8 Reasons Why Design Mentoring Is So Important For Both Parties

View Comments by Bianca Board on 26 March 2014

Benjamin Franklin once said; 

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.”

It wasn’t long after I left design school that I realised it didn’t matter how good my design education was, we never stop learning. And later on, you never stop teaching either.

I hired my first mentor after just one year in business before online courses and the web had really taken off. 

I rang this guy from a marketing company asking him to help me with some market research and after we chatted for a while, he said to me “How about instead of me doing it for you, I’ll teach you how to do it yourself?”

I was like “Really?! Awesome, hell yeah!” I had to pass his test though before he’d take me on. He gave me 24 hours to read a book called ‘The Richest Man In Babylon’ and I had to call him the next day with the key takeaway. If I read it and got it correct, he’d work with me.

Thankfully I got it right and I’ve never looked back.

Thanks to the evolution of the web we really are a self-taught generation these days. Never before have we had so much readily available access to online courses, how to guides, blogs, news and trends etc.

In fact we have pretty much the whole world’s knowledge available to us in the form of a tiny tablet. Which is mind boggling when you think about it. And although some of us are satisfied liking our friends Facebook updates, I know (and you know) that us designers are a completely different breed.

Pssssst... before we continue... Do you need a mentor to
help you launch your design business?

Then why not check out my ProPartner program right here? 

A good mentor can save you 10 years learning on your own.

The most ambitious of new designers out there are the one who not only strive for knowledge, but also seek out those who know more than them so that they can continue to learn.

Likewise... the most successful of veteran designers out there are the ones who readily accept the enthusiastic newbie, and take them under their wing. They share their knowledge with the next generation and, of course, their own brand is increased by doing do. It’s a win-win.

I truly believe that my first mentor propelled my business 10 years ahead at the time and there is no way I would have been able to do what I’ve done in those 2 short years had I not had his help.

That’s why mentoring has become more and more popular within the design industry.

You may of noticed in the last few years the rise of self-training programs such as Treehouse, Udacity and of course our own Web123 ProPartner program.

Not to mention the number of talented social media and SEO bloggers out there like Amy Porterfield and Neil Patel who run a number of courses to help their loyal followers better themselves online.

It’s a real testament to our drive to learn and better ourselves, and it’s also a testament to how much experts want to offer their knowledge to others.

But there are massive benefits to receiving personal mentorship compared to doing online courses.

The Benefits of HAVING a Mentor

1) You still have SO much to learn.

If you’re lucky enough to get a mentor with several years of experience on you, then the best news is that they have a huge amount a knowledge that you can learn from.

So take it from me, if you’re that confident ‘know it all’ designer, even if you do fabulous work, do yourself a favour; close your mouth and listen to your mentor.

You don’t have to agree with it all; but if they’ve taken the time to give you advice, they deserve your respect, take it on board. Remember, you ain’t perfect (yet) but a little advice can help you go a long way.

2) You can avoid career killing mistakes.

Being a designer isn’t just about creating award-winning work (if only hey?!) for your client, but it’s also about navigating office politics and avoiding the landmines of career progression.

For example, how do you resolve disputes? How do you handle difficult clients, want do you do when someone doesn’t want to pay for your work, when is it the right time to hire staff and how do you go about it etc? Not to mention the mindset lessons a good mentor will teach you. These are the sort of lessons that are invaluable, and stuff you don’t learn at design school.

If you’re fresh out of design school, or still early in your career, you’ve got a bright future ahead of you. But the path leading to your successful career will be fraught with obstacles. You have two options... you can: 

  • (a) Make the mistakes yourself, do it the hard way, take the pain and learn from it or...
  • (b) Listen to your mentor who’s already been there and can advise what to watch out for.

I’d choose the latter, because a little bit of wisdom goes a long way.

3) Learn how to do business like a mogul.

Personally I found that my design course was lacking in one key area, and that was the business side. In fact, it’s one of the main reasons I launched my Web123 ProPartner program for designers. Because knowing how to run your design business, as a business, is vital to your success.

If you don’t have any experience running a business, then having a mentor who’s been there and done that can help you enormously. 

They’ve already worked out how to profitably quote for work, how to juggle multiple projects, how to handle clients in meetings, how to promote your services... the list goes on. You might think it sounds easy, but once you jump into your design career you’ll quickly realise they aren’t.

4) It will help you avoid ‘Catch 22’ and build your portfolio.

When you start out in your design career, there is the classic catch 22 situation: you can’t get work without experience, and you can’t get experience without the work. It’s crazy!  

A lot designers jump straight into freelancing, but the sad reality is that it’s not always the easiest thing to do, especially when your portfolio just doesn’t have the *oompf* to convince clients that you’ll be worth their money.

One thing that’s always stuck with me my first mentor said was: “Bianca, if you wear the Emperor's clothes and you act like the Emperor, who’s to say that you’re not in fact the Emperor?”

Having a mentor helps you build the confidence and mindset you need to take your business and design projects to that next level.  

So how do you find a design mentor?

Thankfully finding a mentor isn’t that difficult. People LIKE to help people, you just need to put in the time to cultivate a real opportunity for yourself.

The following are the key ways you can find a mentor for yourself:
  • Through freelance forums: It’s a good idea to be regularly contributing to a number of design and freelance forums. These will naturally be frequented by more experienced people within the design world, and once you identify a possible mentor, you can approach them about any possible mentoring opportunities. Don’t sign up and then start asking everyone, make sure you spend the time and add some quality to the forum first. 
  • Approach professional bloggers: Like with a forum, you can contribute to the comment section of your favourite bloggers and interact with them on their own blog, though again you must make sure you spend the time to develop that relationship. 

    Design bloggers spend a lot of time creating articles for their websites, and they’ll take it as a compliment to be asked for mentoring. Chances are they won’t have the time to  mentor you personally, but I’m sure the good ones would advise you of some names who might.
  • Local Companies’ Mentoring Program: Keep an eye out on local design businesses, watch their official websites, many good design houses will advertise their own mentoring programs, since they understand the value of bringing up the next generation of designers. 

    Failing that, contact them directly to ask if they have a mentoring / internship program. You’ll be amazed just how many opportunities are available out there.
  • Job Sites: Finally it’s worth keeping a regular eye out for mentoring opportunities on job sites such as seek.com.au and mycareer.com.au. Many design companies regularly advertise for mentoring roles, though they can admittedly be few and far between. Just remember to keep an eye out so you don’t miss out on any opportunities! Why not set up a Google Alert for your region? 

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The Benefits of BEING a Mentor

I want to encourage EVERYONE to become a mentor. I know it sounds like a big responsibility, but it can be a very rewarding practice.

There are whole heap of positives as to why you should mentor a younger designer....

1) See new trends and new techniques being used.

When you leave school and you’re running your own business (or freelancing like a boss) you might not be in the design world loop. You might be so busy keeping your head above water that you don’t have the time to seek out all the latest trends and techniques. Well guess what? Those trends are exactly what’s coming out of the latest graduates (the good ones at least!).

By accepting mentor students, you can get exposed to a wide variety of new ideas and techniques you might not have considered before. Ultimately this will help YOU grow as a designer too.

2) Bring new ideas into the company.

If you run a design company, then you’re in danger of stagnating. After all, you’re working with the same people day in and day out.

Nothing wrong with that you. I love my team, and they are always coming up with new ways to do things. However for many companies that are stuck in their ways, it can be a one way ticket to stagnation.

Whenever I get a new employee or mentee (yes it’s a real word!), I look for someone with a talented, creative and independent mind. I want to be creatively challenged and it’s so refreshing when they come up with awesome ideas; not to mention I like to challenge and grow my team the same way. Fresh blood keeps everything exciting.  

3) Spread awareness about your company.

Offering a mentoring program is a great PR activity! It can help spread awareness about your design services to potential employees, and potential clients too.

Also by having mentors coming in and out of your program, you are effectively networking with the future of the design business. And who knows when one of them will land that big fish client and it’s time for you to call in a favour to get onboard! ;)

4) Get first access to talented up and comers.

This is what both parties really want out of the mentoring relationship isn’t it? For your mentee, it’s an opportunity to prove himself and show that he has the right professional attitude and raw talent to hang with the big guns.  

For you, it allows you the opportunity to see talent before they have a chance to shop themselves around to your competitors. So seriously, do yourself a favour and set up a mentoring program if you want to expand your workforce with quality talent.

So why do I mentor?

Well to be honest, recently I haven’t had much time to spare. I enjoyed mentoring graduates but I’ve been a very busy entrepreneur recently. 

Cut me some slack here! I’ve built a web design business with 20 staff members across Australia ; I’ve been busy recording educational videos, writing blogs, not to mention busy creating and launching a world-first business-building educational program for designers that I just haven’t had the time to individually mentor people. 

Until now. Now the dust has settled and my program is attracting a lot of interest, I’m moving back into the personal side of things again. Because I really enjoy it, and it’s fun!

For me mentoring is all about keeping my design acumen as sharp as a razor. For all my entrepreneurship recently, I’m still a designer, I still need to innovate, grow and improve my creativity, just like the rest of us.

I am always looking for ways to improve my knowledge and experience; I do this by reading blogs, taking part in courses, and now, mentoring other designers who are looking to find a niche they love and grow their business, just like I did.

It also gives me a warm glowing feeling inside knowing that I am helping young up and coming designers like myself take that first bold step into the world of freelancing and running a design business. It’s a wild ride!

So as someone who has mentored in the past, let me give you a few final tips:

  1. When meeting with a mentee, keep it short and personal. Don’t leave them hanging around for long periods of time with little to no direction, as they deserve a quality relationship with you. 
  2. Give them genuine work. I’m not saying give them that vital “do or die” project for that mega-important client, but don’t just give them grunt-work either. They need to prove themselves on the smaller stuff for sure, but if you don’t challenge them, you won’t discover their true raw talent, and in turn may miss out on a real golden goose of a designer.  
  3. Mentees are NOT just a source of labour. Sadly, there are designers who see mentees as simple slave labour and it’s a real shame. Ultimately, they won’t get the most out of it and it will backfire. You don’t want to become known as the cheap designer who abuses the trust of their mentees! It gets around, you have been warned!

Need a design mentor? Why not take this small step first?

Like I said before, I only have enough time to personally mentor one or two people a year, but I find that my Web123 ProPartner Program let’s me help on a wider scale. I can now:

  • Share my valuable knowledge of handling clients and their projects to everyone who wants to learn.
  • Help designers, just like you, not only start a design businesses, but run a PROFITABLE design business.
  • Teach people how to transform even difficult clients into raving fans!

So if you’re interested in becoming a partner, why not sign up to my 14 day free trial of my program so you can see what I can offer you and your future as a profitable designer.

And remember, if you have ANY questions, you can always send me an email as I answer every comment and question posed to me, and I am ready to hear from you.

What do you think? Share your comments below.


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