Mentoring: The Awesome, The Horrendous, And The Variables

by Terri Scott 7 Minutes

Mentoring from wikipediaWhen you worked as an employee, it was easy for you to know what to do on a daily basis.

All you had to do pick up a guideline booklet, or ask your direct supervisor for advice and instruction. In many cases, you’ve even asked your co-workers for advice, input, and instructions.

But, what do you do when you’re all alone in your home office? There’s usually no one around to tap on the shoulder. And, whether you work as a freelancer or as a agency owner, you’ll find that as the captain of your ship, all of the the decisions you’ll make begin and end with you!

That’s fine in a perfect world where you’ve got all of the right answers at your fingertips, but what should you do when you’re feeling human, vulnerable, and in need of advice or direction?

Hopefully, you’ve created your own network of mentors to help you navigate your issues. Having said this, you’ll need to keep in mind that not all mentoring figures are created equal, and some people should never be placed in a mentoring position over your business decisions.

Let’s take a look at three common sources of mentoring, and learn why they might be right or wrong for your needs:

Do These Mentoring Sources Pass The Test?

Parents: No

It’s easy to ask parents for advice, especially if you’re a young adult. It’s almost second nature to run to the people who (in most cases) love you unconditionally, seeking their advice and input. But, there’s strong reasons why your parents are the worst mentors you could have on your advisory team.

For starters, parents who were born before the 1960s are largely out of touch with the pace and the nuances of today’s professional environment. The rules that applied to one’s professional trajectory back then are hopelessly out of place in 2015, and beyond.

And, here’s another issue to consider: You parents might secretly (or not so secretly) wonder why you’d decided to freelance or start your own agency (with all of the inherent struggles) instead of finishing school, earning a high GPA, then landing a good job. They might not understand your argument that the model that worked for their generation is pretty much a dead model for your generation.

You can’t blame your parents for feeling this way. Most of them were molded by society to have an employee mentality. As such, they have no clue how to think as an independent contractor or a business owner responsible for tasks such as marketing, account acquisition, raising capital, budgeting, production, operations, etc.

Even if your parents were business owners, chances are good they still operate in a time warp from 25 years ago, or more. They had no incentive to continue to update their skills and personal development. So, just because they ran/run a business doesn’t mean that they’re good at it.

They might even offer you erroneous or illegal advice!

Bottom line: Running to your parents for professional mentoring or advise doesn’t allow you to grow in all of the ways that you should as a professional adult. You’ll never develop in crucial entrepreneurship areas such as perseverance, self-advocacy, and problem-resolution.

And, because parents often still perceive you as their baby, you could be encouraged to continue traits that are lethal in business such as entitlement, selfishness, bunker-mentality, etc.

Spouses: Sometimes

There are strong pros and cons involved with using your spouse as a professional mentor. On the one hand, consulting with your spouse can work if they’re willing to help you learn and resolve issues with an objective perspective.

Since the relationship you have with your spouse is extremely intimate, no one else truly knows who you are, what makes you tick, or what your dreams and goals are. This is key when it comes to your decision-making processes. Also, your spouse knows you intimately enough to reveal your professional blindspots, yet they won’t exploit you because of them.

However, keep in mind that relying upon your spouse for mentorship and counseling depends upon the health of your marriage. Keep in mind that in some cases, spouses have been known to feel threatened by freelance or entrepreneurship opportunities.

In fact, if they feel threatened by your career in any way, then they definitely don’t want to hear about your professional problems or quandaries. You’ll come across as whining at the very least, and bragging at the very worst!

They also won’t want you coming to them if they hated your business idea in the first place. Every question and problem you’ll face will confirm their perspective that your idea sucked, and you should do the right thing and get a real job.

Bottom line: A spouse can be a good mentor if they aren’t struggling with the fact that you’ve become an entrepreneur/freelancer. They also need to be able to counsel you objectively, and you need to be able to receive their objective advice.

Colleagues: Proceed with caution

In a perfect world, we’d share our hopes, dreams, trials, and tribulations with our colleagues without fear of exploitation, or back-stabbing. They offer us constructive critique along with lots of useful suggestions. And, they’d openly cheer us on when we score professional victories.

But, we don’t live in a perfect world, now do we?

The reality is, colleagues often measure their worth against others. If you’re good at what you do, then others will want to be like you, and many will despise you. You’re a bit insulated from office politics and competitive games as a freelancer, since most work remotely. However, even freelancers need to be mindful of avoiding daggers that could wind up in their backs!

A good example is what takes place within professional social media groups. Everyone is in the same boat, wanting to learn more information while sharing wonderful ideas. The camaraderie is often great, but the ideal theft and the character assassinations are often all too real.

There’s nothing wrong with exchanging ideas and sharing previous experiences, but remember that at the end of the day, everyone has their own professional and financial agendas. Be careful of what you share, and what you reveal to others, keeping in mind that their online personality could be very different from their actual character.

Bottom line: Colleagues can be great mentoring resources, but make sure that you select the right colleagues to confide in. It’s no fun to have your confidence betrayed or exploited.

How To Be A Bad Mentee

Now that we’ve examined potentially good and bad sources of mentorship, let’s examine your part in the relationship: Your role as a mentee.

Are you the type of person that a mentor would want to volunteer time and energy in order to help you to grow your business? Did you know that you have a lot of control regarding the answer to this question?

I recently reached out to Kathryn Aragon, editor of the Crazy Egg blog. She also currently offers coaching and mentoring services through her self-branded website.

Content Marketing Consultant Kathryn Aragon
I asked her what makes a person a bad mentee, and she shared a couple of examples.

Some people want the end outcome but aren’t willing to do the work needed to achieve that outcome. They’re essentially looking for an easy button. These people are extremely frustrating to work with because they usually have a lot of reasons why they can’t do the things you recommend.

As an example, I once coached a woman who understood that online marketing could generate good money, but she wouldn’t act on any suggestions for creating those streams of income. She had two fall-back excuses for everything: her husband was out of work (meaning she couldn’t afford to buy resources that could get her started) and her internet was slow (meaning she couldn’t do the online tasks I was recommending).

In my mind, someone who is on the right track is ready to act, no matter what that action might be. In most cases they just need help figuring out what action they need to take next, and how to execute it.  Sadly, they’re often the minority.

Some people, similar to the example I gave above, have unrealistic expectations. They hear that copywriters can make $200k a year and believe they should be able to make that much money in their first month–without learning the craft and without paying their dues.

This type of person isn’t open to instruction! They’ve already decided how things work. They simply want someone to hand them success on a platter.

So, how can you earn a reputation as a good mentee?

Look for ways to find solutions, and not problems. If money is an issue, then ask for free resources. Don’t allow anything great or small get in the way of executing the advice that’s been given. Always practice expectation management.

Don’t expect your mentor to spoon-feed you. They can direct you to the right path, but you’ve got to be willing to take the steps along the path.

This leads me to the final point…

Who Should Mentor You?

In short, the type of mentor you should work with is ideally:

  •  Someone who works in the same industry, or at least the same business model as you
  •  Someone who delights in watching you grow
  •  Someone who isn’t trying to clone themselves through you
  •  Someone who allows you room to discover what’s best for you

Much like finding anyone who’s the right fit for your in your personal life, finding the right mentor will take time, practice, and a process of elimination. However, when you find the right mentors, then you’ll find that the caliber of decisions you’ll make will vastly improve, along with your level of confidence.

*Photo Courtesy of Wikipedia.

**Editor’s note: Now that you have a clearer understanding of what to look for in a mentor, it’s time for you to practice what you might be learning. A great way to practice building your business is to take advantage of our free 14 day trial offer.

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by Terri Scott
Terri is a content marketing storyteller and strategist. She teaches marketing and entrepreneurship through stories for marketers of all stripes. Her specialty is creating narrative and she writes essays and memoir in her spare time. You can view her work at, and she'd love to hear from you: