My writing on the freelance revolution usually starts with a story about an interesting startup, a challenge facing freelancers, or a skill set that characterizes highly successful independent professionals. But, in this last piece of the year, I’m taking liberties by recommending that your 2020 agenda include at least one new responsibility.
Would it surprise you to learn that, according to a recent survey, mentoring is highly valued, valued enough that January is National Mentoring month? Almost 20% of young professionals and even 9% of retired individuals describe themselves as grateful beneficiaries of a current mentorship. Author Chris Farrell, writing in next avenue, reports that mentoring is as attractive to organizational CEO’s as to young professionals; a Young President’s Organization (YPO) survey found “half its members were interested in mentoring and the other half were interested in being mentored.”
Moreover, those presidents who wanted to mentor were enthusiastic in part because they thought they would learn and become a better person from mentoring.
Does mentoring make a difference to the individual being mentored? The data is very clear: mentoring is a key contributor to individual development, and that translates to professional performance and well-being. A meta-analytic study of mentoring combining the results of many research efforts found that mentoring reliably benefited the mentee. The authors summarized their findings this way, “Regardless of the meta-analytic method used, mentoring was significantly related to favorable behavioral, attitudinal, health-related, interpersonal, motivational, and career outcomes.”
Does mentoring benefit the mentor as the YPO members believed? Again, yes. One summary of the benefits of mentorship for the mentor included this list:
· The opportunity for mentors to reflect on their own practice, and areas for improvement.
· The satisfaction of assisting a colleague or relationship to experience greater success.
· Developing new professional networks and relationships.
· The recognition that comes from being helpful to colleagues and earning reputation as a developer.
· Learning and practicing new skills needed by successful mentors.
And yes, mentors report greater work and life satisfaction. It’s certainly not mentoring alone that makes a life more satisfying, but the enrichment of helping others to grow and succeed repays in several ways. For example, the well-known longitudinal Harvard Grant study researched what made a successful life and among their findings was this powerful statement: “(People) who had reached this stage of development, mentoring and building up the community, were much more successful in life than those who never did. They were happier, less likely to be depressed, and lived on average 8 years longer. The mentors of the group “were three times as likely to be enjoying their lives at eighty-five than men whose lives were still centered on themselves.”
According to Kathy Kram, a well-known researcher in mentorship at Boston University, there are challenges in making mentoring more available and scalable; mentoring relationship are demanding in terms of time and often cost and, Kram notes, “Most often, mentors are available to only a few high-potential managers.” The mentorship “gap” Kram points out is described well by my Forbes colleague Christine Comaford: “76% of people think mentors are important, however, only 37% of people currently have one.”
As a community of freelancers, how might we create more space for mentorship? Freelancers are busy people: we are juggling multiple clients, competing projects, and plenty of other personal and business responsibilities. But there are increasing avenues for freelancers to lend a smaller, briefer, but not less meaningful mentoring hand. Here are some ways you might not have considered, but could get you mentoring a colleague, a more junior professional, or a friend that could use your help or perspective.
1. Parker Dewey is a startup that connects university students with companies offering freelance opportunities. Founder Jeffrey Moss describes the goal of Parker Dewey as “preparing students for good jobs and early career development through short term, paid, freelance projects or gigs that help them build credentials, begin to establish their professional network, and explore career alternatives through the experience of actually doing the work.” Moss’s startup has placed hundreds of students in organizations ranging from Microsoft to CBRE and Barilla. Why not extend the opportunity for student micro-gigs to freelancing, for example, enterprise freelance work teams sponsored by marketplaces like Upwork and Fiverr?
2. Codementor describes itself as “an open marketplace that provides developers with one-on-one programming help.” It’s an interesting and creative twist on the expert network concept; when in need of support, or in a glitch, accessible experts can play a crucial mentoring role – both solving the problem and helping the developer approach similar problems differently in future. Technical mentors have the opportunity in short bursts to help colleagues to master new challenges. In an article describing the concept, Founder Weiting Liu likened Codementor “replicate the reassuring feeling of having an experienced programmer beside you.” The company has over 1,200 vetted experts on the platform and plan to have mentors available or all types of requests.
3. Goodtalks.DK is a Danish online community created by women professionals for women professionals. Founder Pernille Sandberg created the community as a marketplace of assistance, not services, connecting women who have a need with others who have relevant experience or expertise in dealing with that need. Goodtalks is now beginning to hold regular conferences of its members, recognizing that it is first and foremost a self-help community. The first event in Copenhagen had 30 participants. The most recent – and they are beginning to spring up across Denmark – had 170 members listen to a top HR professional and a top Danish journalist give their stories. As one participant put it: “We find a lot of inspiration when successful women share their fears and vulnerabilities. It empowers me to know successful people have the same fears and insecurities.”
4. CleverX is a platform that offers expertise literally by the minute. It is one of several marketplaces offering individuals access of experts, and it is likely to save a company time and money when expertise is critical and absent. The startup offers a brief, targeted information exchange with experts that may last only a few minutes, and rarely more than an hour. Are you an expert in a field of interest to others? If so, perhaps CleverX is a means for you to practice your mentorship and, in the process, helping a colleague or a company saving valuable time and effort.
5. Jolt is a co-learning startup that brings together experts who want to teach with individuals who are interested in learning. The learning model is highly interactive and participatory, with experts delivering workshops through a proprietary video technology they call “eyelevel”. The range of subjects is large and combines business, tech and professional development topics. In fact, Jolt describes its curriculum as business school for the self-made. The startup has campuses in Israel and the UK and is quickly expanding. For freelancers interested in sharing their skills and knowledge, Jolt is an easy on-ramp to mentoring.
6. Weem is a relatively new French startup providing management consulting support to large and mid-sized client companies primarily in France. Many of the members of the Weem platform are full-time independent management consultants with a background in top firms like Bain or McKinsey. But, more and more full time senior professionals are participating in “side hustles” to make extra money, work on a new and interesting problem that keeps them growing, and – for many – a chance to give back as a mentor.
The six organizations I’ve mentioned only scratch the surface in terms of the many ways freelancers can take advantage of mentoring opportunities. There are so many more, and I’ll describe some in future articles including executive coaching platforms like the innovative AceUp. But here’s the bottom line: mentoring offers real benefits for both mentors and mentees. As one professional put it recently: “I really love mentoring. It’s a wonderful way to give back to the community and help new people grow and learn and advance our profession. I also learn so much from my mentees.” I couldn’t have said it better. Thanks for your readership this year and happy 2020.
Mentor someone this year. Viva La Revolution!