If you’re looking to start-up or grow your own business, it’s only a matter of time before some one will say you need a business mentor. If the relationship works, it can be a great boost to you and the business. Sara Murray, CEO of personal safety business, buddi, met her mentor, financial journalist, John Kay, when she sat next to him on a plane 13 years ago. She still turns to him when she has a big issue to grapple with: “explaining a problem to him allows me to think about the solution,” she says.
But for all the public success stories, there are just as many disasters, though those are more often quietly whispered. For example, Sophie felt strongly encouraged by her mentor to ‘go for it’ and sink her redundancy cheque into a shop lease. She lost it all. Carol was left dispirited by a mentor who refused to see that her childcare problems had anything to do with running a business, when they were in fact the main barrier to growth.
So, to make the most of having a mentor, it’s important to know the difference between good and bad mentoring from the beginning. Have a ‘get to know you’ trial session for both parties and use the checklist below to review how it went.
A good mentor will
- Listen, listen, listen!
- Guide and suggest options, rather than direct
- Empower, show you how to do things for yourself
- Offer expertise, information, suggest ways of finding out
- Support and encourage
- Give realistic advice when necessary
- Listen to and explore your issues
- Be open and accepting
- Use their own experience in a positive way
- Prejudge the business viability of your ideas or make assumptions
- Counsel – the mentor is not there to deal with deep-seated emotional problems
- Tell you what to do
- Do things for you
- Have to be expert in everything
- Get too emotionally involved
- Create false expectations
- Have a narrow and judgemental attitude
- Involve you in their own problems
The checklist was developed by the British Volunteer Mentoring Association who trained and matched hundreds of business mentors a few years ago. They evaluated the programme and found that those were the characteristics of the most successful mentors.
So now you’re ready, how do you find a mentor? There are numerous schemes at the moment, so you could ask your local business support agencies if they can refer you to one. Or check-out MentorSME, the Government’s online gateway to mentoring services for UK small businesses.
Even better, take the Sara Murray approach and ask someone you’ve met or know of, who you think you could learn from. People are usually flattered and love to be asked and to help.
*Sara Murray interview in Professional Manager magazine March/April 2011.