Ben Hampson

PRO

27 October 2016

One way or another, mentoring is for you

On National Mentoring Day, Ben Hampson suggests that all copywriters could benefit from a professional guide.

Mentoring wasn’t really something I’d ever thought about until I seemed to hit a phase in my daily work schedule when everyone was talking about it, like it was the newest, hottest fad on the block. The Pokémon Go of the business world, if you will.

One month, it suddenly seemed like a huge variety of the clients I was working with were talking about going for their ‘ business mentoring session’, and to be honest, I just remember thinking they were a bit pompous. That was my first thought.

My second thought was probably something along the lines of: ‘why do you need a mentor, I thought you were supposed to be good at what you did?’

That was my biggest mistake. I just didn’t understand mentoring.

Given that October 27th is National Mentoring Day, if you’ve never thought about becoming a mentee – or a mentor – it’s about time you did.

What is mentoring?

Although it may sound like it, mentors have nothing to do with Mentos. If you’ve got a sweet tooth like me, that’s the first thing to pop into your mind. Both could actually leave you feeling refreshed and with a rush of energy, but a mentor doesn’t need to rely on a sugar boost to deliver.

Mentoring can give you the drive to succeed. It can give you the tools to transform your business, and it can leave you with an incredible feeling of positivity and power. Mentoring can leave you satisfied and energised like no amount of Mentos ever could.

Does that sound all gushy and emotional? Yeah I thought that about mentoring at first too. Until I tried it myself.

Of course, there are lots of different definitions of mentoring, and the process differs greatly depending on the industry or sector you’re in. But as a generic meaning, you couldn’t go far wrong from:

The process by which an experienced and trusted adviser teaches, gives help and advice, or supports a less experienced, less knowledgeable and often younger person.

I did say this was a broad, generic definition. It doesn’t really mean much.

I used to think that mentoring didn’t mean much. To me, it was just some fluffy, corporate term, used by senior management to tick a box on a professional development form.

But having been through a mentorship programme, I now know it can actually be incredibly useful to copywriters, whether you’re working in house, as a freelancer, or for your own business.

Mentoring can in fact make a huge difference to your skills, your abilities, and your successes.

But why? Why does having a mentor differ from just listening to experts and ‘gurus’?

If you’re anything like me, as a writer and researcher you devour knowledge and information. Learning new stuff is a vital part of what we do every day. So what can a mentor offer that a smart, experienced expert in the field can’t?

For me – nothing. They don’t have to offer any expert, specific knowledge, because that’s not their value. They don’t even need to be in the same profession as you, if I’m honest (though of course that does help).

Mentoring isn’t really about specific knowledge. It’s not about telling you exactly what you need to do be successful. That’s not what mentors do.

  • They won’t tell you the right and wrong answers
  • They won’t promise to transform your business
  • They won’t do the hard work for you
  • And if mentor asks you to pay, it’s no longer mentoring. That’s coaching.

A good mentor will work with their mentees because they want to help and because they’re passionate about providing support. They’re not in it for money.

They’re not about telling you what you should do, or giving you insights, tricks and ‘hacks’ into copywriting. They’re about helping YOU figure out what’s right and wrong YOURSELF, and setting you on the right path.

In fact, a good mentor might not actually tell you anything that you didn’t already know. They’re like that really useful (though at times annoying) teacher at school; the one that would never tell you the answer, never actually tell you if you were right in fact, but instead would push you to think for yourself, and figure out the correct answer without it being told to you.

At school, that teacher was really frustrating, but there was something extremely satisfying about being able to work it out for yourself. The same is true for a mentor. Any ‘expert’ can talk at you and tell you what you should do, but a mentor lets you figure it out for yourself.

That makes you think smarter, and more importantly, helps you to remember. That’s the key: knowledge that sticks.

So what else can a mentor offer?

Of course, I’m being overly simple here. A copywriting mentor is bound to be able to tell you all kinds of stories about the industry, share some tools they find invaluable, and help you hone your skills.

But for me, mentors can offer support beyond ‘knowledge’ on a few key areas:

  • They’re an empathetic ear
  • They make you think and justify
  • They’ll open doors for you
  • They’ll hold you accountable

A mentor is there to hear all your problems and help you confront any issues that you might be facing. And because they’ve probably been through it all before themselves, they’re an empathetic ear.

They know what you’re facing, and they know how you’re feeling. They get what you’re going through, like no-one else could. They’ve been in the same business situation as you, and whilst your family and friends can be sympathetic, your mentor can help you understand how to deal with it. (And probably share their own tales to cheer you up, if you need it!)

As well as helping you understand how to deal with any challenges, your mentor can help you ensure you’re on the right path. Whichever project you might be working on, or whatever new idea you’re about to implement, a mentor will ask you: ‘why?’

They’ll make you think about what you’re planning and justify it. By explaining your thinking and reasoning, you’ll soon know whether you’re on the right track or if you’re spiralling off in the wrong direction.

Your mentor can also open doors for you. They’ve probably been around the block a few times, so they’ll likely have all kinds of connections they can introduce you to. Many of them could be quite random, but you never know what might come of an introduction.

As well as people, a mentor can open doors to new ideas, challenging your thinking, brainstorming with you, and helping you to create something unique. They might even be able to open new opportunities for you. After the second meeting with my mentor, he’d already asked me to present a workshop with him to a group of CEOs.

Most importantly for me, a mentor will hold you accountable. You could set deadline after deadline for yourself – to write a proper business plan, to put a personal marketing strategy together, or even to write a blog for yourself – but if you don’t have someone to make sure you do it, you’ll always find something else seemingly more important.

It’s amazing how things change when you have to do something for someone. It’s not like being back in school, where you’ll get in trouble from your teacher if you don’t do your homework. And yet it feels like that! That’s the point.

Before my next meeting with my mentor, I knew I had to sort my plans out – I’d be letting us both down if I didn’t! Nothing would have happened if I didn’t do them, we’d have had the meeting as normal. And yet, just having that someone asking me to do something, made me make sure I did it.

It’s kind of like having an embodiment of your inner consciousness – a Jiminy Cricket if you will.

Mentoring works both ways

My own mentor is very much like Jiminy Cricket, although he’ll probably hate me for saying this. Like myself, he isn’t exactly blessed with the gift of height, but he more than makes up for his short frame with an incredible amount of experience, both business wise and personal.

We’ve only met for three sessions in total at the moment, but I already have a comprehensive business plan for the next year, a vision for the next five years, an idea for a new service offering and the delivery of workshop session in progress.

But our mentoring sessions haven’t just helped me. They’ve also helped my mentor.

He’s bounced some ideas off me, picked my brains for a fresh approach, and found a new connection himself he can utilise for his business.

Being a mentor yourself is immensely satisfying. You’re giving back, identifying with those who are in a position you’ve been in yourself. And you are helping others, an integral part of our humanity.

I have my own mentor, and I also mentor others. I’m working with junior copywriters on a regular basis, supporting them as they build up their own business, and making sure they don’t fall into the same traps I did. It also helps me focus on my own company too.

I often get random questions on advice through my website, and I actually really enjoy answering them. It’s great to support someone on their path to success.

As a mentor, you get to showcase your knowledge as well as developing it further. Nothing helps you understand more than when you’re teaching a subject to others.

That’s worth it on its own.

So for National Mentoring Day, think about it.

Could you be a mentor? Could you use help from a mentor?

Whatever position you’re in, all you have to do is ask. There will always be people looking to help, and there will always be people wanting to listen to your advice. So just start a conversation, and see what mentoring can do for you.

———

As a copywriter, what kind of advice would you give to someone just starting out in the industry? What did you always wish you’d known?

In fact, what do you still want to know about?

If you’re new to the industry, what are you struggling with?

Let us know in the comments below.

And if you need help finding a mentor, Pro Copywriters’ Network might be able to help. If you would like a mentor, you can join the waiting list for the PCN’s free Mentor Club 


What do you think?

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Charlotte Ford

October 27, 2016 at 6:08pm

Hi, I’m a newbie going into copywriting and I love this idea, thanks for highlighting the mentorship scheme. I have been writing for ages but now I’m looking to get into copywriting as a profession… how can you build a portfolio with no paying clients yet? I’m struggling to find speculative examples and pitch copywriting itself as a valuable service. A lot of people I encounter rely on marketing teams and I’m struggling to pitch my worth as a copywriter without analytics stats and a strong portfolio of paid clients to back up my claims. Any advice?

PRO

Ben Hampson

October 27, 2016 at 7:01pm

Hi Charlotte,

Thanks for your comment! OK so first things first – you’re not alone. We’ve all been in this position. Starting out is the hardest thing, and if you can get through those first few months, you’ll be well on your way. Some suggestions:

1. Go local, and offer your services for free. Think small private dentists, accountancy firms, even the local butty shop. Ask to speak to the owner and explain your situation. Tell them you’d love to help improve there website, and you want to see if you can get them more traffic or get more people to click through from their emails. If you offer your services for free, in return for them agreeing to let you use your work as portfolio sample and case study, you’ll find they’re very receptive. – Don’t forget to ask for analytics access so you can show off the difference! Even something simple as being able to say you got a 10% increase in traffic will help open doors.

2. Network with designers – or anyone else in the creative industry who will need copywriting support from time to time. Designers are a great place to begin – you’ll find lots in your local area that are supporting small businesses with flyers, brochures, new websites etc (local schools, community fairs and churches can often be a good place to start!). Most designers I know hate writing – if they can pass that part of the process over to someone else, they’ll gladly do it. Find the right designer and you might be able to forge a long lasting partnership.

3. Have a look at the freelancing sites. BE WARY of course, as you’ll see from this blog post – https://www.procopywriters.co.uk/2016/10/job-sites/ But for someone starting out, you might be able to pitch at a good price in return for use in your portfolio.

Even though you might get a bit of money from freelancing sites, I’d say going local will give you a lot more creative freedom, the chance to try new things and build up ‘stats’ that could help you, and a great reputation amongst local businesses.

Hope that helps – any more questions, just shout!

Leif Kendall

October 31, 2016 at 7:56pm

Charlotte – you may find our Help and Advice pages helpful https://www.procopywriters.co.uk/get-help/

In particular, the page about finding your first clients: https://www.procopywriters.co.uk/get-help/freelancing/find-your-first-clients/