Just in time for National Mentoring Day, we talk the benefits of guidance and coaching with some of the business world’s leading minds when it comes to giving SMEs the chance to step up to the next level.
In their words, we’ll get into what business mentoring means and how your business can benefit, tips for best practice when choosing suitable mentors, and how to implement them in the appropriate manner.
Put simply, business mentoring is when a business brings in an experienced person from outside to support, encourage and develop specific skills to help optimise a business’ potential and performance. Their benefits are many, and a lot of businesses, in many sectors, have leveraged mentoring into real successes.
Sam Boothroyd, founder of consultancy firm The Small Business Coach and online accountancy firm Rymer Associates, says the benefits of mentoring are endless, but two, in particular, are especially significant. He notes that: “The experience a mentor can bring to a new venture is priceless. Working with someone who has ‘been there and done that’ will help you avoid many mistakes since the mentor has made them themselves with their own businesses”.
Sam says that they drive you to go further too: “It’s really easy to cut corners or not work as long as you should be when it is only yourself you have to answer to.”
Helen Isacke, leadership coach, author of Soft Skills for Strong Leaders and Founder of Trusted Coach Directory, notes: “The main benefits of having a mentor is the fact they’re outside of your immediate business and they have no agenda other than to help you succeed”.
An unbiased, objective viewpoint can do wonders for a business. Carl Reader, small business commentator and author of The Startup Coach and The Franchising Handbook agrees, saying: “A mentor brings their own viewpoints and business experience, and can guide you to different aspects or approaches that you may not have otherwise considered. They ensure you see the bigger picture of your business, and that you approach problems and challenges in a logical way, not an emotional one.”
“Mentoring is vital in business whether you’re a newbie or an old hand”, says Carl. “The point of mentoring isn’t just to give you all the answers, but to help you ask the right questions of yourself and your business to help you progress and overcome challenges.”
For business owners or businesses, who lack direction, a mentor can help to steer the ship and guide you towards your goals. Sam notes: “Mentoring can have a huge tangible benefit for any business owner. There are lots of people with lots of innovative ideas, but most are unsure how to start or even run a business, at least not successfully.”
Much like your employees, the mentor you go for has to be the right fit for your company. It could be that it takes some time to find the right one, so when it comes to a partnership, there are a few things to consider.
From the outset, outline why you’re looking for a mentor. Helen listed the following things to ask yourself initially:
From here, you can go deeper. She notes the need to be comfortable around your mentor: “You need to feel as though you’re in a safe enough environment to enable you to expose your vulnerabilities. This combination means you will feel comfortable enough to open up and work through any blockages you’re experiencing in your career.”
Likewise, Michelle Wright - founder and CEO of Cause4, a company that advises start-ups and charities on strategies for growth – says: “It’s key to find someone you can admire and respect. You need to enjoy the conversation and the time you spend together”.
In finding the correct mentor, Michelle offers: “There are matchmaking schemes, like the Santander Breakthrough Business programme we set up to connect female entrepreneurs with highly successful female entrepreneur mentors, or you can use your own extended network of contacts to find someone right for the mentor role. It’s your relationship and an important and confidential one, so it needs time and care to get right.”
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Tor Amran is Managing Director of Cornish Food Box Company in partnership with her sister and co-founder Lucy Jones. They were mentored by Luis Gordon from Oxford Innovation. Luis is a professional retail and service delivery manager with over 40 years of experience.
Tor explained the benefits of working with a mentor:
“We’ve worked with business incubator Oxford Innovation since February 2017. We were at a difficult stage of growth and trying to find our way in a tough industry, and the mentoring we were able to access made all the difference.
“Having a mentor boosted our confidence, helping us establish that we were doing a good job and had founded a great business. He taught us to look at our business from a different angle, working on it instead of in it as we’d always done before.
“I’d recommend mentoring to other business owners, but as our coach would tell you himself, they are there to give you the tools you need to progress, it’s up to you what you do with those tools.”
Luis expanded upon his role in the relationship:
“I see mentoring as valuable in a variety of ways. I often feel that my main role is as a sounding board, someone business owners and managers can bounce ideas off, so they always have someone to talk to. Experienced mentors are well connected, so can also introduce their charges to useful contacts.
“A lot of what I do is about offering advice and an outside perspective on a business and giving the owners the confidence to move forward with their plans.
“Mentoring is tremendously valuable but the onus is always on the business owner themselves to make the most of what we offer. We can assist, support and guide but success is always going to be achieved by dedication and hard work - there are no shortcuts!”
Whilst there are no guarantees of success in business, having an experienced professional in your corner can be a huge benefit in the short term and the long term.
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