How To Find A Mentor

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One of the best ways to find success in any career is to learn from people who are successful. You need mentors! Having a good set of mentors is essential for your growth as a professional artist.

I’ve had a few mentors over the years and they’ve all been indispensable to my success as an illustrator. Some have been decades ahead of me and some my age or younger. Some were actively mentoring me, and others had no idea they were my mentor. In every case, I learned massive amounts of information on how to make a career out of being an artist.

I'd like to take a minute and give a little direction on how to go about finding a mentor. Finding the right mentors is a lot of work, but if you go about finding them in the right way you can form a beautiful and long lasting relationship with someone.

First off, this quote Jeff Goins sums it all up: "It’s not who you know, it’s who you help." (btw, if you haven't read Goins' book Real Artists Don't Starve, you need to before the year is over) You must go into this thinking about how you can help people. Not only will you be an asset to those who mentor you, but you'll grow as you learn to solve problems and find solutions that will also help you in your own career at some point.

I’ve read a bit on the subject, I’ve mentored a bunch of people, and I’ve been a student to my own mentors. And while there’s no slam dunk way to get a mentor every time, I think there’s some best practices you could follow that lead to good results. So, from all of my experience, and the advice of others, I’ve put together a list of three steps to having the perfect mentorship. Here they are:

1) Do your homework

Before you can help someone, you need to become as familiar as you possibly can with what they are doing. 

This means you need to do your homework on what they already offer as a mentor.

    • Watch all of their Youtube videos

    • Read all of their blog posts

    • Listen to all the podcast interviews they've done

    • Read any books they've written or created

    • If they offer workshops, try and attend one.

    • If they offer online classes, sign up for them

Asking them to give you something for nothing if they make part of their living from formalized mentoring is not a good move. They are more likely to help you if you show you have done your homework and participated in what they already offer.


2) Offer them a win/win proposition

Offer to do something for them. Don’t just say you’re available if they need anything. That puts the pressure back on them to think of something for you. Instead do the James Altucher method and give them a list of 5-10 things that they could hand off to you, or things that they could be doing better and how you could do it for them. 

Here's an example I'm just going to throw out there,

"Hi Pro Artist, I'm a huge fan and love your work. I've noticed you only post on Instagram twice a week and the instagram algorithm favors accounts that post daily. I think you could grow your instagram account a ton if you posted every day. I see you have a backlog of portfolio work on your site that hasn't been posted on Instagram. Would it be helpful if I downloaded that art and cropped it for instagram so you could have more content to post? I'd be happy to help you out."

After you've helped them you can approach them about a problem you're having. Don’t just ask “I have a question/problem/project, can you help me?” 

Instead ask the question, then provide 3 solutions and ask them to pick. This eases the burden on them, and also shows your own creativity, it shows you’re proactive, and that you’ve already exhausted your own ideas.

So you might say, "I need help with my senior thesis. I have X problem, and here's three solutions I've come up with to solve it. Which one would you pick? Or is there another solution you would have that I haven't thought of.

3) Follow through, then follow up

If your mentor decides to help you, don’t be a disappointment. This is a huge opportunity. For you to disregard or abandon their advice is the best way to never have this mentor help you again.

Report back and tell them the results.

Thank them! Thank them right away, then in six months, then in a year. It show's you've really internalized their advice and help.

You're way more likely to get help going about it this way. If you repeat this cycle, (you help them, then ask for advice, then deliver) you've essentially created a mentorship for yourself without having to ask someone to be your mentor and built what could be a relationship that outlasts your initial problems you need help with.

Ok, real quick again:

1) Do your homework
2) Offer them a win/win proposition
3) Follow through, then follow up

I hope that helps. Do you have a method that has worked for you? Comment below and let me know your secret!

-Jake