5 Things to Expect When You Become a Mentor

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Illustration by Ramiro Roman.
Illustration by Ramiro Roman.

I started mentoring fellow writers looking to go freelance in 2013 and I’ve learned a lot since then! 

Last month I shared five tips for people interested in hiring a mentor. But then I realized that some of you are past that point. Some of you are ready to become mentors yourselves!

Well, I’ve mentored dozens of people at this point, and I’ve boiled down my experiences — just for you! — into five things I think you “must” know before getting started:

1. No matter how clear you are, some people will still be confused.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned at my Associate Editor job, it’s this: An astonishing amount of people — even those who call themselves “writers” — don’t like to read. So no matter how informative you are on your sales pageyou’re still going to get questions.

That said, you should still try to be as clear as possible from the get-go! Let your potential clients know exactly what they’re getting. Try to cover not only the basic premise of your mentoring sessions, but also answer questions like:

  • How much the mentoring costs.
  • What equipment your mentee will need in order to speak with you.
  • What timezone you’re in/what timezone sessions are booked in.
  • What your refund policy is.
  • What you expect from them (showing up on time, having questions ready beforehand, etc.).
  • How to contact you/how to book a session.

Not only will this be a great resource for those who do read, it will also be something for you to link to for those who don’t. Very rarely will I get a question that’s not already answered on my sales page — so I just gently suggest that the person inquiring scroll down a bit further to get the information they require. It saves me a lot of time. Plus, having all of the information about your mentoring sessions laid out publicly will help you build your credibility and gain your potential clients’ trust.

2. Organization is an absolute MUST.

The last thing you want to do is overbook yourself. Never, ever say “yes” to a session without referring to your calendar/planner/diary first.

Stay organized.

Not only will you have to keep track of the dates and times you’ll be mentoring others, you’ll also need to keep track of the people you’re mentoring. After all, these are actual human beings you’re helping out! They aren’t just lumps of cash in your PayPal account.

Get to know your mentees (even if they’re just around for a “one off” session!), and jot down information about each of them to refer back to. I like to keep track of things like:

  • Their full name.
  • Their contact info.
  • Their website.
  • Their goals, short and long term.
  • What we talked about.
  • The dates/times of the previous sessions.

I have extensive files on each of my mentoring clients; however, even just a few details written down in an Excel document can do wonders. It will help you and your clients.

3. You know more than you think.

Even though I “knew” I was ready to become a mentor — and even though I’d had teaching experience in my past — I would still get nervous (and sometimes still do!) when it came down to actually talking to people. And yet, thus far, every time I’ve spoken with someone, I’ve aced it.

That felt really weird to say, but it’s true! And I’d be willing to bet it will be the same for you.

If you’re like I am, you might have a tendency to downplay your knowledge and successes — even though you’ve earned them! That can leave you feeling some pretty major anxiety when it comes time to start mentoring.

You know more than you think.

Even if you don’t know everything, you still know more than the person you’re mentoring. And you know what? NO ONE KNOWS EVERTHING!

Your mentee chose you for a reason: They believe in you.

Try to believe in yourself too!

4. It’s the same speech every time.

Once your mentoring really gets on a roll, you’re going to start to notice an obvious pattern. Namely that you’re giving out the exact same information every time you speak with someone.

The people are different, but their problems are the same.

It’s true! Each of your mentees is going to be a gloriously special individual when it comes to their personality and who they are as a person, but the issues they come to you with are all going to be similar. And that’s okay!

You never want to go on “auto-pilot” when you’re mentoring — listen to each person — but knowing beforehand that each client is likely going to have the same questions/concerns will help you prepare for sessions ahead of time. And you’ll feel more confident!

Also, when someone different does come along (and that happens every once in a great while!), they’ll be an extra exciting challenge. 🙂

5. No matter how hard you try, it won’t be purely business…

I’m generally pretty good about setting professional boundaries with clients. But, when it comes to mentees, it’s a lot harder to keep things strictly business-related.

You may find yourself a de facto therapist.

No matter how professional you try to be, no matter how much you reveal (or don’t) about your personal life to the other person, you will hear things about them you probably shouldn’t.

I’m not qualified to offer any sort of therapy (and I make sure to say so!), but I’m a decent listener. And by that fact alone, I have heard some really, really private information from my mentees. I’ve heard silly little things from “I had diarrhea this morning” and “I think I love my cat more than myself” to deep, sometimes dark, confessions of secrets they’d been holding in for years. With no provocation at all, I have been told things that make my eyes go O_O. Abuse, affairs, you name it! And that’s the norm for a typical mentoring session!

But it isn’t really that surprising. When someone comes to you for mentoring, they’re bringing with them all their hopes and fears — for their business and otherwise!

Just listen. And try to get them back on track as soon as you can. After all, they paid you for mentoring; so that’s what they should get. It’s fine to get a little side-tracked, but don’t get too wrapped up in the personal stuff. No matter how likable they are, they’re still a client, and professional boundaries are still needed.

But even with that enforced “distance” put up between yourself and your mentees, I think you’ll find mentoring one of the most rewarding experiences you’ll ever have in your business.

What do you think? Are you ready to start mentoring? Let me know in the comments!


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