It’s only relatively recently that business mentoring has emerged as a recognised and respected route to business prowess. Organisations with rosters of mentors now offer a range of services to entrepreneurs, including advice, financial guidance and ‘shadowing’ in order to improve their day-to-day performance. If you’re starting out in business, or looking to take the next step, you may be considering hiring a mentor to boost your experience and knowledge. Read on to find out more.
What does business mentoring involve?
Business mentoring involves close contact between a mentor (typically an experienced and respected entrepreneur) and a mentee (less-experienced, often running their first company) in which the mentor provides advice, guidance and feedback, and may also provide contacts, to help the mentee succeed.
The exact model utilised will depend on who the mentor is, whether they are backed by a mentoring organisation, how formal the arrangement is, etc. This is why it’s important to understand exactly what your mentor will provide before entering into a contract to ensure your expectations will be met.
What do business mentors do?
- Build your confidence – the business world can seem vast and scary when you first start out. Mentors can help you understand what you don’t understand, help you face your fears, and give you the skills necessary to make a lasting impression
- Provide key business contacts – mentors often have extensive networks of contacts borne out of years in business. Providing access to relevant contacts is often a formal or informal part of a mentoring service, and can help you grow your business quickly, whether through new clients or partnerships
- Help you avoid mistakes – making mistakes, although important in life, can be expensive, especially in business. Learning from the mistakes of others is a great way to move forward without taking steps back. Mentors can quickly and easily identify bad moves and point out where you are going wrong
- Help you develop the right mind-set – the business ‘mind-set’ is both rational and cost-sensitive. Good mentors help you develop an effective mind-set that will guide key decisions throughout your entrepreneurial career
Some mentors, particularly those employed by mentoring companies, also help mentees raise finance from investors by providing a well-known and trusted ‘face’ to the company, offering their input and advice when a business plan is being drawn up, and attending investor presentations to add insight, reduce your capacity for mistakes, and hopefully make the potential investors more confident in the business.
Mentors that have knowledge of relevant Government and private-sector loan schemes, such as the Enterprise Finance Guarantee Scheme (EFG), can also advise mentees on the best way to draw up an application, and may also guide them through the process.
What qualities do good mentors have?
- Professional – mentors should be punctual, approachable, easy-to-contact and engaging.
- Experienced – the mentor’s professional background should have given them significant experience in industries and situations that are relevant to your needs
- Knowledgeable – mentors should have ample theoretical and practical knowledge that is relevant to your needs
- Patient – everyone learns at a different pace and has different priorities. Mentors should not force you to speed up or slow down, and should help you learn in your own way. However, they will also advise you when your processes affect operational efficiency
- Able to coach well – mentors should be experienced in conveying knowledge and advice in a suitable way. They will be able to get across key information with minimal room for misunderstanding
- Treats you as an individual – mentors should tailor their advice and guidance to your strengths and weaknesses as well as the nature of your company e.g. financial background, stage of growth, profitability, long-term goals
Should I employ a mentor?
While any business owner can benefit from the advice and wisdom of a more experienced counterpart, business mentoring is not always the best choice.
Because mentoring is most often a long-term marathon rather than a sprint, it’s not really cost-effective for acute business problems. These are better solved by employing a company/person with expertise in that particular area.
However, if an entrepreneur is looking to become more self-assured, confident and experienced quickly, and isn’t afraid to get stuck in and put in hard work, mentoring can be a great choice. Those looking to raise finance may also benefit from what a mentor can bring to the table.
Entrepreneurs should think long and hard before employing a mentor, as the cost can be considerable. There are very few people who wouldn’t benefit from using a mentor, but whether the service will be cost-effective and offer a good return is the key question.
Of course, if the mentor is a volunteer who is prepared to mentor for free, the decision is much easier. Experienced entrepreneurs may be more likely to offer their mentoring services pro bono if they believe strongly in the company or product.