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blogging mentorships

Approaching Blogger Mentorships: Nothing Personal, Just Business As Usual

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… by Carol Cain

We’ve heard it all before – It isn’t wise to waste your time, experience, and knowledge during coffee sessions, conference calls, or long-winded emails with companies or brands asking “to pick your brain” as doing so devalues your work and takes away from time and other opportunities where you could be growing your business and getting paid for the same efforts.

What we don’t hear much of is how to manage these same requests when they are coming from our peers, when the one asking to “pick your brain” is another blogger.

I have touched on this topic and have been interested in the various opinions there are out there on the issue when it comes to other bloggers versus businesses. There were those who, feeling either overwhelmed with requests for help or of being used, decided that they too were limiting the amount of help they gave to other bloggers. Then there were those who felt that it is our duty as “successful” bloggers – a term which I find is relative on an individual opinion and not necessarily true for all – to pay it forward, give back, and help another blogger out.

Often times this is the message we hear at conferences and other blogger gatherings. And, though I can’t deny that I am inspired and motivated by the chants of Kumbaya and love for our fellow blogger, I do feel that when thinking of your blog as a business, which you hope to grow and profit from, you need to approach it as such. Those who come to you requesting your time and a piece of your experience should do so with the same level of respect and consideration that we would want from a brand or company seeking the same.

Truth is that although the Social Media space is “big enough for all of us‚” the theory that “there is enough to go around” falls flat when looking at the budgets and compensation plans of the many companies and brands seeking out those with whom to invest their hard cash on and it is no secret that there are more of us out there aiming for the same pot.

Another reality which is often not addressed is that our business in blogging is often in direct competition with that of our dearest friend and fellow blogger. There is nothing wrong with having standards of confidentiality, or refraining from sharing successful business strategies or future business goals. Because, at the end of the day, you have to run and protect your business and your bottom line.

I know, I know. I sound awful. So cold. So cut throat.

But I assure you, there are many ways in which you can do business as needed and give back to others.

For those wanting to give back and help a fellow brother or sister out I offer the following advice:

Allot time and set a routine schedule, whether it be weekly, monthly, or any other combination of both to counsel or mentor your fellow blogger. Stick to this schedule as you would any other in your business day. Do not make it a habit to sacrifice unscheduled time away from your family or your business to help another out. It is not on you to manage the deadlines, emergencies, or scattered requests of those seeking help. You can also schedule this time into your presence at conferences, networking sessions, and other events where the opportunity to meet other bloggers presents itself. As a speaker or even attendee, you can give by sharing and helping out when asked or given the mic to do so. Another consideration would be to think about whether your experience and knowledge is vast enough and in high enough demand that it would become more valuable to work as a consultant to others and grow your business that way.

Helping out does not mean divulging all your business secrets; past, present, or future. I have been there. It’s a feeling of almost guilt or pressure. You give away too much, and then feel awful for having essentially given away something in a matter of minutes what took you months to develop, sort out, or put together. There is nothing wrong with saying no or kindly refuse to share information. I don’t know any successful business out there that wouldn’t do that same.

Be selective in who you give your time to. Just because a blogger says you are the best thing since sliced bread and knights you with the title of “mentor” without your request does not mean you are obligated to fill that role. Approach it in the same way any business would approach a request by a hopeful apprentice looking for an internship or slot in a mentoring program. Make it worth your investment in time.

Not sharing or being available upon every request does not make you a bad or ungrateful person. It makes you a smart, efficient, entrepreneur. Do what you can, when you can, with whom you choose. But tend to your business and other priorities first. Know that every time you sit down for coffee or to respond to emails assisting others in their business, you are taking time, energy, and focus away from your own. Do not listen to others who judge you for not giving enough, or worse yet, for not giving to them.

For those looking to approach bloggers whom they feel could serve as mentors or provide useful insights on next steps and troubleshooting, I offer the following advice:

Approach a potential mentor with the same level of respect and professionalism as you would any traditional business you seek advice and help from. Be considerate of their time by organizing your questions and thoughts and be respectful of their privacy by not being too forward or demanding on issues relating to their finances, strategies, partnerships, and contacts. If they want to share it, they will, and most will, though it may take more than a first meeting and casual association. Should a blogger refuse or not provide you with all you had hoped for, continue to carry yourself in a professional manner. Bad-mouthing a fellow blogger and attacking their character because they didn’t assist you makes you look a lot worse than it does them and could destroy any potential of being referred to others. I don’t always have the time to sit and mentor someone, but when I meet and get to know another talented blogger, I remember them. When the request for other bloggers comes up from brands, I tend to pass along that information. You never know when or how opportunities will present themselves.

Invest in building a relationship and learn to be observant, but be genuine and sincere. If you want to get to know someone better because they are doing something you aspire to or admire, be honest about it. But keep in mind, pushiness and over-eagerness is a huge turn-off for most, especially from strangers who approach them wanting to get information. It can make anyone feel uncomfortable and yes, even a tad defensive because they don’t know you or what your motives are.

Do your research, invest in learning and networking opportunities, and be ready to work hard. One of the questions I get asked most is, “How did you manage to grow your site and social media presence so quickly?” My answer is always hard work and many late nights. How quickly I grew my business is all relative. Three years of sacrificing sleep, time away from my children, money, and hitting the networking pavement hard seems like a lot to me, but because this is not a part of the business most others see, I can understand that it may look like it happened easily and without much effort. Never make this assumption, because you will be wrong.

There is no silver bullet, no get rich quick scheme, no short cuts. Though we owe credit to the very many bloggers before us who broke down the barriers and laid down the paths to our many successes today, we still must embrace professionalism, focus, and hard work in our journey to achieve our own success. We must rid ourselves of entitlement and come to the realization that no one owes us anything.

But most especially, we must accept that as friendly and lovely as this blogging world is, we are still trying to run a business and must approach it accordingly, whether you’ve been doing it for awhile or just starting out. No matter how much advice or mentoring you manage to gain, the end result will be based solely on your willingness, abilities, and work.

Carol Cain is a freelance travel and food writer and native New Yorker, born in Brooklyn. She’s a former publishing and public relations professional, with an MBA in Gobal Management.

Her site, NYCityMama.com, was nominated for a Nickelodeon’s Parent’s Choice Award in 2009. In the same year, she was nominated as Best Latina Blogger, New York, by Latinos in Social Media, named one of the Top 100 Travel Sites by TravelPod.com in 2010, and in 2011she was named one of New York’s 20 most influential voices on Twitter by NBC. She lives in New York City with her husband and three boys.

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