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Five Types of Mentors Freelancers Need In Their Lives

Posted on November 11, 2013 and read 3,231 times

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gregdillon Five Types of Mentors Freelancers Need In Their LivesGreg Dillon
Strategic Design Consultant

GD Inspires

As much are we are freelance strategists we are also entrepreneurs and we cannot do it alone, here are the five types of mentor you need in your freelance life.

No one can know everything from day one, as much as we may believe we do and pretend we do (winging it, anyone?), we need to have someone or some people to ask questions, to bounce ideas and to vent to.

Here are the five types of mentor in my life, the often unsung heroes that keep me going and keep me alive both mentally and creatively by helping me to make very smart decisions that drive my business and my ideas forward.

1. The long-time industry expert

Long term friend, design industry legend and founder of strategic design consultancy 20.20, Bernard Dooling is my go-to industry expert, we meet up for dinner & ideas sessions every six weeks or so to thrash out business problems or to catch up on what’s new in design, retail and our lives. He provides context to a world he is a veteran of, when I’m looking to expand business operations or frustrated by progress, he can recount stories of times where he has been in similar situations.

One of my favourites he reminds me of when I have that frustration of ‘I could have done that!’ when I see other businesses or websites making million, he explains the time when he came up with the idea for listening stations in music stores in the early 90s, pitched it as a retail solution to a major retail chain who awarded him the job but he wished he had patented it first as now it is commonplace in all music stores on the planet! Imagine the licensing fees / royalties…

2. The long-term freelancer

A fellow freelancer (albeit of around 30 years longer than I) Anthony is my go-to guy for all things freelance despite him being an IT contractor and not in the design industry. His knowledge of the business realities of freelancing and financing life, preparing for contract-less times and tax issues has been invaluable.

He recently went through a tough contract-less time that lasted a lot longer than anticipated, we would meet up and play squash as he talked me through the challenges such as cash flow and the quasi-freedom that he loves about not knowing what will happen next and the quandary of should he sit it out or should he take a permy job to see himself through… very interesting to be a part of his decision process, and something I will reflect on if I am ever in this situation.

3. The other freelancers, my peers

Freelancing can be a lonely life sometimes as not all agency folk are interested in integrating you into their company too much so making friends and staying in touch with all kinds of freelancers you work with is one of the smartest networking moves you can make. Get into the habit of bouncing ideas off each other and also referring jobs over to relevant people to help them out as well as generating reciprocal referrals from them.

That is part of what is all about, having a place for freelancers to come, read and get that they are not on their own – we all have questions and issues that need sorting or contracts we need help winning. Don’t silo yourself, make freelance friends – you’d be surprised how often you bump into the same freelancers as you move between agencies.

4. The best friends who are as excited as I am about how things are going

My best friend (and best man at my wedding), Martin. Sadly I don’t talk to him every day like we used to (proper bromance) but when we do catch up we chat for ages about how each other is doing and to share excitement in what new ventures I’m working on. These times and chats are also really useful for reigniting the excitement that sometimes gets subdued as I’m often not looking past the next contract / pitch. We recently caught up at a football game then subsequently over dinner and he asked me ‘so, how much does a day of Greggy D’s time cost then?’

I don’t normally talk about my day rate outside of negotiations as I am totally aware of the vanity number attached to it that people outside of our world may not understand. So for example a day rate of £400 equates to £104,000 per annum but the reality is that you do not work every day so it sounds crass when quoted out of context.

It helps that he is not in ‘my world’ so to speak as we can have honest and frank conversations about everything without feeling that we are ever talking out of turn, it also helps that he openly does not understand the concept of not having a regular salaried position as it means I have to really think about how I communicate what I do which naturally leads to a lot of internal reflection.

5. The most important person in my life

My fiancé Kirsty. I bounce all business ideas off of her first, she proofs all blog posts before they get formatted onto the site as well as reading through all new business proposals before they are sent out. She tells me when an idea is rubbish and gets excited when an idea is good. We celebrate the highs such as new contracts, pitch wins and great presentations.

She consoles me and talks me through the tough times such as when a project does not come in when they should or when a client meeting goes badly. Freelance life is sporadic at times and can put a strain on things at home when you have to work away for a couple of days or are too busy so don’t see each other all week.

She gets what I do and I get what she does – it really helps that we both work in marketing (Kirst’s the campaign manager for a high end women’s fashion brand) so we can talk ideas through without having to explain the minute detail. She has no idea how important she is in my life and my business (until she proofs this post!).

What types of mentor are important in your freelance life?

Who could you not live without?

How do you handle the highs and lows? Who do you turn to?

Are there other types of mentor I’ve missed?




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