Why mentoring matters for business owners

Tackling the unprecedented challenges of Covid and Brexit, and reopening and rebuilding business in the midst of staff shortages and supply chain disruption, is no easy feat. Maybe it’s time for a mentor, says Sven Spollen-Behrens.

Richard Branson once said: “If you ask any successful business person, they will always have had a great mentor at some point along the road.”

Famous mentoring relationships include Steve Jobs supporting Mark Zuckerberg and Steven Spielberg mentoring J.J. Abrams. But it isn’t necessary to be at the top of a glamorous industry to strike up a productive mentoring connection.

“Being able to discuss ideas and navigate obstacles with a fellow entrepreneur was invaluable to me and the business”

For Irish SMEs, small business owners and managers, they can look to MentorsWork, a free Government business development scheme to tackle skills gaps and development needs.

Great ingenuity and innovation was apparent in the efforts of many SMEs to survive the business impacts of Covid-19, and now is the time to identify a clear path to recovery and future growth.  In this, MentorsWork is an excellent starting point. 

A completely free programme, the scheme delivers expert support from an impartial professional; essentially fresh eyes on your business and no bias or emotional attachment to it. 

Applications opened this month for the latest phase, and information to apply can be found on https://mentorswork.ie/.

Delivered in partnership with Skillnet Ireland, participants can access one-to-one mentoring from an independent professional mentor who is experienced in their business needs, as well as masterclasses and peer-to-peer workshops.

Strategic business improvement

The scheme supports businesses in developing a six-month strategic business improvement plan. Sonya Murphy-Lyons, Founder and director of the Mezzo Music Academy in Dublin, and a recent MentorsWork participant, found the initiative invaluable.

“My mentor helped me plan and launch my virtual academy, and we now teach students online, both nationally and internationally, boosting work for our tutors and the revenue stream”

“Leading my team remotely was a totally new challenge, and daunting. But my mentor guided and encouraged me along the way, as we looked at how to work with over 500 students and 30 teachers remotely. Being able to discuss ideas and navigate obstacles with a fellow entrepreneur was invaluable to me and the business.”

An online diagnostic tool provides insights to help business owners and managers identify key skills and development needs, business challenges and growth strategies. The initial business review is broken into four key areas; people, business processes, finance and growth, and digitalisation and automation.

There is also access to a self-paced learning portal and other online resources in the business development package, which is free to SME business owners and managers.

Murphy-Lyons says sometimes in business we just react out of necessity. So, the wider perspective of a mentor opens new opportunities.

“In order to survive the pandemic, I quickly adjusted my business model and took Mezzo Music Academy online.  While online music lessons were originally a means to an end, we realised this could be another avenue to the business.

“My mentor helped me plan and launch my virtual academy, and we now teach students online, both nationally and internationally, boosting work for our tutors and the revenue stream.”

There are different kinds of mentors, from retired executives, to work colleagues, to experts we might never meet, other than in their podcasts, blogs, or YouTube videos.

What they share is experience, expertise and, importantly, an independence and distance from your business and career that makes them objective and, often, better able to see solutions that can be missed by those closer to the problem.

Clarity around the value proposition

Barry Prost, managing partner at recruitment service Yala.ie, says his MentorsWork one-to-one mentoring provided valuable, unbiased, advice around a new employer branding product the company was launching, and delivered great clarity around the value proposition and how to scale the business.

“Like any good coach, goals are set out in writing and you are held accountable from session to session”

“I think the mentor is there to ask the right questions to get you, as the entrepreneur, thinking critically about your business.

“Often, as an entrepreneur, you are the most experienced person in the organisation. A mentor is invaluable in terms of providing support and guidance around strategy, business planning and resources,” Prost believes.

His business Yala.ie provides an embedded recruitment service called ‘Rent-A-Recruiter’, on a monthly subscription basis, to SMEs that are recruiting, but don’t need a full-time recruiter or prefer to outsource the function.  

He also appreciated the element of accountability mentoring introduced to business planning.

“Like any good coach, goals are set out in writing and you are held accountable from session to session. You come away with tangible, actionable results, in addition to a vast Mentorswork learning platform that you can deploy throughout the business to refine the business plan and strategic planning approach”, the recruitment entrepreneur says.

Business transformation

First introduced in April 2020, MentorsWork has supported 700 businesses, to date, in various sectors including services, retail and manufacturing operations.   Feedback is that 97pc of participating businesses successfully completed the 12-week programme and found it transformational.

“With the help and advice of my mentor, I looked at roles and time management”

Like anything worth having, MentorsWork participants need to be willing to put in the work to see results. However, those committed to working with a mentor regularly achieve both business and personal development that benefits their wider team.

In fact, business mentoring at its best will help organisations retain their best people and increase staff loyalty, with broad learnings from operational advice to leadership.

Trying to do everything yourself is another habit many entrepreneurs have, Sonya Murphy-Lyons admits. 

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

To get the most from someone else’s experience and network, the starting point is to think about and define short and long-term goals for the business, and what you want out of the mentoring work. 

Your mentor is someone who sees your vision, and has the expertise to help you execute it.  A mentor will not tell you what to do, and certainly won’t do it for you.  But what you get is their perspective, support and their business experience.  You get to use them as a confidential sounding board, especially for working through crucial and maybe complex decisions.

If there are specific business questions SMEs now need to address, MentorsWork could well be the answer.

Business owners and managers can apply to participate in MentorsWork at https://mentorswork.ie/. The programme is fully subsidised by the Government of Ireland is provided by the Small Firms Association (SFA) in partnership with Skillnet Ireland.