3 Tips to find a legitimate online mentor for your creative business

"Many points of exit" (c) Rebecca LaChance 2016. Orlando, FL.  When your gut starts telling you to look for the exit - do it!

"Many points of exit" (c) Rebecca LaChance 2016. Orlando, FL.  When your gut starts telling you to look for the exit - do it!

This topic has been percolating in my head for many, many months. Now is the time to discuss the topic about people advertising themselves as online mentors and how to find a legitimate mentor.  The path of building a successful business is tough enough; you don't need to be sidelined by a bad mentoring experience.  I hope you find these tips helpful.

A little backstory

Very early in the development of my own photography business, I realized there were too many things about running an online photography business that I didn't know. So, I scoured the internet for resources.  Eventually, I found a mentor with an online community/training program.  The monthly price fit my budget.  So, I joined...and I almost drank the Kool-Aid. (Don't understand the Kool-Aid reference?  Google it.)

The first few months were really helpful.  I made a lot of progress based on what I was learning. The online community was very supportive and contributed great suggestions to each other.

And then...my gut started firing "red flags".

  • Classes I had paid for never happened, or if they did, links didn't work.
  • Every email and course was a repetition of material. There was nothing new.
  • Facebook posts from the mentor became a litany of transgressions about "people who wanted to stand in the way of her progress."
  • Emails and Facebook posts became all about the mentor.  "I've accomplished this. My day looks like this. I'm working hard. I'm responsible for the success of "X" wedding photographer, "Y" musician/singer", etc.
  • Services paid for were not delivered.
  • Promises were made and never fulfilled.
  • People started "disappearing" from the Facebook Community.  They had been removed by the mentor.
  • The mentor started contradicting herself in her emails, Facebook posts, etc., (I'm not sure she realized this.)  The courses she was selling as the way to be successful were not evidenced by her own words/work.

I dropped out of the group. I found a very supportive and empowering group of nine women who also had left the group.  We became an informal Master Mind Group.  Within this group I have received valuable feedback and suggestions about moving forward in my business.  (I hope I have contributed as much to the other eight women as they have provided me.)

Signs of a good mentor/membership program

The list below is based on my own learning and experiences.  I am certain there are many points that could be added to this list.

1. Let's start with money.  Most creative entrepreneurs are worried about the costs involved in starting/growing their business. 

  • Does the monthly fee fit your budget?
  • Are you offered the choice of a monthly payment (with a "service fee") or an annual payment that may be 10% or 20% less expensive in the long run?
  • Read the Terms & Conditions of the courses/website/membership.  Are there restrictions on when/how you can cancel your membership?  Are there restrictions about when/how you can get a refund on your dues?
  • Does the mentor emphasize something along the lines of "you're not serious about building a business if you're not willing to invest big $$$"?
  • Does the mentor want a membership fee PLUS fees for each additional course?

What you look for:  The best long-term education programs charge a reasonable fee ($25 to $35) on a monthly basis and make it very easy for you to stop your membership at any time.  Your best option is to pay the monthly fee - even with its "service fee".  Why? 

Let's look at a hypothetical case.  Sue had a choice of paying $27.00 per month (which includes a $2.00 service fee) or paying $ 270.00 annually.  The annual fee will save Sue $30 IF she uses the program for the entire year.  After three months, Sue decides the program doesn't really meet her needs. If Sue signed on to the monthly payment she has only spent $81.00.  However, if she chose the annual payment she will probably NOT get any of her money back.  Sue just lost $189.

Looking for long-term training programs?  Choose ones that offer "One price - many courses". You pay one membership fee and all additional courses are included. Sweet!

2. What is the business track record of the mentor?

  • Can you find evidence of the mentor's career in the specific area (i.e., business or photography)?
  • Can you find evidence of success from people who have learned from the mentor?
  • Can you find evidence of respect from other professionals about this mentor?
  • Can you find evidence of longevity in business/specialty by this mentor?
  • Can you find evidence of consistency between what the mentor preaches and actually does?
  • Can you find evidence of HONESTY by this mentor?

What you can do.  Simply put, it is very easy to find the mentors work histories, their successes and their impact on other professionals.  And those reports will also tell you if they "walk the talk".  Or, if they practice what they preach consistently. 

The evidence to these points is very easy to find online.  When the mentor does valuable work, it gets mentioned repeatedly. All you have to do is "Google" their names.  Ask for recommendations in forums or groups.

How do you find out about HONESTY?  Does the mentor claim accolades that are questionable? For example, does the author claim to be an "Amazon Best-Selling Author"? First, you need to know the process behind the "Amazon Best-Selling Author".  Second, run the mentor's name through the Amazon search function.  Amazon U.S. lists my previous mentor with seven (7) reviews - two negative. Seven reviews of a best selling book?  Uh...no.

So...if the mentor is going to conflate and confabulate a title from minimal sales of an ebook, you can safely bet the lack of honesty will be present in the membership program also.

3.  Does the mentor change the program, or drop programs regularly?

Granted, this could be a tough point to find data.  Unless someone mentions the mentor by name in a Huffington Post article, or someone starts a review service about online mentors (by name), odds are it may be difficult to track.  

The following behavior does seem to be the "operating system" for "mentors in over their heads". 

  • If mentorees demand value of their coaching sessions, then stop the coaching and don't return the fees. 
  • Online Facebook group announcing their dissatisfaction? Close the group immediately and start a new group with a new name and higher price.

What you can do.  Review the website of the mentor and look for the testimonials.  Send an email or private message to those persons and ask your questions.  You may be surprised to learn those quotes are being used without permission!  You may also learn those same people had been blocked from the program.  (See HONESTY above.)

You can also track the mentor's websites and blog posts through the WayBack Machine on the internet.   What should you look for?

  • Do past blog posts talk about how the mentor is suffering (lack of money, lack of clients, etc)?  Six months later, the mentor is pitching herself as a “$6K coach”.  
  • Does the mentor write long blog posts that blame everyone else for his troubles?
  • Does the mentor change websites/purposes/functions repeatedly in a short period of time. For example, does the mentor change focus and websites more than once a year? You’re not looking for cosmetic changes to the website. You’re looking for foundational changes in business and purpose.
  • Is access to past web sites blocked?  Does this blocking action raise questions?

Other Suggestions

Consider your style of learning.  Do you really need a long-term membership program?  Or, do you learn best with short term courses?  You might do well with short term courses on specific topics that match your entrepreneurial work. For example, do you desire to be a newborn photographer?  Choose a technical or creative photography course from a top newborn photographer.

Which area of the entrepreneurial cycle is your current weakness?  If your marketing isn't bringing in the clients you need, then consider taking a course about marketing from a highly successful leader in your industry. (But do those other checks mentioned above!)  Want to sharpen your lighting techniques for your photography studio? Then, consider taking a short course under the tutelage of a Master photographer known for his skills with lighting. (Check for reviews of his teaching.)

In Closing

It took me months to write this post because I had to move past my "ego-need". I had to move into an emotional space where I could offer positive steps to help others.  I sincerely hope I've offered positive steps.  These are the steps I now use to evaluate my online business choices.  These are the same guidelines I am using to develop my own offerings. 

I think it is good practice to have a format of evaluation before you buy into an online mentoring/business program. I hope the points above will be helpful to your searches and your decisions.

This is such an important topic, I encourage you to share this post far and wide.  And please, if you have additional positive actions to add to the list, share them in the comments below or over on the Facebook Page.

Expect the best. Anything else is an adventure.

Rebecca

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