What is Business Mentoring & Why is it Important?
While some entrepreneurs believe that they do not need a mentor and should only follow their own instincts, many successful businesses have founders who learned a great deal from mentors. Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg was mentored by Steve Jobs. Steve Jobs had, in turn, been mentored by Mike Markkula - an early investor and executive at Apple.
But you may not be working at the cutting edge of high tech. Do you really need someone else to tell you how to run your business?
The answer is that probably, you do.
Having a conviction that you can do everything yourself will do you and your business more harm than good in the long run.
None of us has all the answers. We don’t know everything we need to know, especially when we are starting out, and there will be times when help and advice from someone who has already been where we are going and made the mistakes, as well as the right decisions, could help us avoid making the same mistakes ourselves.
One of the signs of a great entrepreneur is admitting that they cannot always know everything they need to know in order to succeed and that they are not too proud to get the help they need.
So, how do you find the help you need to move your business forward, grow, and learn as an entrepreneur?
By finding a mentor.
What is a mentor?
A mentor is someone who has the business experience you have yet to acquire. They will have built up and run businesses of their own which means that they have built up an abundance of knowledge and experience, including mistakes and successes.
In most cases, they will have stepped back from running their own businesses. This means that they can tell you about the consequences of the decision you are considering now, and where they lead, often because they have been down that particular road themselves.
They can also suggest solutions when challenges seem insurmountable.
A good mentor will have a wealth of experience to call on which you can invest in your business. Just as important, they will want you to succeed. They will have reached their targets for personal success and fulfilment, and they will want you to do the same.
The benefits of business mentoring
Building a relationship with a mentor can have a positive effect on your business, whether you are just starting up or are already established. It is more than simply vague advice and encouragement. A mentor can help you develop important business skills, provide access to a network of valuable business contacts and support you in making important decisions.
It's likely that your mentor will stay in regular contact with you through meetings, telephone calls and emails. The nature of the relationship may vary from being fairly casual - a monthly telephone call or informal visit - to being more formal and structured - setting meeting agendas and business objectives.
Some mentoring services are free. Others are paid for or available by subscription to an organisation. Not all mentors have to be formally established as such. Friends, family and business contacts can all become involved in informal mentoring.
If you know that you have a gap in your knowledge or experience, mentoring could work very well for you. For example, you may have a great idea for a business but need a bit of guidance to turn it into a successful venture, simply because you don’t know where to start. Your mentor will have started businesses themselves and can help take you through the steps to do the same.
A mentor can help you with:
- Starting your business – the basic steps to setting up
- Overcoming the start-up challenges, from finance to marketing, accounts, suppliers and the law
- Guidance on developing and improving your business – taking it to the next stage
- Inspiration for new products or services, or new ways of working
- Troubleshooting based on practical experience of the same kind of difficulties
- Access to a network of contacts develop key business skills
- Improve your problem-solving abilities
- Build confidence and support your personal development
A business mentor won't sort out all your problems for you, or even tell you what to. They don't act as consultants or take the place of any existing professional advisers – but they can provide wide-ranging support which will help you to make the most of your business
You can’t expect a mentor to magically fix all your mistakes, or even to point out all the pitfalls. The advice your mentor gives you will only work as far as your ability to learn and act on what they say. So, you need to approach the relationship with your mentor openly. Accept their honesty; it’s what makes their advice so valuable. In return, be honest with them about your capabilities, your weaknesses and your fears.
So before your meeting with a mentor think about and ask yourself what are your weaknesses? What can your mentor help you achieve? What sorts of obstacles do you need to overcome? Having these questions in mind will help you and your mentor understand what needs to be done and how to find the answers.
How to find a business mentor
You may already have mentors. Look at your current boss, manager, professor, or even family and friends. Perhaps there is someone life you can turn to now who could help.
Another option may be paying for mentorship through a programme.
There are several organisations that make mentors available to UK businesses. Many of these are represented on the national business mentoring network, Mentorsme.co.uk, which provides access to around 10,000 mentors - offering both free and paid for mentoring.
There are many other sources of business mentors, including some geared specifically towards supporting local businesses, young entrepreneurs or specific business sectors.
Networking events can provide an opportunity to meet like-minded entrepreneurs and establish a relationship with a business mentor.
Online business mentoring or 'e-mentoring' is a new development that has grown in importance in recent years. It provides the interactive mentoring relationship remotely and can work well when it's difficult for mentors and mentees to meet face to face.
Websites that provide this sort of mentoring often call it networking and forum advice. There are many websites offering business mentoring or networking services targeted at specific sectors, such as Freelance Advisor and Enterprise Nation.
Young entrepreneurs can visit the Shell LiveWIRE service, which is aimed at people aged between 16 and 30 who are starting their own business.
The funding you may need
Funding will be one of the topics you will talk about with your mentor.
As they will explain, in the current market, getting the funds you need can be a challenge, particularly if you are looking at starting a business.
Traditional lenders are only interested in lending to established businesses with years of audited accounts. Even the new breed of online business lenders usually want evidence of a year’s trading, with online accounts and VAT returns before they will consider an application. As a start-up your business has no trading history - so they have no evidence that they will be repaid.
Fortunately, there are solutions which can help start-ups, even in the current economic climate.
As an experienced business professional themselves, your mentor might be able to introduce you to the Rangewell service, which is designed to provide expert support in all your funding needs. Whatever type of funding you are looking at, the expert team at Rangewell can support you to find the most appropriate and affordable solutions from a wide range of finance options - from VC alternatives to specialised start-up finance and more.
At Rangewell, we have experts who are always keen to discuss the possibilities and to work with you to find the solutions you need.