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How Freelancers Can Succeed: Find a mentor

This article is for those who like to keep progressing, regardless of age; who would rather keep

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By Ande Schurr

As much as we say we want to be successful and make a better income, have a better life and so on, the reality is we sometimes just wish to leave things as they are. Why change a good thing?

Putting in place new business ideas and learning new skills is not just costly on your time and finances but often just too much like hard work.

That is where a little secret comes into play.

This ‘secret’ is more obvious for the trainee and yet it is just as important for the experienced freelancer. The problem is energy; getting enough of it to make additions and enhancements to your skills and business without taking on too much or losing the momentum you’ve already built.

This article is for those who like to keep progressing, regardless of age; who would rather keep their mind alive with new ideas and practices than falling prey to stagnation and the loss of ‘zest’ for life.

What is this secret? It is to find a mentor: a man or woman whom you greatly respect and admire. One who has developed and refined the skills of their craft, and their personality, to a far greater degree than you have.

Are mentors hard to find? Not if you know how to look.

Here are three steps to find and develop a trusting rapport with a suitable mentor:

1. Choose someone considerably more developed than you

Why do we respect some people more than others? Because, they have made something of their lives and put in effort to be more than just a robotic person following a career path. Chances are they have had testing experiences that have given them a tough mental disposition – and that is very attractive for the person interested in building a strong character.

By choosing someone who is more developed than you, it is not about saying ‘Poor me, I’m not good enough’ or any sort of awkward inferiority complex, but rather you are saying to the other person, “I see you have made something of yourself and I aspire to do the same with my life”. 

2. Show that you are worthy of their time and effort

Practice what they show you, keep in touch, and appreciate them with more than a just cheap ‘thank you’.  Distinguish yourself from the many others who may also be ‘courting’ this person.

If you don’t act on anything they have suggested for you then that is another way of saying you don’t value them and you are just wasting their, and your, time. My mentor has suggested various small improvements to my business as a Sound Recordist – over a long period of time. The suggestions I have not followed up on hang in my mind and show me where I need to improve.

3. Find a way to work together professionally - eventually

The greatest problem in business is surely to find a business partner who is in harmony with you. It takes much time together to build an understanding that promotes the necessary certainty you need with any long term partner – personally and professionally. Your mentor is ideally suited here. He or she will likely have many good business ideas just sitting around waiting for the right person to come along. Perhaps that person is you.

Final Notes on Mentors:

If you choose someone at the same level as you, then the possibility that they will teach you something is greatly reduced. Although certainly, you can never have enough friends! Such a person is a good addition to a true mentor. Good friendships can develop in such cases but having just one person whose opinion you hold above all others is crucial.

That is why we often choose friends who are at the same level as us. It is much more difficult to turn up time after time at your mentor’s place and see for yourself your limitations and difference in skill and capacity than the one you admire.

Yes, admiration. That is a key attribute you must have. Cultivate it well and it will make the lessons you learn all the more valuable. If you do not have a sense of awe or great respect for your mentor then you cannot value the things he or she will teach you. This is harder for a westerner to understand as they have not been brought up with the concept of devotion which so much a part of the culture of eastern countries.

I credit my mentor for my successes and take a hard look at myself for my failures. That is the way I’ve found keeps me responsibly for my own actions and progressing forward.

Your mentor doesn’t have to be in the same industry as you although it helps.

Find your mentor no matter how long it takes. They can live anywhere in the world although locally – in person – is ideal. Talk regularly. Every week is good, every month is adequate. Using email alone is not suitable for developing such a relationship.

Written by

Ande Schurr

9 Feb 2010

Corporate video producer and production sound recordist now based in Singapore after a 15-year career in New Zealand. Video clients incl. universities, tech startups, medical clinics and business consulting agencies. Sound clients incl. Netflix, Discovery, BBC, National Geo.