In Homer's Odyssey, Mentor was a friend of Odysseus and was put in charge of his household while he was off fighting the Trojan War.
Modern usage of “mentor” to mean “trusted advisor, friend, teacher and wise person” could be traced back to the role of this, or to a 1699 book by Fenelon who had a protagonist of the same name.
Neither of these characters, though, were recorded as demanding money for “programmes”, “discovery days” or “strategy sessions”.
Which is a very roundabout way of getting around to asking: should you be paying for property mentoring?
When mentoring comes for free
Whether you pay for it or not, you'll have mentor/mentee relationships with lots of people during your investing career.
Every transaction, for example, will involve a solicitor. Your solicitor will know more about the legal side of property than you do, and (if they're any good) will offer advice as well as shuffling papers. The same is true if you work with a mortgage broker, accountant, sourcer or letting agent.
So this is a pretty powerful argument for putting a great property team together: if you buy their professional services, you get mentoring thrown in for free!
After all, they have a vested interest in your success: if you do well, you'll keep buying their services. But even aside from that, the best professionals love to help anyway.
There are only two conditions that need to be met for this professional relationship to become a mentoring relationship:
- You need to actively solicit their advice, and ask questions. Most professionals will just shut up and do their job if that's what you seem to want, so you need to be genuinely willing to learn.
- You need to work with great people, and pay what they deserve. The best professionals are the best because they love what they do, and they never stop learning. Those people love to “talk shop” with you and give advice, but they won't be the cheapest. A solicitor doing fixed price conveyancing for a few hundred quid will be basing their business around volume – which means not much time for chit-chat, and not much time for leaning information to pass on anyway.
What about paying for mentoring too?
There are two situations where it might make sense to pay for specialist mentoring, outside of the context of professional services:
1. You need help just getting started
Using professional services involves actually doing something – you'll have no need for a mortgage broker if you've not found a property to buy, after all.
So what if you need either information or motivation to get you to that stage?
Given that there's a world of information out there in blogs, books, forums and podcasts, that's probably not what you need. You either need help in setting your strategy, or accountability so you take action despite your fears.
A paid mentor might make sense in this situation, but you could achieve the same thing by taking a local investor out for lunch every month, or even just partnering with another newbie to push each other forward.
2. You want to replicate the success of someone using a particular strategy
Say you've decided that LHA HMOs are the investment for you: how much would it be worth to have access to the systems and experience of someone who's been successfully doing exactly that for years? And even get their expert opinion on deals you're considering investing in?
If it helps you avoid expensive mistakes and make faster progress, it could easily be worth tens of thousands of pounds over your lifetime. So £3,000 to spend a weekend with that person might sound like a lot, but could be the best investment you ever make.
You'd be surprised, though, just how much you can get for free. Rather than spending a chunk of your investable funds on the first person you come across, spend some time building relationships and see what help you can get for nowt.
Most people are very willing to help, even if they're getting nothing in return – as long as you're clearly committed to taking action and actually using the information you're asking for.
For example, when I was thinking about buying a property specifically to let out to a housing association, I contacted someone who'd written a book about the subject to check whether the book would be helpful in my situation.
He not only sent me the book for free (because parts were out of date so he felt bad about charging), but spent an hour on the phone with me and swapped emails back and forth the whole way through the buying process. I offered to pay him several times, but he wouldn't hear of it.
This type of story isn't at all uncommon.
If you're going to pay, make sure it's worthwhile
If you do decide it makes sense to pay for specialist mentoring, follow these rules to make sure you get something worth paying for – and don't risk getting ripped off by a “mentor” with an ulterior motive.
- Make sure they're actually doing it. You'd be amazed how many people set themselves up as mentors either before they've done anything in property, or when they need some cash after their own investments have screwed up.
- Avoid anyone who asks for money immediately. A comprehensive chat about your goals and financial situation should be free – to make sure you're a good fit, and that you're actually in a position to proceed.
- Avoid anyone who calls themselves a “guru”. I mean, really…
- Make sure they listen before giving advice. If you're having a call or initial meeting, they should be asking far more questions than they're answering. Good mentoring isn't about just blabbing away or forcing their opinion on you.
- Be cautious if the mentoring is designed to lead to selling you deals. Aren't they just charging you to work out what to sell you? The dual role can work, but I'd be extra careful.
- What does your gut say? If it “just doesn't feel right” or anything seems too good to be true, walk away.
Paying for better or quicker results is a perfectly reasonable thing to do – but don't rush in. See what you can get for free, check whether you'd benefit from anything paid, then ask these questions of anyone you come across – and you should end up with both quality advice and a lot more money in your pocket.