So, You Think You Want To Become A Mentor? Five Pieces Of Advice

IMG_3242-5 I firmly believe that anything you can do to create multiple streams of revenue is one of the best ways you can run a small business. Especially if you are an entrepreneur who relies on that income as a means of paying your bills, there is nothing more terrifying than seeing an empty calendar ahead, and knowing that you'll have bills to pay regardless.

I used to feel that way (well, truth be told I still worry about it), but after reading my mentor's awesome book, "How To Feed A Starving Artist", it just clicked. I was already working on the idea of gaining income from multiple places, but I have to admit that I thought it made me less of a photographer for doing so... like maybe only a "real" photographer is someone who earns 100% of their income from their camera.

And then I realized - so what? My bills don't care if I used a camera or my other talents to earn income, so why should I care? So I fully embraced what I'm good at, and decided to follow my passions and formal education, and embrace any teaching and mentoring opportunities that came my way.

Two years later, I've formally worked with nearly 300 workshop participants and mentoring clients and informally helped countless others, and I couldn't be happier. Teaching is a calling that I felt long ago, and be it the middle schoolers who I used to spend my days with, or the wonderful adult photography learners that I work with now, education is something I firmly believe in.

Many of the individuals I have mentored have since started offering their own mentoring services or workshops, and it thrills me to no end. I love seeing someone else following their dreams and earn income for themselves and their family.

I don't want this post to turn into a passionate rant on how there is enough for all of us, but let me just say that if you think that someone else's success diminishes your own... Or worry that "everyone" is becoming a mentor... Well, just do us both a favor and skip onto someone else's blog. But if you've been thinking about offer mentoring services yourself, I have some advice for you. Because while it thrills me to no end to see others share their knowledge and get paid for it, it kills me when I hear of bad experiences people have, of mentors not "showing up" or giving terrible advice.


#1: It's Okay To Say "I Don't Know"

No one is an expert in everything. If someone asks you a question that you aren't sure of, it's okay to say that you don't know the answer - but follow that comment up with, "I'll find out, and we can figure it out together". I've said those words more times than I can count, and not only am I *still* able to help a client, but I get to learn something new in the process, too.

And if it's truly a skill or question that you don't know, don't be afraid to recommend someone else. I have a handful of people that I recommend regularly to my clients when they ask me something I don't know, or just something that I know that I'm not the best at. There is zero shame in admitting you don't know something, and only an amateur thinks they have nothing left to learn.


#2: Know Your S#*%

There is no excuse for accepting a paying client and not being able to deliver what you promise. Be that a regular photography session or a mentoring client, if you offer a service, you need to be able to deliver. For mentoring, that means you better know your craft, and have a clear and confident understanding of your own sense of vision. It doesn't mean you have to be together 100% of the time; there are definitely days when I'm struggling with a new concept or have low motivation to shoot, or am dealing with a lack of confidence... But I separate those issues from what I bring to a session, and while they are a personal struggle, they aren't actually an issue of my skill, but just the normal cycle every creative person goes through. So while I do believe that many of you should be mentoring, that is not the same as saying EVERYONE should mentor. You need to be good at what you do if you think you're going to be able to help someone else. If you picked up your camera 6 months ago, are still shooting in auto or struggle to compose an image, if you have only a basic understanding of how to use light... Well, it goes without say that you shouldn't be mentoring anyone else just yet.

In that same line of thought, make sure that YOU never stop learning. Though I mentor a lot of people, I have my own mentor who pushes me and helps me in so many ways. I try to continue my own education by taking classes when I can. Truth be told, this post right here is a result of a blogging class I am currently taking. Never stop learning, and never get to a point where you think you've learned it all.


#3: Show Up

It's kind of sad that I feel like this needs to be included in this list, but just show up. Be present. Commit to your mentoring relationships, and take the time to get to know who you are working with. A good teacher can't rely on the same tools for each student, and you'll only know which tools will work if you take the time to get to know someone. Some people are motivated by kind words, others want to be told the truth as starkly as possible. How will you know which will motivate a client more, if you don't take the time to get to know them?

And then be present. When you give your time to your client, give it without distraction, and don't hold back. If you schedule a call, show up on time, and give them your full attention. If you are working on an email based session, flag their emails and make sure you don't miss them. Make your clients feel like they are important to you - because they SHOULD be.


#4: Make The Experience About Them

If you follow me at all, you might be thinking that this post is completely out of character for me. In fact, you may have already double checked the site address to make sure you really are on my site. I totally admit that talking about this stuff makes me a little uncomfortable... And it's not because I'm embarrassed of what I do, or that I don't like talking about my clients, it's because being a mentor isn't about ME. It's about my clients. It's their goals that I focus on with dogged determination. It's their art that I get lost in for hours at a time. It's their stories that I help them explore. It's about THEM. You are providing a service, and they deserve to have that service be about them. Check your ego at the door, and serve them in the best possible way by making their goals your goals, and their successes and weaknesses yours.


#5: Know Yourself

If you haven't taken the time to really identify and embrace your own skills and talents, how can you do just that for someone else? How do YOU best learn? What type of personality do you have? Take the time to discover your story and understand what makes you unique (because yes, you ARE unique), and you'll be able to better hone in on who your audience is, and  how you can best serve that audience. For me, small groups and one-on-one mentorships for intermediate to advanced photographers are where my skills lie. Large groups make me nervous, and I feel like I lose that personal touch. It's harder for me to stay invested in a large group, so the things that make me a good mentor are lost. I also know that the relationship is really important to me, and that repeat clients and long term sessions are where my teaching skills shine. So, I've built my mentoring and teaching options accordingly. You might be the opposite - maybe you love a large audience and feed off of that energy. Maybe you just want to help solve a couple problems and then move on. Know what kind of learner YOU are, so that you have a better idea the kind of TEACHER you will be, and you'll attract the right kind of clients.


All that said, understand that mentoring is hard, rewarding work. If you think you'll put out a flyer and earn some easy cash... well, I hate to break it to you, but you are doing it wrong. An hour spent mentoring is far more taxing and mentally draining than an hour spent editing images. I love every minute of it, but it is not easy work. It's something you have to truly love doing, so if this doesn't sound appealing to you, don't feel like you have to offer these kinds of services, either. It's what has worked for me, but it may not work for you, and that's okay! And be prepared for it to take time to build a client list. You have to prove yourself time and time again, and it's not easy to do. But if you want to do it - don't let anyone else's opinion stop you.

Interested in chatting one-on-one about how to build a mentoring service to help support your photography business? You can book a one hour chat with me here where we can brainstorm together and you can ask me anything!

Kate DensmoreComment