Posted on: 18 February 2015
For more than a quarter (27%) of decision makers in small businesses, their first port of call for business advice and mentoring would be someone they know personally1. That’s because friends and relatives can make excellent mentors. They know you, they are interested in seeing you succeed, and they are likely to have a good understanding of your business to be able to offer relevant advice.
Your existing network is also a good place to look for a mentor. They could be the supplier whom you trust and look up to - like the long-standing owner of the family business you’ve worked with for years. They could even be the local coffee shop owner who’s succeeded in growing their own business but who has always shown a keen interest in yours.
If you would like someone who is not a professional mentor to perform the role for you, ask them if they’d be interested in meeting you on a regular basis to help you grow your business. Formalising the relationship to a degree will force you to make the most of your time with them and focus their efforts on the areas of your business where you need support.
How to get the most from your mentor
We believe there’s real power in having a mentor, but if you don’t already know someone who could be your mentor, how do you find the right one for you and your business? And how do you get the most from your mentor?
How to find a mentor in business
If you can’t find someone you know who is willing to become your mentor, you may need to look further afield.
Local networking groups are a great source of both formal and informal mentors. Not only are their members like-minded business people, but they probably know your market inside out and have faced the same challenges that you have.
Next time you go to a networking event, don’t be afraid to tell people that you’re looking for a mentor and the type of challenge you’re facing. Your peers are likely to share their experiences of working with mentors in the area and could refer you to a selection. They may even have recently been through the same thing themselves and might offer to meet with you to see if they can help.
It isn’t only networking events where you could find a mentor. You may be attending an industry conference where the market leader in your sector is speaking. Perhaps they’ve always been your role model. Take the opportunity at the end of their speech to introduce yourself and explain the challenges or opportunities your business is facing. Demonstrate your enthusiasm and determination for going onto great things and ask them if they’d be interested in meeting with you to share ideas. They’re likely to have high demands on their time so sell yourself and your business and find something for them in the idea – like a perspective on a market you know well.
Finally, the professional business mentor and coaching circuit it a pretty busy one in the UK. There are mentors from all backgrounds, offering all sorts of support with a broad range of price tags.
In 2010 the Government launched mentorsme, an online gateway for SMEs to find suitable mentors for them and their business. While the project has got off to a slow start, browsing the website can be a good place to research potential mentors.
"Use a structured approach to find the right mentor. As the saying goes, 'begin with the end in mind'. What outcomes do you want to achieve from a mentor? You need to find them credible, great listeners and they should ask you questions you wouldn't think to ask yourself."
All that’s then left to do is browse online looking for a business mentor or coach whose experience, personality and approach resonates with you. Don’t be afraid of getting in touch to find out more about them – you can tell a lot by how they respond to your initial enquiry.
What should you look for in a good mentor?
What constitutes a good mentor for one person won’t necessarily be the right one for someone else. It depends on your personalities, the type of experience you need your mentor to have and the needs of your business.
39% of SMEs think the most important characteristic of a mentor is proven success in business. However, whilst a track record is important, it’s not the only factor that mentees take into account. Also important are specific skills for developing business, knowing how to run a business, having networks of contacts and experience in the same sector.
"Apart from the qualifications and the experience of the mentor the chemistry has to be right. There has to be trust and commitment on both sides."
It also depends on how much time you need with them. If you’re looking for 30 minute weekly meetings, you’re going to have access to a very different pool of business mentors than if you’re looking for quarterly sessions that might last a couple of hours.
For example, you may be speaking to your accountant or lawyer on a relatively regular basis anyway, in which case picking their brains about how to shift your strategic direction or deal with a particularly sticky customer can be quite easy. You may or may not expect to pay for their time in this capacity – it depends what kind of relationship you have agreed. However, professional business mentors charge, on average, £100 an hour and you may justify the cost if you get quality time with them to delve into deep-rooted issues.It also depends on how much time you need with them. If you’re looking for 30 minute weekly meetings, you’re going to have access to a very different pool of business mentors than if you’re looking for quarterly sessions that might last a couple of hours.
"A mentor should be positive and supportive, even when they're challenging or stretching a mentee. They should fully understand their mentee's goals, and keep them focused on moving towards them."
Have you found the right mentor?
The needs of your business are constantly changing, so you need a mentor that can move with you and your business. The right mentor will evolve too, in the way they support you and in the advice they offer.
However it’s important to remember that your mentor doesn’t have to be around forever. You may seek out different mentors for different stages of your business’s growth. You may even be speaking to more than one mentor on various topics.
"Every business and business owner has a blind spot. A good mentor will help you find it - and transcend it."
Mentors are valuable throughout the lifespan of a business – like when sales drop, when money gets tight and when big expansion is planned. Mentors can also be useful when a specific issue or problem arises, such as handling suppliers that fail to pay or finding new sales tactics to seal a big contract.
The right mentor might vary in each of these situations. You’ll know when they fit because their ideas resonate with you and your team, and implementing them brings you the results you sought.
"Everyone has different needs and brings different dimensions in a mentoring relationship. The power of mentoring is that it offers personalised and bespoke one-to-one learning."
How to get the most from your mentor
Once you’ve found the right person to be your mentor, you want to get absolutely everything you can from the time you have with them.
Agree your objectives and the timeframe in which you want to achieve them. Be upfront about whether you’re looking for them to mainly listen, or whether you want them to offer practical advice.
"The key is to be as open and honest as you can about what your aspirations and challenges are – no matter how senior the mentor might be."
Don’t leave it too long between meetings otherwise you lose the momentum. Mentors are great for keeping you focused on the issues you’ve previously avoided, so diarise your next meeting at the end of the last one and commit to it.
"Look for someone you can have open communication with, so that if you're not getting what you want, you feel comfortable discussing it. It's essential that your goals remains at the centre of all you do, no matter whether your relationship is paid or goodwill."
Be prepared for your meetings with your mentor, and know what you want to get out of your time with them. Prioritise what’s important and leave the minor issues behind – your mentor is there to share their wisdom on the things that really matter.
"Bring items and ideas that you want to discuss to make sure that you don’t forget what you want to get advice on."
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