If you’re looking to start-up or grow your own business, it’s only a matter of time before some one will suggest that you get a business mentor. If the relationship works, it can be a great boost to you and the business. Good mentoring relationships help to increase motivation and confidence, broaden horizons, aspirations and understanding and result in a better performing business with increased sales.
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.
Finding a business mentor
So now you’re ready, how do you find a mentor? Business mentoring schemes come and go; ask your local business support agency if they can refer you to one. Or check-out MentorSME, the Government’s online gateway to mentoring services for UK small businesses.
If your need for a mentor coincides with a need for start-up funding, then you’ll be pleased to learn that the Government-back Start Up Loans scheme combines the two. You can find out more by clicking here.
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.
Mentoring is not the same as business coaching, which is a more structured and measured process, using powerful questions and tools. Coaching is usually something you pay for, while mentoring is usually something provided by someone more senior or experienced as a learning process for both of you.
Mentoring can also work well as a a peer group process. This is often called a mastermind group. The idea is that you get together a group of 3-5 peers, meet regularly either in person or via teleconference, share challenges and use the group experience to find better ways forward.
The key to a successful peer mentoring group is to find others at a similar stage with a similar level of drive and commitment. Look for people with a positive problem-solving outlook. Trust and confidentiality is important and it is worth getting members to sign a non-disclosure agreement. Make a schedule for regular meetings and stick to it. Everyone should have an equal amount of time to share their up-dates and get feedback and insights from the other group members.
Making mentoring work
So you’ve found and tested out a mentor, or got together a peer mentoring group. After that, you get out what you put in. Here is how to make it work:
- Set clear goals for what you want to achieve during the mentoring term and update and review them with your mentor.
- Have an agreed time-frame for the mentoring relationship. You can always extend it, but time-limitation helps to focus the mind.
- Take your commitment seriously. It’s a commitment to yourself and your business as much as it is to your mentor or peers.
- Keep the relationship positive and productive. If it doesn’t feel right then bow out quickly.
- Prioritise meetings and give due notice if you are not able to make it for a good reason.
- Follow-up and follow-through with action items (you don’t need to follow advice blindly, but do follow through when you’ve said you will).
Finally, show appreciation and acknowledge the help you’ve been given. Mentors usually give their time and share their experience freely. Knowing that they are making a difference is the best reward. Mentoring can make a huge difference to your business success, so let your mentors know just how valuable they are.