Mentors can be an invaluable resource for small business founders. Their expertise can help you grow a certain area of the business or develop specific skills, or simply provide a fresh perspective on your company. To get the most out of the experience, it will pay to spend some time thinking about what you want to achieve and the type of person you would like to mentor you before you get started.
Find a mentor with relevant knowledge
The best mentors will be those that have experience of the challenges you’re likely to face building and running your business. Some of those might be universal – such as struggles to manage staff, or writing a compelling investor pitch – but most are likely to be specific to your industry or type of business. Someone who’s spent a career in financial services probably won’t be best placed to advise on building a coffee shop business, while someone who’s grown and managed a retail chain may not be that helpful for getting your fledgling fem-tech company off the ground.
Start by making a list of the things you’d like to achieve with a mentor. Perhaps it’s finding a manufacturer and refining your supply chain, or expanding your business from a single site to several. Having a clear idea of what you want guidance on will indicate what type of mentor you should look for.
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Remember the three Cs
People go into mentoring for a whole host of different reasons, and like any relationship, it’s important to find the right person for you. This comes down to three key things:
- Are you both committed? Commitment is a two-way street: your mentor should be committed to helping your business, but likewise you need to be committed to putting the time and effort in to get the most out of your mentorship. To make sure you’re both on the same page, outline how often you’re going to meet and what you’re going discuss when you do.
- Does their skillset complement yours? A good mentor should push you outside your comfort zone and help you see things about your business differently. This might mean working with someone with skills and experience that are slightly different from your own, or it could simply mean a person with different personal characteristics.
- Are you compatible? Quite simply, do you get on? If you’ve been partnered with a mentor and feel like the chemistry isn’t right, it’s unlikely you’ll get as much benefit from the experience as you could. For example, you may find it hard to be honest with your mentor about your weaknesses and areas you’d like help on, or you avoid meeting them altogether. Like any relationship, if it’s not right, it’s best to address your concerns and, if necessary, find someone else who’s a better fit.
Have more than one mentor
Mentorships aren’t like marriages: you can have more than one on the go at once. If you’d like support and guidance on different aspects of your business, you might be better enlisting the help of different mentors with specific expertise – for example, one to help with developing a new product and a different one to guide you on personnel and managing your team.
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Where to find a mentor?
If you have someone in mind that you’d like to mentor you, there is no harm in contacting them to ask. If you’re taking the direct approach, be sure to give details about why you want them as a mentor. Of course, there’s no guarantee of success – your dream mentor may not have the time. If that’s the case, here are a few starting points for your search:
- Organisations and groups that focus on your industry
- Local authority business networks
- Co-working spaces, startup accelerators and incubators
- Organisations that represent your demographic (for example, groups for women in tech)
- LinkedIn – why not reach out to someone in your network