Q&A: Mentoring

Mentoring in work at a desk

Running your own small business can be lonely, and it can be difficult to know what to do when faced with new challenges. Many business owners seek guidance from other experienced entrepreneurs, who can offer words of wisdom. Jonathan Pfahl of Rockstar Mentoring Group explains how mentoring could benefit you and your business

What is mentoring?

Put simply, mentoring means learning how to run your business more effectively by accessing the knowledge and experience of others who have been there, done that and got the T-shirt.

Usually, mentors are people who have developed their own successful enterprises and faced their own challenges.

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 expertise.

Can mentoring really benefit small businesses?

Since forming in 2006, Rockstar Mentoring Group has successfully introduced 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 and 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.

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

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.

Is business mentoring 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.

Other organisations charge a small fee, but even if you do have to pay for the introduction, 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?

To get the best from a mentoring relationship, you must be honest, realise you can learn a lot from others, and be prepared to 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 for their mentor's advice should be offset by growth in their business that they would not have achieved by themselves.

Goals could include bringing in X amount of new customers before the next meeting, increasing turnover by X% over the year, or connecting with X new contacts at a networking event.

Targets should motivate you and keep your business heading in the right direction - they shouldn't be feared.

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