Having a mentor in this crazy business is a real advantage. If you can find someone willing to impart to you their knowledge and experience you will be one step ahead of the competition. It's a great opportunity to learn from the mistakes of someone else and not waste time making some avoidable errors. It is important to keep in mind that your mentor is also has a business to run and some secrets to keep. Here are some ideas for how to find, and keep, a mentor and avoid drama.
1. Look for people that have the skills that you desire. I have mentors of my own, and I have mentored a few new photography business owners as well. I have a mentor that is really good at the technical aspects of photography in general, and she's a master business owner. She also happens to be a wedding photographer, so while I turn to her for technical questions and marketing ideas, she is not my go to person for newborn and child photography related questions. I have a couple of other people that I respect and admire that help me with the specifics of my specialty. As far as mentoring others, I make sure I can really help the person that has come to me. If I don't have a handle on the areas they need help with I will send them to someone else. Just because they like my work doesn't mean I am the best person to give them advice.
2. Respect their time. This is so important. You may have a million questions for your mentor but I promise they do not have time for all of them. Not at once anyway. Have a system that works for both of you. Maybe a weekly email with a list of 2-3 questions you need help with. This gives your mentor time to answer you thoroughly when it is convenient for them. Don't just show up at their studio and expect them to be able to talk to you. Ask if you an second shoot, assist at a session, or watch them work. I was always happy to have a newbie watch me work and assist with a shoot if it was planned in advance and okayed with the client. Just showing up is pretty bold and quite disrespectful.
3. Listen! In the name of everything good, if you want a mentor and want to keep them as a friend and colleague, listen to them. You are the one that came to them for help and advice. They are the one with the experience and if you are lucky they are willing to share it with you. If you ask them a question, listen to the answer. This may seem annoyingly obvious but trust me, listening is becoming a lost art. Your mentor does not want to have a question asked and then be interrupted every 2 minutes by your opinion on what they just said. They are telling you what works for them. It is not a debatable point. If you want to ignore the advice after it has been given that is certainly your right, but be respectful and wait until you are alone in your own studio to do it.
4. Pay it forward. Someday you will be the one with the experience and the tried and true methods. Remember the ones that helped you get there. Be like them. Be as generous as you can with your time when someone new to the business needs your help. You shouldn't mentor everyone that comes to you but you can certainly help them find someone else that may be a better fit. Remember how hard it was for you to find the right people willing to help you. Be patient and kind. We all start from the beginning and can benefit from the experience of those who came before.