Mentor for Money? You Better Believe It

Meander
7 min readMar 31, 2023

Daria and Viktoria both made the transition from pro bono to paid mentorship in the last year. In this Q&A, they share their insights of paid mentorship and the many advantages it has, both for mentors and mentees.

So, you both started mentorship as unpaid mentors. How did the big shift to paid sessions take place?

Daria: Well, first of all I joined Vektor out of curiosity. I had no intention to get paid in the beginning — I just wanted to understand this whole market of mentorship. I also figured that mentoring sessions would be a great way for me to retain my own knowledge, since teaching is one of the best ways you can master information.

I have a strong marketing background, as well as a lot of experience with start-ups, so I started with these two areas. I had a few conversations with people and tried to add value where I could, and then eventually a start-up asked to hire me as a consultant.

I signed a three-month contract with that company, we kept renewing, and then more and more mentees started reaching out to me based on this initial experience. It was a real organic, word-of-mouth kind of growth.

Viktoria: I think I have a similar sort of origin story. I came to the earlier version of your product to find some kind of product/market fit for myself. I had been working in product management for a few years and knew I wanted to structure the knowledge I had gained so I could begin to share it.

In my first year I had I think seven mentees. And like Daria said, this was useful for my own personal development as I learned more and more about product by talking through a whole range of different problems with my mentees.

I did, however, also face a problem: I found that my mentees tended to stop after two or three sessions. So you can have a lot of people message you but the engagement rate can be quite low.

Naturally with my product brain I wanted to experiment with how to improve this metric, so I started experimenting with paid mentorship. I found that product managers in more senior positions were more engaged, and some of these initial relationships lasted several months, all paid.

Some of my mentees were changing jobs, or chasing promotion, so the value over time was clearly there from their point of view. This made me start thinking about paid mentorship more generally — I was seeing the value-add I could bring to mentees with how they were progressing in their careers. This was really motivating.

Yes it’s definitely something we see in all kinds of paid educational opportunities. With Coursera, for example, people are way more likely to complete a course if they’ve paid for it.

Were those initial paid experiences more stressful or anxiety-provoking than the free sessions?

Viktoria: Oh, yes. I’m so glad I started out as an unpaid mentor because it mitigated some of that stress — I already had some experience talking through some of the same general problems I would discuss as a paid mentor.

And like I said a moment ago, I knew I’d need to find the right product/market fit for myself through experimentation. And I mean this both in terms of the topics I could talk about as well as the right price to charge for any mentees.

I spoke with my friends to get feedback on my pricing and gradually came to a decision.

Daria: I totally agree with the experimentation approach. I did a little user discovery myself — identifying mentorship niches that I could speak to, as well as testing the package prices.

And yes in terms of the scariness factor there’s always going to be an imposter syndrome obstacle at the beginning. Even though — and perhaps because — I had been doing this for free, part of me was wondering how I could expect to get away with charging for this same service! This is obviously not a productive thought so once you’ve done your first few sessions this mental weight lessens.

I think the other thing I’d add is that I also asked other mentors how they priced their services. As much as I love the user discovery side of things, there are of course a ton of active mentors out there who have probably done similar product/market fit experiments. Sometimes its easier to take advantage of existing data than try to reproduce it for yourself.

And maybe that’s also a value-add of mentorship platforms, where you can quite quickly see an enormous number of topic types and associated prices in just a few clicks.

Viktoria: Exactly. I tested different pricing for my mentorship requests, gathering feedback both from these people requesting sessions as well as my current paid mentees.

I wanted to learn about their perceptions of value: what am I contributing to them as a mentor and does the price tag reflect that value?

I said earlier that I was doing paid consulting work beforehand, so I had some idea of rates. But I think with consulting I had to do a lot more work upfront, where mentoring is more about chatting with your mentee to work out their priorities, and then discussing problems on a call or over email.

Because of this, I keep my mentor rates lower than my consulting rates since the nature of the work is a bit different. Growth advising is kind of B2B, whereas mentoring is more like B2C.

Daria: I started with lower rates and adjusted them after a while when I felt more confident. I didn’t see a drop-off in interest either. I would advise a constant review of your pricing because you’re getting more and more experienced every week, every session.

You’ve both talked about trying to find a good fit with the knowledge you have and the potential demand in the mentoring ecosystem. How exactly did you identify what value you can bring as a mentor?

Viktoria: I started with a focus on product-led growth as a mentor topic, but I got much wider requests from mentees. I started thinking about other spheres I could contribute in based on these inbound requests, such as product strategy.

With Vektor, you get a whole profile as a mentor, so you can convey a pretty clear sense of what you’ll bring to the table before someone even books a session.

The other part is to get direct feedback from the people you’re advising. You can often be surprised by things that are obvious to you but not to everybody else. For example, a skill or topic you feel is implicit in the fact that you’re a product growth professional with years of experience. Well, unless it’s explicit on your mentor profile or your website or whatever, people might not know that!

Daria: Right, communication is the key thing here. Did you improve your mentee’s life after your first batch of sessions? If so, what did you do well and how can you bottle that for all your other mentees?

As you rack up more and more sessions, you get a better sense of your value based on this kind of feedback. So not only is your knowledge in your space increasing with every session, but the techniques you can use to help your mentees think through problems also improves.

Now that you’ve both been doing paid mentorship for some time, do you notice a difference between your paying learners and those who don’t pay?

Daria: Yes, but the difference is good. For my own perspective, I think I improved as a mentor at a much greater rate because suddenly this pro bono activity is becoming a side hustle or even a main vein of income. You look at more tools and resources to keep bringing that value to mentees.

Viktoria: And then from the mentee side the money actually makes the relationship more disciplined. You’re not going to cancel or flake as much if you have actual financial stake in the relationship. I did eight months of free sessions with one particular mentee before we switched to paid. I don’t think we lost anything from the relationship at all, and we got all the benefits that Daria and I have just mentioned.

Daria: It’s a win-win.

Viktoria: It’s a win-win.

We love a win-win.

Daria: Maybe I’ll use a therapy analogy here: paying your therapist doesn’t mean they don’t care, right? It’s just a conceptual shift — we’re still growing in acceptance that mentorship can be paid whereas we always fully expect therapy to be a paid transaction.

Viktoria: And there’s maybe a strange power dynamic with free mentorship that doesn’t exist or exists way less with paid. When it’s free, there’s a sense that the mentor is giving up their time for this situation, which kind of puts the mentee in a weird gratitude kind of place. When it’s paid, the relationship is a product in its own right and it’s not power-based.

Okay, final question for you both: do you have any tips for how to improve as a mentor?

Viktoria: Learn by doing is the best advice I can give. Work with your mentees, gather feedback, and find fellow mentors with whom you can explore tips and best practices.

Daria: With every new person you interact with, you’re carving out a slightly new niche for yourself and growing even more in your knowledge. It’s a new string to your bow each time.

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Meander

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