Work with a small business mentor

A mature business woman mentors a younger woman

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 and mentors or join groups of like-minded entrepreneurs who can offer words of wisdom and support.  We look at 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 from day one. That's even more likely when people first start out in 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 be a lonely experience - especially when you have to make all the decisions on your own. 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?

The business benefits of mentoring have been recognised for a long time. 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.

But these days, that's a very narrow view of what mentoring can be. Long gone are the days where you would have to meet up in person every month to set targets and review progress with a. You're just as likely to be part of an online forum or group where you can share challenges, questions and successes with other small businesses in your local area, sector or peer group. The ability to ask a question and get feedback from a trusted group of business owners, experts or coaches can help you quickly move past small stumbling blocks. This kind of support can be just as valuable as long-term input from a more formal mentor.

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, or help you form your strategy for growth or diversification.

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.

You might also join relevant offline networking groups or free online groups where you can post your questions and challenges.

Other mentoring organisations might charge a small fee, but even if you do have to pay for the introduction, it can be highly worthwhile. Generally, mentors aren't in it for the cash Many are successful business people that 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.

If you are part of an online group, it's important to contribute and answer other group members' questions in addition to asking your own questions. You should also avoid using such groups for promotional purposes.

Will I be set targets by my mentor?

Absolutely, if you are working more formally with a mentor they can help you work out what you need to do and when. The entrepreneurs who get the most out of their mentors are the ones who see 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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