Choosing a Professional Photography Mentor | Questions You HAVE to Ask

by | Feb 13, 2024 | Brand Photography, Business, Photography Mentoring

Hiring a Professional Photography Mentor is a BIG Decision!!

Starting any business is a rough road. I mean, it’s also incredibly rewarding in a ton of different ways, but I’m not going to sit here and pretend it’s easy all the time. Because that would be a lie.

But what CAN make it easier, is working with someone who’s been there. Someone who’s been through the stages in business that you’re going through, and who knows what the next steps you need to take are. You know where I’m going with this, right? Mentorship. Specifically, photography mentorship.

No matter what business you’re in, we’re in the age of the internet. And what does that mean? Well… it means a lot of things, but in this context, I’m talking pretty specifically about how everyone and their brother suddenly has something to teach you on their YouTube channel, or their TikTok, or their super high ticket one-to-one programs. You’ve seen the ads, you’ve seen the “webinars” – and if you’re starting a photography business, you might be a little overwhelmed with all of it.

And with all the shiny, SHINY programs you could join… who the #*!? should you work with?? Which program should you join??

I’d love to tell you I have a magic solution, or someone I worked with that I learned a ton from. But the truth is, I kind of took bits from here and other bits from over there, and then I hired experts to take care of elements I couldn’t take to the next level myself (read as: mostly my website). But what CAN I do based on all that experience?

I can tell you what to look for when you’re vetting mentors, so that you can learn from what I did!

Jessica Strobel eating doughnuts for her brand photoshoot

Are they sharing their expertise?

(And I don’t mean within their paid programs!!)

When you click on that Facebook ad you were retargeted after stalking a mentor’s website… I want you to actually click around. Because I want you to find where they’re sharing their expertise for free! Do they have a Facebook group? A freebie? What about a blog? Go read their content, and consume things other than their Instagram profile.

For me, it’s a big ole red flag if a mentor is talking about how you can BUY their expertise… but not giving you a sample ahead of time. Obviously there’s something to be said for the “charge your worth” argument, and I’m not here to tell you that mentors should be giving EVERYTHING away for free. But you want to work with someone who has true expertise, right? Who knows significantly more than you do right now, and who can walk you through tough spots. Right?

And if that’s what you’re looking for… You want to be working with someone who knows enough that they’re comfortable sharing some of that information publicly. Someone who shows you that they know what they’re talking about, and can teach you, BEFORE you buy the thing they’re selling. Because if they’re not sharing tips, tricks, and advice on their presence, and they’re ONLY selling you their program? From my experience, once you DO step over the threshold, you’ll find a few nuggets here and there, but most of it may end up being content you could’ve found with a quick Google.

So before you hire a new mentor, ask yourself: Do they know enough to feel comfy giving some away for free?

women posed in front of a flower wall for Minneapolis branding photos

Are they “walking the walk”?

Another one of the big things to look at when you’re choosing a mentor is whether they’re walking the walk. It’s easy as a photographer to get busy wearing all the hats in the world… and then forget that you’re supposed to also be a content manager and social media admin all in one. And when you’re a professional photographer doing all the things all the time without help, that’s totally understandable. No shame, at all.

But when you’re putting yourself in a mentoring role, and teaching? Ya gotta walk the walk. A lot of the time webinars and “free trainings” before you buy into someone’s photography mentorship program are “orphaned” from their primary website. They’re on a platform like leadpages, and they don’t have the menu from their website, or their social platforms on there. There’s a ton of reasons to do it that way, and I get it from a marketing standpoint. Less distractions.

However, when you’re the customer and you’re looking to buy into a program like that, it’s important to do your research. It’s SO easy to get drawn in by someone’s magical sounding webinar, listen to their CTA at the end, and then… do the thing they want you to do. Buy the program. Because there’s a timer at the end, and you’ll get a discount if you sign up RIGHT NOW, so you definitely have to, right??

I’m not saying that all of the programs marketed that way are a bad idea. But what I AM saying, is you want to do your research. Go make sure that they’re doing the things they talk about. Are they maintaining their online presence? What about their social media? And then there’s the next one… which is the big one.

What do their reviews look like?

I don’t just mean the reviews for their mentoring! I mean their reviews overall. What are their clients saying? If you go check out their google reviews, do you see them responding to any negative ones on there? Are they handling things in a professional manner? Do they have a history of clients who just can’t get enough of their work?

What about repeat clients? Are the people reviewing them talking about coming back again and again? Because you want repeat clients. And who can teach you to have clients who come back to your studio? Someone who has already done it, that’s who.

Jessica Strobel in a gown posed in front of a vibrant floral mural

Do they share their profit breakdown?

This one is a little controversial, but follow me here. This mentor you’re looking to hire – do they publicly talk about their profits? The kinds of strategies they use to get there? These are questions you HAVE to ask before you hire a photography mentor. Because at the end of the day, it’s really REALLY easy to get drawn in by all of those shiny, shiny tactics I mentioned, and not realize that actually, this mentor is going to sell you a strategy you’ve already tried.

Or they’re not actually profiting above the band you’re already in. Or, even worse, they’ve remained super vague about their numbers, because the “multiple six figures” they mentioned? It’s actually from their mentoring, NOT their photography business itself. We won’t get into a discussion here about whether it’s ethical to teach something you’ve not done yourself, and I’m not here to throw shade at people who make their living as coaches. Or those who’ve transitioned from primarily shooting client sessions to primarily teaching! That’s not my point.

But it is really important for you to know those details when you’re hiring a mentor, because if that mentor isn’t currently working with clients, and currently shooting sessions, then it’s so easy for them to get out of touch with the industry. And that’s the opposite of what you need from someone teaching you about your next steps!

Jessica Strobel eating doughnuts for her brand photoshoot

(P.S. If you’re also looking to speed up your Instagram posting process, check out my Etsy shop!)

I’m offering some mentorship spots this year!

I could keep going on and on about this for ages, so I’m probably going to split it into a post series. But the biggest takeaway I want you to remember from this, is DO. YOUR. RESEARCH.
If you don’t remember anything else, remember that!! Please, turn over all the stones before you hire a photography mentor.

And on that note, it’s time to mention quickly that I also have professional photography mentorship spots available this year! If you need someone who is willing to answer all of the questions – the good, the bad, and the ugly – and who will help you find YOUR special sauce… we should talk. Because there is no one-size-fits all solution to running a photography business, but that doesn’t mean you have to do it alone!