really great partnership and you’ll be so glad that you waited.”
Matt Reinstetle is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. He covers career advice and side gigs. You can follow him on Twitter @MattReinstetle.
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