A few weeks ago, I wrote about some out-of-the-box ideas to get your photography marketing going in what is typically the slower winter months.
One of these ideas was mentoring an up-and-coming photographer, which I thought I’d expand upon.
My Mentoring History
When I dove into photography a few years back, I was lucky enough to have a mentor to help guide me along the journey. Our paths to starting out were similar — we both left full-time jobs for the aurora of being a creative.
This mentor helped me start out my career and give me advice along the way. He referred me out to clients he wasn’t able to (or didn’t want to) take on. He helped build some of my initial client bases, some of which are still my clients today.
What About Future Competition?
Simple — don’t worry about it. Photographers would be ill-advised to go after your clients; it makes them look bad to the client, and ultimately it’ll get back to you. Your best clients are hiring you because of your work, not because you offer the cheapest rates. Therefore they’re not going to switch who they hire based off of someone offering them a better deal.
As a photographer, you should want to evolve the future of photography. If we don’t have a range of great photographers, the medium will ultimately suffer.
In my brief span teaching and mentoring, I’ve never once had anyone go after my clients, or “steal” them from me.
Getting Started as a Mentor
In my case, I’ve started guiding other photographers in ways that I really didn’t anticipate. Every time I meet a photographer, I give them a business card. Sometimes, I get a call or email from them asking for advice, or to sit down and talk shop. Other times I don’t hear from them.
The thing is, I don’t actively seek out mentoring opportunities. But when the opportunities come my way, I embrace them.
On my way out to Las Vegas for WPPI, I chatted with one of the TSA agents at my local airport. He noticed my camera gear through the x-ray scanner (which is just comical to think about!) and started asking me a few questions. His two sons were starting to get into photography. He told me what they were doing, what they liked to photograph — we had a good 2-3 minute conversation about it. In the end, I gave him my card and told him that if they ever have any questions, to just shoot me an email and I’d be happy to help out.
I’ve also had long-time contacts reach out and ask if they could buy me a coffee to discuss how to get started with photography from a professional standpoint. Sometimes those people decide, after I meet with them, to keep it as a hobby. Other times, they embrace photography and go full force into the industry.
Communication is Key
Think of your mentee like your student — you really want them to succeed. Ultimately, they’ll become people you can hire as assistants or second shooters, or fill in when you’re not available. They might offer a service that you don’t want to get into, and you can send referrals back and forth to each other as the needs fit.
This is why I regularly follow up with those I’m mentoring. I ask how they’re doing if they have had any amazing photoshoots lately that they’re proud of. I tell them to send me some of their recent work, and I give them suggestions on how to keep building their skillset.
Mentoring can really pay off for who you’re guiding along the way, but it can also pay off on a personal level. First, you’re giving back to the photography community. You’re helping to continue to build a new generation of photographers. Second, you’re making connections and getting involved in the community at large. And that’s never a bad thing.
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