I've always wanted a mentor. But mentorship never came in the way I imagined. Instead of having one person in my life guide me through business decisions, I worked with a variety of people at different times, each of whom taught me something along the way. We didn't have coffee dates or structured conversations, but–instead–I simply watched their lives and learned along the way.
So how did I get access to amazing people? I didn't ask. I understood that people weren't just going to let me follow them around and learn from them. People are busy, and proper mentorship takes a lot of time. Even the most generous, sweetest person will think twice before mentoring someone, especially if they don't know them well.
That's why I never asked.
The first thing I did was assess how I could help, solve a problem, or offer something of value to someone I admired. Basically, I needed to find a way to prove they would benefit by having me around. Let's dive into a few examples of how this unfolded…
Example One: Early in my photo career I learned an esteemed photographer needed help writing an article for a photography magazine. I offered to write it for him, so he set up a two-hour conversation from which I crafted his narrative. I won because I got a deeper understanding of his mind and work ethic, and he won because I wrote the article for him.
Example Two: On social media, I discovered a photographer was overwhelmed as he moved from one studio to another. I emailed and told him I was very organized, and would love to offer my work for free. I insisted I simply wanted to help because the experience would give me insight on working from a studio instead of at home (which is how I worked at the time). I volunteered five hours, I packed boxes, and we shared a pizza before I left. We spoke through the afternoon and I walked away learning SO much (namely, I didn't want to manage a team of photographers, I didn't want massive overhead, and disorganization is the cause of a lot of stress).
Example Three: Recently I reached out to an entrepreneur I admire. I think he's awesome and inspiring. However, after reading his About section on his website, I didn't think it showed his personality in the most powerful way. Based on reading a ton of his blog posts, understanding his voice on social media, and combining it with his About section content, I wrote an updated About section for him. Seems a bit ballsy, right? I mean, this guy didn't know me and I wondered if he'd be offended by my attempt. The good news is that he emailed me back the next day and said he updated his website with what I wrote. We exchanged emails and though we're not friends by any means, I feel comfortable reaching out in the future if I have a question.
Would I like a full-time mentor? Yes. Do I wish I had someone to help guide me as I navigate the business world? Yes. Could I be a stronger entrepreneur with insight from a seasoned pro? Yes. But running a business ain't charity. It's a transaction of time between two people, so it must benefit both parties.
If you want a mentor, find ways to create value for another person and make it a win-win.