Q&A: Mentoring

Mentoring in work at a deskRunning your own small business can be a lonely business and it can be difficult to know what to do when faced with new challenges. Many business owners seek guidance from experienced external business people. Jonathan Pfahl of Rockstar Group explains how mentoring could benefit you and your new business

Why do business owners need mentors?

Few people have all the skills necessary to run a business effectively in each and every situation. That's even more likely when people start a business. They might not have faced a specific challenge previously, so they won't know how to deal with it.

Also, running a business can make you feel lonely, so it's nice to feel supported. Often, you're not in a position to share your concerns or ask for other people's advice; that's when mentoring comes into its own. There are plenty of experienced business people out there who can give you the benefit of their knowledge and expertise.

Can mentoring really benefit small businesses?

Since forming in 2006, my business has successfully introduced many hundreds of small firms throughout the UK to mentors. We have helped quite a few start-ups, too, but usually it's owners who've been running a small business for a few years who want to take things to the next level. The business benefits of mentoring have been recognised in the US for decades and it's beginning to catch on here in Britain.

So what is mentoring then?

Put simply, learning how to run your business more effectively by accessing the knowledge and experience of others who have been there and worn the T-shirt. Usually, they are people who have developed their own successful enterprises. They provide guidance.

What services do mentors provide?

Sometimes they simply act as a sounding board - someone with whom you can share your concerns. At other times, as well as providing dependable advice, they can introduce you to important new contacts.

This sort of support sounds expensive…

Some organisations, such as the Prince's Trust, provide free mentoring to start-ups, providing you qualify. Other organisations that provide mentoring include some chambers of commerce and trade associations. Organisations such as my own charge a small fee, but even if you have to pay, it can be highly worthwhile. The mentors we use aren't in it for the cash - they could earn far more doing other things. Some successful business people genuinely want to give something back by helping others.

How do I get the most out of mentoring?

You must be honest, realise you can learn from others and listen objectively to constructive criticism. This is why the chemistry between the mentor and mentee has to be right, because sometimes it's hard to be told you're doing the wrong thing. The relationship must be built on trust and respect.

Will I be set targets by my mentor?

Absolutely. Entrepreneurs who get the most out of their mentors are the ones who are seeing them every month, when the mentor helps the mentee set goals and objectives. The investment the mentee is making into their mentor's advice should be offset by the growth of their business that they would not have achieved by themselves. Goals could include bringing on X amount of new customers before the next meeting. But targets should motivate you and keep your business heading in the right direction - they shouldn't be feared.

I should find out more about mentoring, then?

Definitely, working with someone with proven business acumen who can provide you with knowledge or just a second opinion when you need it will always be useful.

Written with expert input from Jonathan Pfahl of Rockstar Group.