It seems that mentoring has become a new buzzword for entrepreneurs and business leaders. It was only a few years ago that networking was being held up as the vital activity for business success. Is mentoring now the must have business ‘accessory’ – and could having the right person to advise you really make a difference?
Not all business mentoring schemes are created equal. To take time to find and engage with a mentor is a commitment, especially for an entrepreneur whose time is as precious as their cash. Receiving poor coaching or mentoring is the fastest way to hurt an entrepreneur or ambitious business-person and there is nothing worse than somebody giving irrelevant or even misleading advice.
Mentoring is relational so finding someone that you can admire and respect is key. You need to enjoy the conversation and the time you spend together. There are matchmaking schemes, like the Santander Breakthrough Business programme that Cause4 has set up to connect female entrepreneurs with highly successful female entrepreneur mentors, or you can use your own extended network of contacts to find someone right for the mentor role. It’s your relationship and an important and confidential one, so it needs time and care to get right.
Being a mentor for a small business entrepreneur differs to mentoring someone that is climbing up a more traditional career ladder. Given the fast-paced operating environment, feedback for entrepreneur often needs to be both robust and quick. It can feel like tough love. Having a mentor who is an established entrepreneur is helpful because they can provide some very real advice rather than the softer ‘best practice’ guidelines that can form the basis of more traditional mentoring programmes. Progress needs to be real, meaningful and measurable. The best mentors sense an entrepreneur’s urgency to get ahead and won’t pull their punches. So entrepreneurs need to be ready to be mentored.
It’s not always necessary – or appropriate – to select a mentor with whom you have a lot in common, or who is running similar businesses to our own. I’ve certainly found that having a mentor outside of my comfort zone cuts through the nitty gritty of my daily working challenges and allows me to consider the business as a whole, by looking at the fundamentals that apply to any business – cashflow, new business, resourcing, taxation, etc. So never be afraid to link to a mentor from a completely different background – that outsider’s view could be invaluable.
Many mentoring relationships fail because the mentee was expecting the impossible. A mentor is not going to do your job for you or shelter you from the storms that you might be facing. This is not a cozy chat with a friend. Some of the advice you hear will be hard to take. Wanting change is one thing – being prepared to change is another. So consider are you a good mentee? Open-minded, non-defensive and selective about the advice you follow? After all, not all advice will be good advice – you’re the expert about your own business, so you need to be clear what guidance to jump on and what to leave behind.
So happy National Mentoring Day. If you’re lucky enough to have a mentor for your own small business, who can encourage, advise and act as a sounding board as you face down the challenges, send them a thank you. And, if you don’t have a mentor maybe it’s time to start looking for one. They’re all the rage.