Why you should have a mentor, and how you both make it work.
One definition of business mentoring is: “The development of a one-to-one relationship that helps one person to learn from their own experiences and the experiences of another person to support the development of individuals as entrepreneurs and their business ideas as true innovations.”
You can take on a business, management or marketing mentor at different stages in the life of your business but, of course, its recommended that the earlier you partner with a business mentor the better it will be for your own development. If you are thinking about embarking on a business mentoring relationship as a mentee or mentor, here are some pointers to consider.
Therefore, it is a relationship between equals focused on learning and sharing best practice, ideas, knowledge and experience.
That established, what shall you look for in finding and working with a mentor?
Change your mindset to you DO need a business mentor!
It may be hard to accept that you need a business mentor. Particularly if you strongly believe you can launch your business and be a disruptive or innovator entrepreneur, but could it be your ego doing the thinking for you? When you start talking to other successful entrepreneurs it soon becomes apparent that someway, somehow they got access to or were helped by a business mentor. For example, Richard Branson advocates for this in his blog.
How to find a startup mentor
There are various ways to find a business mentor:
- Ask someone in your circle of business friends and networks with relevant experience or with unrelated sector experience but a track record of successfully launching a business
- Reach out to someone you admire and respect, see if you can get introduced to them. LinkedIn is brilliant for this if you have mutual connections.
- Look out for mentoring organisations, for example, the Princes Trust, DORMEN, The Chartered Management Institute’s Mentoring initiative.
- There are also other organisations that may charge you to find you a mentor. Here you should do your due diligence carefully on the quality and background of the mentors
Select your mentor
The effective selection of a mentor requires clarity on what you wish to achieve from this relationship. This is largely dependent on your short term and long-term business goals:
- Do you need someone with specific expertise to discuss your business idea and sector?
- Do you need someone with a specific professional skill set that can help you?
- Do you simply look for someone as a sounding board with a more general background in helping startups?
Every relationship will be very personal, so this is where it’s important to spend some time researching and selecting the right mentor.
Working with your mentor
Once you have selected a mentor, how can you make sure that you maximise your relationship?
I suggest that the best mentoring relationship would be one of equality, a relationship between equals primarily focused on active listening, learning and the sharing of knowledge, experience and signposting.
How can you create this sense of equality that will help build an effective environment for this learning and sharing?
Personally, I think the foundation for such a relationship will be set in your first, exploratory meeting . That first meeting is all about breaking down initial barriers to communication followed by agreeing and establishing of the parameters of the relationship. The objective of this session is to get to know each other and talk about what each of you wants to gain from this mentoring relationship. It is also important to ensure that the relationship begins with a deep, shared understanding of the key success factors for the relationship and the principles that it will be built on. These factors include:
- a good personal connection and ‘chemistry’ – you must get on well with each other
- having a relationship of mutual respect and trust
- understandng the purpose pf the relationship, as well as the short-term goals and the ‘end game’
- agreeing on clear expectations
- defining and understanding roles and responsibilities
- agreeing the processes you are going to use and how you are best going to communicate with each other
- how you’re going to collaborate and solving problems together
Takinng the long-term view
Be mindful that as you progress with your venture over time, the nature of the mentoring relationship may alter as may the type and level of the support that you need. Therefore, it is valuable for a mentor and mentee, together, to openly review the relationship at appropriate points and make any necessary adjustments to the way they work together and the type of support provided.
Suggestions for success.
Business mentoring is not without its occasional hiccups. As the relationship progresses there are several things that you and your mentor could do to make it work better. These include: discipline, honoring commitments, strong communication, candid feedback and working pro-actively to spot and overcome potential obstacles. You should:
- Listen to your mentor’s points of view and ask questions to gain better understanding of the challenges ahead and ways to overcome them
- Discuss issues objectively and seek constructive, honest feedback
- Be open about your own shortcomings or knowledge gaps and those of your mentor’s
- Be open to the mentor’s perspective and mindful of their work-life environment
- Respect your mentor – collaborate, keep your energy levels up
- Commit time, energy and enthusiasm to the relationship
When properly done, business mentoring allows entrepreneurs and their business to really flourish.
Daniel Carey MCMI
Dan is the lead on mentoring for the Chartered Management Institute’s Southern Regional Board
I am a partner with Bentleigh & Cavanaugh, a professional practice providing business clients with IAG, support & resources to drive business improvement & development. I am retained by a number of organisations in a management capacity to help them manage their business dynamically, taking advantage of and combining current management techniques and the latest technologies to help them develop and grow.
I’m always up for an exploratory coffee if you want to discuss anything to do with management, business growth marketing or networking (or motorbikes and huskies)
I’m one of the founders of Business & Management Wessex, and I’m proud to serve on the regional board of the Chartered Management Institute of which I’ve been a member for 15 years.