Debbie Austin FCCA explains what a mentor is and the attributes they can bring to start-up businesses.
As many entrepreneurs start out, the business case for coaching and mentoring will likely not be seen as a top priority. There's a vast list of things that needs to be done to get an enterprise running, so many owners will feel obtaining mentoring isn't what they should be directing their time and energy towards.
This view is understandable, especially as it's likely to come at a cost in the early days when cash flow may be tight. However, a sage mentor with all their wisdom and experience can be the potential difference between operating a good business and developing a great one.
What is a business mentor?
A mentor is someone who is both knowledgeable and experienced in business. Though general advice is helpful, specific examples of experiences they have had during their time working will be essential to you as you progress and come across similar events and challenges.
Their interaction with you is characterised by a long-term relationship with no end date in sight. While business coaches center your goals around specified end dates, mentors focus on developing a lasting relationship with you, something that will endure from starting out to whatever the finish line may be.
So while many picture mentors as impersonal consultants, they are actually experienced individuals who will foster a relationship in order to guide and assist you in your business journey.
When will you need one?
There isn't necessarily a right moment in time to acquire a mentor, but it may be a case of the sooner, the better. The beginning of your entrepreneurial path can be a trying time filled with confusion and obstacles meaning many find it comforting to have a seasoned, veteran in their corner.
The business owner may just be starting out, but the beginning of an enterprise is a great time to develop a relationship with a mentor to make use of their insight and what they learned from similar experiences.
One major benefit is the mentor's ability to be a reliable sounding board for the first time entrepreneur. Though friends and family may be extremely supportive in new ventures, they will grow tired of hearing about your business endeavours and the tough decisions you have to make. With a mentor, you will be able to discuss these topics to someone who not only cares, but can provide an informed opinion.
Another key benefit of working with an experienced entrepreneur, who has been there and done that, is their long list of resources. Often, relationships with mentors are not only about them and you as the mentee, but also about the new contacts that they can introduce you to.
The mentor can also help with accountability. Being one's own boss is refreshing, but may also lead to work ethics gradually sliding or deadlines extending farther than necessary. Because of this, they can recognise it and help hold you to account, saving you and your business both time and money.
What to look out for when working with a mentor?
One's own pride can make working with a mentor miserable and somewhat impossible. Though it may feel as though the mentor is infringing upon their rights when they offer advice or give criticism (seeing as you are the boss), keep in mind that they are not here to take over your start-up, but instead help it.
As a new entrepreneur, you must also remember that this person is not here to become your closest friend. While your relationship will grow, often they will act more as a boss or supervisor, rather than a friend.
Working with a mentor can be extremely beneficial when entering in with the correct assumptions and attitudes about the relationship. Whilst it may seem intimidating and inconvenient to find someone to watch over you as you create a new business, the relationship will prove extremely profitable to both your enterprise and your network.
Ask yourself, "Is it time I considered a mentor?"
The content of this post is up to date and relevant as at 07/11/2017.
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