Does mentoring matter?

Leaders and entrepreneurs answer the question.

“I would say yes, absolutely!  But for reasons that may not be the first ones to come to mind!”

So says Sven Spollen-Behrens, Small Firms Association director, who is currently recruiting candidates for the remaining MentorsWork places available in 2021.

“The Covid shock rocked everyone in business. Having a business advisor was invaluable”

MentorsWork is a free Government-funded scheme that provides SMEs with professional mentors to help support business analysis, sales, marketing and professional development, as well as advising on finance and operations issues. 

Delivered by the Small Firms Association (SFA) and Skillnet Ireland, business owners get a one-to-one mentor, online tools, masterclasses and workshops.

Asking the right questions

Dark-haired man in grey suit.

Sven Spollen-Behrens, Small Firms Association director

Developing his point on the very real and practical reasons to work with a mentor, Spollen-Behrens points to Barry Prost, a managing partner at recruitment service, and his MentorsWork experience.

Prost is one of more than 700 SMEs who have availed of the free mentoring since the scheme was first introduced in April 2020

“I think the mentor is there to ask the right questions; to get you thinking critically about your business.  You are held accountable from session to session and you come away with tangible, actionable results”, the recruitment advisor says of working with a mentor.

“Often, as an entrepreneur, you are the most experienced person in the organisation.  A mentor is invaluable in terms of reaffirming what you know and suggesting routes to achieve what it is you’re unsure on”, Prost adds.

That’s it in a nutshell, Spollen-Behrens says of the experience of mentoring and how it helps.

“It’s lonely at the top!   You set-up the business, you maybe recruit a few people, and you get some customers.  But, whether you’re the CEO of a multi-national or a small start-up in Tullamore, you need someone to talk to, to sense check ideas, and to ensure you don’t start to doubt yourself or to get side-tracked.”


Engaging with a mentor also brings an element of accountability, keeps you focussed on the bigger picture, and helps with redirection if you’ve got lost in the minutiae of the day-to-day business operation, the MentorsWork advocate says.

“We all submit to procrastination occasionally and need a push.   Once signed-up, your mentor pushes you, and you push yourself that little bit harder, usually in the direction of the bigger questions that need addressing”.

More small business owners are being encouraged to take up the free services of a MentorsWork mentor to help work on 2022 business planning.  Any private SME with less than 250 employees is eligible to participate in the 12-week programme.

Sonya Murphy-Lyons of the Mezzo Music Academy in Dublin also benefitted from the free scheme.  She says MentorsWork gives you expert support that is impartial.

“The Covid shock rocked everyone in business. Having a business advisor was invaluable.  

“You were essentially getting fresh eyes on your business from someone who had no bias or emotional attachment to it; someone who could help distinguish the wood from the trees, as well as encourage a lot of thinking outside the box”.

And, both Barry Prost and Sonya Murphy-Lyons delivered tangible business development, as well as benefitting from some fresh thinking, during their mentoring sessions.

Mezzo Music Academy not only started online music lessons during lockdown, but their success saw Sonya then plan and launch a virtual academy with her mentor.  The music school now teaches national and international students online, boosting tutors’ work and business revenue. was supported in launching a new branding product for employers, and the business principals acknowledge that their mentor delivered great clarity around the value proposition and how to scale the business.

Business and personal development

Like anything worth having, MentorsWork participants need to be willing to put in some work to see results, Sven Spollen-Behrens says. 

“Those committed to working with a mentor regularly achieve both business and personal development that benefits their wider team.  And most rediscover their passion for the business, and why they got involved in the first place”.

Business mentoring will also help organisations retain their best people and increase staff loyalty, the MentorsWork promoters say.

Trying to do everything yourself is another habit many entrepreneurs have, Sonya Murphy-Lyons admits.  She felt there were broad general learnings from the workshop experiences too, both operational advice and leadership skills.

“With the help and advice of my mentor, I looked at roles and time management.  We discussed delegation and implemented some automation tools, improving the administration side of the school, freeing-up more time to focus on business development”.

An online diagnostic tool from MentorsWork provides insights to help business owners and managers identify skills and development needs, as well as challenges and growth strategies. 

The initial business review looks at four areas; people, business processes, finance and growth, and digitalisation and automation.  Participants identify the areas they most want support on.

“Your mentor is someone who helps you refocus on your vision, and has the expertise to help you execute it.  They will not tell you what to do, and certainly won’t do it for you.  You get to use them as a confidential sounding board, which is particularly important when working through crucial or complex decisions” Sven Spollen-Behrens concludes. 

Business owners and managers can apply to MentorsWork.  The programme is open to any private sector business with between 5 and 250 employees.  It is fully subsidised by the Government of Ireland is provided by the Small Firms Association (SFA) in partnership with Skillnet Ireland. 

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