What is mentoring?
In essence, mentoring is about accessing the knowledge and experience of a seasoned business professional so that you can learn how to run your business more effectively. It is not about getting someone to run your business for you. Mentors are there to provide support, guidance and, when necessary, introduce you to key contacts.
Mentoring can be mutually beneficial. An experienced business person can offer valuable direction to a start-up or early-stage business, while a ‘mentee’ can also help a mentor stay connected to the sector (after retirement, perhaps) or further their knowledge of that sector.
Sourcing a mentor
If you want to access a formal mentor, there are state supports available. For example, your Local Enterprise Office will also be able to match your business with an experienced business practitioner in your area. If you want to go it alone, there are a number of steps to take to source an appropriate mentor:
- Determine your needs.
- Take the time to network.
- Listen, rather than talk.
- Be flexible with your time.
What a mentor can offer you
Here’s what you can expect a mentor to offer:
- Advice and focused direction. Mentors have seen it all before, so pick their brains as often as you can.
- Moments in a conversation that foster development. Inexperienced entrepreneurs are often a blur of ideas, thoughts and action. A good mentor should be able to take a nugget of seemingly random information and emphasise its importance.
- Help with identifying pressing problems and suggesting solutions. Negotiating road-blocks is old pat for mentors. Remember that your particular problem is not unique, and that others can help with some experienced thinking.
- Identifying innovative ways of reviving the business. You may not see the light at the end of the tunnel. But if there is potential, a good mentor will lead you in the right direction.
- Help with the decision-making process. Procrastinating or failing to make sound decisions is a common mistake new business owners make. Put your pride to one side and listen to the expert.
- Experience and knowledge. As tough as it is to admit, you don’t know it all yet. Be a sponge and retain as much knowledge and information as you can.
- Structure and context based on previous experiences. Fail more, and fail better. Everyone has hit a brick wall, so find out how your mentor recovered from setbacks.
- Instructions as to how you can formulate a strategy and a business plan. This is critical for a new business owner, and shouldn’t be discounted.
What mentees do
As a mentee, you need to know what to expect and what value you bring to the table for a mentor. You should be determined, while realising that you don’t know it all, and you should be able to accept constructive criticism, no matter how much it may grate on you.
The relationship with your mentor must be based on trust and respect. If you are not ready to accept a different opinion or that your business must diversify, then you are not ready for a mentor.
You should arrange to see your mentor regularly, to get the most out of them. Set yourself regular goals, and remember that this investment should reap benefits you wouldn’t have seen without their involvement. You must also be dedicated, and willing to put a significant amount of time into developing or diversifying your business. Running a start-up is tough work. Be sure you’re up to the task.
Your mentor is not there to run your business. They are there to give you advice and guidance. This is a crucial distinction, and understanding it could be the difference between developing a lasting relationship and incurring the wrath of a seasoned professional.
Remember that your mentor has other pressing business to attend to, so be sure you agree how often and when you will meet. Be sure that your meetings are structured, to avoid wasting time. Also, don’t presume that your mentor will help you financially. This should be common sense, but must be remembered.