What should you look for in a mentor?

  1. mentor
    Hannah Fullegar

    Hannah Fullegar UKBF Contributor Full Member

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    On the forums, it’s hard to count the number of threads seeking a mentor from UKBF’s community of experienced business owners.

    Over time, the meaning of mentor has changed and blurred with adviser, leaving many people lost about the difference between the two. As Barryo believes, people often say mentor when they mean adviser and vice versa. Mentoring guides someone towards finding their own solutions, whereas advisers would recommend particular courses of action.

    Why are mentors valuable?

    Benefits of a mentor include increased productivity, increased turnover and increased likelihood of success, and can be delivered at different stages of the business’s journey.

    According to Get Mentoring, 70% of small businesses that receive mentoring survive for five years or more - double the rate compared with non-mentored entrepreneurs. Additionally, 20% of mentored businesses are more likely to experience growth.

    An experienced business professional who knows the process ahead of you can provide outside perspective and highlight details you might have missed, like ethical issues and conflicts of interest. Any knowledge offered should be general and should not cross specific or technical boundaries to a business adviser role.

    As Mark T Jones says, a mentor should share the breadth of their knowledge, rather than the depth of their knowledge on a specific area, usually for free. But the confusion surrounding the role of a mentor has increased his mentees’ expectations in the past.

    What should you expect from a mentor?

    Jones found it disillusioning to see a mindset emerging where startups somehow felt they deserved to be given everything for free, with one even asking him to have a competitor's business plan to save them writing their own.

    As several  mentor schemes instruct, mentors should provide support to develop and grow their mentee’s business, and encourage the discussion of ideas, research, concerns and successes.

    By offering friendly, unbiased constructive feedback, mentors should facilitate decision making and suggest alternatives, but autonomy should always be promoted. Mentors shouldn’t do the mentee’s job for them but respond to their mentee’s needs, set realistic goals and encourage reflection when things don’t work out. Mentees should take responsibility for their own decisions, plans and actions.

    Finding a mentor

    While many professionals mentor to give back to the business community, bear in mind that mentors are not always free: some choose to mentor as a career. Accredited mentors from Get Mentoring are eligible for free Institute of Enterprise and Entrepreneurs membership, but other mentors may have to pay different membership fees and supplement this in what they charge.

    Get Mentoring trains prospective mentors and, in return, asks participants to volunteer two years of free mentoring. However, after two years they don’t prohibit mentors from charging for their time. UKBF’s Barryo says he conducts his mentoring services like lawyers’ meetings: “I provide an amount of time initially for free, to identify whether or not my services will add value. Why should a potential client pay for the proposer to identify whether they can help?”

    There’s also the question of quality to consider. As Ashley_Price points out, although mentors’ advice is general, their service adds quality to a business: “different people work and learn in different ways - this doesn't mean they should give their time or advice for free.”

    Mentorship schemes

    When seeking a mentor, manage your expectations. If you’re struggling to find an experienced mentor or perhaps don’t have the funds to invest in a business mentor, I’ve listed a few mentorships schemes below. But if you have a question or problem, write a detailed thread to UKBF - there are a number of experienced business owners who are willing to help.

    The Prince’s Trust supports 13-30 year olds. E-mentors are offered when an idea is explored or when a business plan is put together. They provide 2 hours support a week for 3 months. Business mentors are matched with mentees upon completion of a 4 day Explore Enterprise Course. They commit 4 to 6 hours a month supporting their mentee through regular meetings for 2-3 years after the mentee’s business is launched, and are the mentee’s sounding board.

    The New Enterprise Allowance (NEA): A practical and financial scheme which combines business mentoring, a weekly allowance and a business loan. It’s aimed at would-be entrepreneurs over 18, who receive Jobseeker's Allowance, Employment and Support Allowance or Income Support. Registered participants are assigned a business mentor who supports the development of a business plan.

    Mentorsme locates mentor services for small businesses and emphasises the importance of a mentor who suits the mentee. They define mentorship as a relationship over a period of time between a less experienced person and an established professional, which provides consistent support, impartial guidance and practical help, and shares skills, knowledge and experience. It enables a less experienced person to operate and perform at a higher level to achieve predetermined goals and objectives.

    It’s important to remember that having a mentor won’t make you immune to mistakes, some of which may even be beneficial in the long run. And don’t rely too heavily on mentors – there is nothing as valuable as experience.

    As Gecko001 puts it: part of setting up a business is research and just doing it.