I very regularly get questions from creatives on how to find a creative business mentor or adviser.
But as that is a very generic question I can’t really help.
In my first blog post in this series on how to find a creative business mentor I asked some big questions on what advice and support you actually need:
Are you looking for technical, creative, business or marketing advice?
Are you looking for a mentor, or more for an adviser or coach?
And do you actually need 1-2-1 advice (which is obviously more expensive) or could a good business book or training help you learn what you need?
In this second blog post in this series on how to find a creative business mentor I will show you 3 practical ways and lots of ideas on how to find your creative business mentor, adviser or coach:
1. Do not ask: ‘Do you want to be my creative business mentor?’
You might have thought that the best route to get a creative mentor is to do some research into what you want, get some suggestions together and then contact them directly.
But … that is not the way it works.
Especially not if you want to work with a high profile mentor.
As Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer at Facebook, says in her popular book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead you shouldn’t approach mentors, they will select you.
Sheryl writes: ‘If someone has to ask the [mentoring] question, the answer is probably no. When someone finds the right mentor, it is obvious. The question becomes a statement. Chasing or forcing that connection rarely works, and yet I see women attempt this all the time. […]
The word ‘mentor’ never needs to be uttered. The relationship is more important than the label.’
Sheryl refers to Oprah Winfrey, who admits feeling awkward when being asked to be a mentor: ‘I mentor when I see something and say, ‘I want to see that grow.’
Sheryl writes: ‘Studies show that mentors select protégés based on performance and potential. Intuitively, people invest in those who stand out for their talent or who can really benefit from help. Mentors continue to invest when mentees use their time well and are truly open to feedback.
It may turn into a friendship, but the foundation is a professional relationship. Given this, I believe we have sent the wrong message to young women. We need to stop telling them, “Get a mentor and you will excel.” Instead, we need to tell them, “Excel and you will get a mentor.”
Remember that mentoring is often a voluntary arrangement, but that doesn’t mean it is for ‘free’.
Therefore, especially with high profile mentors you will need to work (hard) to impress them:
‘Why should they want to spend their limited time and energy with you?’
Let’s get clear: high profile creative business mentors are way ahead of you, often have very limited time, so what’s in it for them?
For high profile mentors it’s often about creating a two-way relationship.
Giving something back to a younger, promising generation.
True mentoring relationships are about more than ‘just giving some advice’, it’s about ‘taking you under their wings’ and introducing you to their connections. It’s a longer term relationship, investing trust and time in the most promising future stars.
Sheryl writes: ‘Few mentors have time for excessive hand holding. Most are dealing with their own high-stress jobs. A mentee who is positive and prepared can be a bright spot in a day.
For this same reason, mentees should avoid complaining excessively to a mentor. Using a mentor’s time to validate feelings may help psychologically, but it’s better to focus on specific problems with real solutions. Most people in the position to mentor are quite adept at problem solving. Give them a problem to solve.’
It’s not about what they can do for you, but equally it’s: What can you offer them?
As creative coach Mark McGuinness says in his book Motivation for Creatives on finding a creative business mentor: ‘Do your own thing. Mentors love to help people who are taking initiative and making things happen, without waiting for help.’
Even if you are not looking for the most high profile of mentors, but somebody who is only a couple of years ahead of you, you need to be able to answer that question: Why would they want to spend time with you and help you? Can they trust you not to abuse the relationship, steal some of their ideas or clients even? Why would they want to share their hard learned lessons with you? Their contacts and suppliers? Why would they give all of that to you, a stranger? (and no … ‘buying them a coffee’ in return for picking their brains won’t be enough!)
The more you can answer those questions for them, and what’s in it for them, the more likely you will be successful when you pitch yourself to them.
So, how can you get in touch with a potential creative business mentor?
Firstly start learning more about them. Read their books or check out interviews, publications and TED talks and the like.
Can you network with them online (Twitter, Instagram and Linked In in particular), or at a private view or other event? Go and see them at events they speak at, and ask questions and network afterwards if you can.
Do you know somebody who can introduce you? Getting referrals might really help with opening doors. Is there an ex-tutor that can help here or other ‘connectors’? Again Linked In might be really useful here to see how you are connected to your potential mentor.
Can you take part in awards that are judged by the people you would love mentoring from? If you would be one of the winners or runner ups you can use that as an opportunity to get in touch, and start building a relationship.
Are you taking part in (high-end) professional development programmes like the Crafts Council Hothouse programme for new makers or Injection for more established makers, or the Walpole Crafted programme? When you take part in professional development programmes like that then you can use the organiser’s network to reach out to higher-end mentors easier.
When you are having (finally) a conversation with a potential mentor then don’t ask them to be your mentor!
Instead ask for some advice on a specific decision or task. Start small. Let them know afterwards how you got on. Like most people, they love to make a difference and like constructive feedback too. And build up an equal relationship from there.
Indeed I have developed mentoring relationships with a winner of the Made London Award and a previous One Year On at New Designers winner, two awards that The Design Trust is involved in. Some of the winners barely stay in touch, but others do. We never talk about ‘mentoring’. They asked my advice on specific challenges and decisions. They stayed in touch and shared their progress with me consistently over time. They invite me to their events, and I know they talk to others about The Design Trust. Indeed, it’s a two-way relationship. Beneficial for both parties.
As Lynne Frank says in her SEED book: ‘Mentoring is a service for others. It’s the sharing of enthusiasms, ideas and experience that an individual has accumulated through years of effort. Mentors are often confused with gurus, and some mentors are put (or put themselves) on pedestals. This is wrong – mentoring is about giving and receiving.
There should be no hierarchy in mentoring – mentors often get as much value and knowledge as they impart. This is an activity that is its own reward.
Get into action: Call someone you know or who is recommended to you by others, who would benefit from your knowledge and experience. Offer that person some mentoring time and see how much you’ll receive.’
2. But do contact a creative coach or adviser!
What makes it all a bit more complicated is that approaching coaches or advisers is absolutely fine!
In fact, they expect it!
(If you don’t know what the difference is between a creative business mentor, coach or adviser then read my first blog post in this series on how to find a creative business mentor.)
Creative coaches and advisers offer a specific service, are often specialists in a specific field and expect to be paid. They will have a more formal client relationship, which is very different than a mentoring relationship.
If you know in some detail what kind of advice or support you need or want (see part one of How to find a creative business mentor) then it becomes much easier to find the right expert for you:
- Ask around and get referrals. Posting a request on an online forum or on Twitter can really help.
- Search on Google or find out on Twitter or Linked In the experts that you need, and do some research into how they work or indeed check out their blogs.
- Most coaches and advisers write blogs and books, and often provide webinars or other forms of training too, so it becomes easier to find out if their style and expertise resonates with you. Attending their online or live events will give you a lot of insight before you start working with them, and it is an ideal opportunity to approach them.
In part 3 of this blog series we will give you 12 questions to ask your prospective business mentor, coach or adviser.
3. There are lots of mentoring opportunities out there
There are various organisations who offer mentoring opportunities, sometimes as a stand-alone service, but often as part of a bigger business support programme. You are not strictly working with a ‘mentor’ (although they might be called that) but the advisers are often a combination of creative business advisers, coaches and indeed more established creative professionals who offer support, advice and their expertise.
Some of these support schemes are free, others are subsidised. Very often they are for a specific group of people so you need to make sure that you fit the criteria. Very often they are also for a limited period only.
You can often find these mentoring opportunities promoted on social media (twitter is a good one!) and at listings, including The Design Trust opportunities listing.
Some examples of creative business mentoring schemes:
- Bespoke Jewellery Training offers one-day courses and expert advice for jewellers by jewellers.
- The Crafts Council offers business support across the UK to emerging designer makers through its Hothouse programme and to more established makers through Injection.
- Creative Industry Finance offers business planning and funding support, and as part of that programme you can access 12hours of creative business advice.
- Cultural Enterprise Office have run mentoring programmes for fashion and high growth businesses in Scotland
- Design Factory offer some opportunities for their designer maker members to become a mentor or mentee.
- Emergents in Inverness, Scotland offers regularly mentoring opportunities for designers and makers in the Highlands & Islands of Scotland.
- The Enterprise Nation Marketplace allows you to find a wide variety of UK private business advisers as well as experts in finance, legal, human resources, social media, web design and the like, with the ability to search locally or regionally too.
- The London Jewellery School offers jewellery business mentor sessions.
- NAJ (The National Association of Jewellers) offers a jewellery mentoring service for their members – by jewellers for jewellers.
- NESTA offers mentoring to a highly selected group of high-growth design and film businesses who are commercially successful and have a turnover of £1million+.
- The Prince’s Trust offers support and mentoring for young, disadvantaged people (up to 30 year old) who want to start their own business. They also love hearing from you if you want to become a mentor for them!
- Space Studios in London offer regularly professional development and mentoring opportunities.
- The Startup Loan scheme is a UK government-backed initiative to provide cheaper loans to new businesses. As part of this support package you also get mentoring support.
- Yorkshire Art Space offers a support package for new ceramicists and silversmiths that includes studio space, training and mentors.
Do you know of any other creative business mentor programmes? Do let us know in the comment box below. Please include any criteria, deadlines and contact details. If you are a participant we would love to hear your experience to and the impact that business mentoring has made on your practice.
Want to know what questions to ask your prospective creative business mentor, adviser or coach? In our next post in this series we will give you a check list with 12 questions to ask your prospective business mentor, adviser or coach.
Are you looking for individual creative business mentors, coaches or advisers? We have selected The Design Trust favourite mentors, advisers and coaches and we will publish this list in early April.