SmallBusiness.co.uk finds out how mentoring can benefit the development of a small business and offers this guide to making the most of the experience, in conjunction with Sally Goodsell, CEO of Finance South East.
What is mentoring?
Mentoring provides a second opinion, offering constructive feedback from an individual experienced in either running a business or in your specific field of interest. The idea is that their support will advise and encourage you in your role as decision maker for the company. A mentor gives you access to a different perspective on events or issues that arise within your business, offering impartial advice.
Myths about mentoring
Your mentor is not someone who will do all the work for you or try to take over. Remember that they are not an employee, but are there to help. Mentoring is not business consultancy in disguise and your mentor will most certainly not be running the business for you. Instead they can share their experience and, with you at the helm, help guide your business to success.
What makes a good mentor?
The characteristics of a good mentor will vary depending on you and on your business. You need to find someone with whom you are comfortable working. One person may value a friendly, easy-going relationship with a mentor, whilst another may prize a mentor with knowledge and technical skills. However, it is important that a mentor maintains a positive outlook and a high energy level with a desire to help your business grow. Ideally they will have hands on experience of running a business and preferably in your field.
What a mentor can bring to your business
A mentor can bring a wealth of skills, knowledge and experience to your company as well as widening your network of business contacts. Mentoring can also help you personally, building confidence in your own skills, decision making and problem solving abilities.
Avoid problems through planning
Problems arise within mentoring relationships when expectations and objectives are misunderstood. To overcome this you should first determine how a mentor could best help your business and work out what you want to learn in advance. Set specific goals, whether they are tactical (learning how a particular job is done) or strategic (learning what and why something is done). Also, set out a specific time period to achieve your goals. This will help you to make the most of the mentoring relationship.
Lay down ground rules & set boundaries
Set boundaries and ground rules at the beginning of the relationship as this will help things to run smoothly from the start. You should remember that a mentor will challenge your ideas and thoughts from time to time; this should be seen as constructive criticism rather than overstepping the mark.
What’s in it for them?
Effective mentoring requires time and effort on the part of the mentor, but they usually give their time for free. In turn they will have the opportunity to develop their own skills and increase their contact base.
Make mentoring a strategic business imperative
The guidance and wisdom of someone unconnected to your business will be critical to its success, especially in its formative years. Expert impartial advice is priceless.