Mentorship for Creative Entrepreneurs: Why You Need a Mentor and How to Find the Right one

Photo of a young woman entrepreneur and an older male mentor

No matter how talented you are; no one knows everything. So, it’s really vital that you get a mentor, especially if you’re a creative entrepreneur.

Why Entrepreneurs Like You Need a Mentor ASAP

In a famous TED Talk he gave in 2013, Bill Gates had this to say about the importance of mentorship: “Everyone needs a coach. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a basketball player, a tennis player, a gymnast or a bridge player. We all need people who will give us feedback. That’s how we improve.” The person who fulfilled the role of “coach” for Bill Gates was Warren Buffet.

I’m no Bill Gates, but I do understand how important it is to have the advice of a proven professional to help guide me through the potential pitfalls that the voiceover industry presents.

A fairly recent experience I had underlines how important it can be to have a mentor to give you advice.

The experience had to do with my website. For months, I’d worked with a web designer and an SEO expert to create a website that would showcase my skills as a voiceover.

But in spite of all the time and effort I’d put into trying to create an effective website that did all the things that a voiceover website was supposed to do, I had missed a glaring element. My voiceover mentor, David Gilbert, with his practised eye, pointed out this glaring error on my website, and I fixed it. Without my mentor’s advice, I would have merrily carried on without realising that this basic flaw would continue to leave visitors to my website with a very poor impression of me.

What is a Mentor and Why You Really Should Have One

Like many of our most useful concepts, the term “mentor” goes back to ancient Greeks. A mentor is an advisor, guide, or counsellor who offers advice and guidance to a younger or more inexperienced person. The most memorable example of a mentor is the term’s namesake Mentor, who appears in Homer’s epic The Odyssey. He was the old friend of Odysseus whose appearance the goddess Athena adopts in order to give guidance to the hero’s son Telemachus.  

Based on this classical model, mentorship is the development partnership between a more experienced and knowledgeable mentor and a protégé. A mentor is someone who’s been there and done that, and who can therefore give you guidance as you progress in a career activity. They can give real-life insights into the things you may have only learned about in theory.

So, for example, you can learn about voiceover from online tutorials and voice coaching classes. But a mentor can point you towards the sorts of software that are actually used daily in home studios and help you understand exactly how to apply the various skills you’re learning in class so that you can truly deliver in your auditions and job bookings. Mentorship is a crucial aspect of an entrepreneur’s formation.

Why Creative Entrepreneurs Especially Need Mentorship in Running a Business

As the Bill Gates’ quote suggests, up-and-coming business entrepreneurs can really benefit from the advice of an older and more experienced business person to reach their full potential. People involved in the creative industries – voiceovers, writers, content creators, artists, photographers, filmmakers, and the like – are familiar with the notion of artistic mentorship or apprenticeship. But they’re perhaps less aware of the idea that all of us need mentorship in the business of creative entrepreneurships.

What I mean by the “business of creative entrepreneurship” is the craft of running a business in which you offer a creative service as a business – that is, doing things that a successful business is supposed to be doing: meet the needs of their customers by providing quality services that keep customers happy, maintain a healthy cash-flow balance, make long-term profits, and generate sustainable growth.

Where To Find More Information about Running a Creative Business

The US and Canada Chambers of Commerce are excellent resources for information and mentorship in the various things you need to do to run a successful:

US Chamber of Commerce on Successful Businesses

Canadian Chamber of Commerce – 3 Priorities

Of course, this sort of mentorship in the nitty-gritty aspects of running a creative business is a big ask. A good mentor must not only be passionate about their craft and recognised for the quality of their work. But they must also be an empathetic and effective communicator who has the relevant skills to meet your specific needs.

You Need to Commit to Maintaining Lifelong Mentorship Relationships

The surprising fact is that mentorship doesn’t stop once you’ve passed the apprenticeship stages of your creative career. Mentorship relationships usually continue at all levels of proficiency, with even long-established creative entrepreneurs still seeking guidance from mentors.

Why Mentorship Is Important for All Entrepreneurs

Mentors also have connections within your industry that you don’t have. They may open up new creative and business relationships by allowing you to assist them in their own work, giving you opportunities to learn and widen your creative network.

Of course, a mentor doesn’t just give you all the “answers” to make your life easier. Your mentor will help you recognise problems and allow you to learn by solving these problems.

How to Maintain Mentorship as a Two-Way Relationship

Mentorship is not a passive, one-way relationship in which you just get goodies from the mentor. It’s a two-way relationship, and, if it’s a healthy mentorship, you’ll be expected to establish the framework for the mentoring sessions by setting the agenda for each meeting and determining which specific questions you want answers to.

Most importantly, based on their personal experience, a mentor can give you a different perspective on your goals and the trajectory of your career. When you’re starting out on your career journey, you often overwhelmed with all the things you have to do. Like most creative entrepreneurs, you’ll probably be assailed by the imposter syndrome. Your mentor’s seasoned perspective can help give you a sense of balance.

No matter if you’re at the start of your career journey or at a pivotal crossroads, having a role model, someone whose success you’re seeking to emulate, can be a powerful, stabilising and inspiring outlook on the creative dreams you’re trying to fulfil.

Tips on Finding Your Mentor

And so, how do go about finding your mentor? There are many business mentoring programs and opportunities available to entrepreneurs in Canada or in the country where you live. Some of these allow one-to-one match-ups between a creative entrepreneur and a mentor. Others put entrepreneurs in contact with mentoring advisory boards.

In Canada, there are organisations like Creative Roots and Inspiring Canadians which provide information about some of the best mentoring available to creative entrepreneurs.

In the UK, there are organisations like Nesta, the Creative Business Network and the Creative Mentor Network.

And there’s the ADPList, which allows creative entrepreneurs worldwide to connect mentors in their fields.

Figure Out Exactly What You Need from Your Mentor

Of course, there’s nothing stopping you from looking for a mentor on your own. But the first and most important thing you need to do is to think seriously about what you actually need. Do you want specific career guidance? Help with your creative skills? Or are simply looking for an inspiring role model?

When you’ve figured out what your mentorship goals are, your search for an ideal mentor should be fairly easy.

Start making a list of the companies or people you admire, and send an email or DM to them. Tell them about yourself, what you do, and where you are in your career. Let them know that you’re looking for a mentor, and ask them who would be a good mentor. Be genuine, polite, and clear in your communication, and doors will open.

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