Business 101: Finding the right mentor to help grow your business
By Ben Bierman
ANY business owner worth his salt can acknowledge the fact that there is always something new to learn about their business or market.
Especially when starting a new company and guiding it through its initial years of operation, the value of learning from other, more experienced entrepreneurs, cannot be overstated.
However, finding a suitable mentor can be easier said than done – most don’t know where to start, or how to go about approaching another busy professional with the prospect of mentorship. It is therefore unsurprising that so many entrepreneurs struggle with the idea of enlisting the help of an outside advisor.
It is well proven that guidance and advice from a mentor can offer as much value as any other form of training, if not more. This is due to the support being tailor-made to the specific needs of the business and offering expertise that is lacking within the business.
Guidance from a mentor with extensive experience can help to significantly shorten a less experienced entrepreneur’s learning curve, often saving valuable time and money. It is therefore vital that a business owner knows how to seek appropriate mentors and consultants to help steer them in the right direction.
With this in mind, here are a few tips to help make the search for a mentor easier:
Shared core values
Having clear core values is incredibly important in guiding your business. It informs how decisions are made, how teams are managed and whether the business is heading in the right direction. It stands to reason that mentors add the most value when they understand and align with the mentored person’s core values. The likelihood of finding a mentor willing to spend their time offering guidance is also far greater if you share the same values. When initially talking to prospective mentors, ask them about the values that drive their own companies, and take the conversation further if you find that their values echo your own.
Start with an informal approach
It’s best to start by building a more informal relationship with a prospective mentor. A simple phone call around a specific question to an industry veteran can start a wider conversation and may even lead to a visit to your business premises. Many professionals are also more willing to meet for coffee over a weekend or after hours when the pressure is off. In this way, the first contact with the mentor runs very little risk of being unsuccessful, and both parties are able to get a sense of whether it will be worthwhile to build a formal mentor/ mentee relationship.
The importance of trust
Trust is paramount to a successful mentorship relationship, as is mutual respect between the two parties. As a business owner you must feel completely comfortable sharing information on all aspects of your business with your mentor. With this in mind, avoid finding a mentor among competitors – instead, seek out individuals in unconnected industries that may share the same methods or challenges. Retired, or semi-retired business leaders and entrepreneurs are often great mentors as they have seen it all and have the time to spare and are not affiliated to any competitors.
Be willing to learn
Entrepreneurs are generally quite strong willed, and though this is a great (and necessary) characteristic for entrepreneurs starting a business, it can be a barrier to learning. However, any form of mentorship will be of little use if the entrepreneur is not open to suggestions and new ways of doing things. Good mentors usually have little time to spare, and therefore will be unlikely to continue with mentees who are too rigid and unwilling to take on their advice. It is possible to hold on to the vision for your business while being open to different paths for reaching one’s goals. Keep this in mind, and make a point of conveying to prospective mentors that you are willing to learn.
Growing a business in a competitive environment or a depressed economy is complex and challenging, and entrepreneurs would be prudent to take all the good advice they can get. Mentorship offers access to the tools and expertise one needs to grow a business, so take a lesson from all the successful entrepreneurs that have walked the path before you, and seek guidance.
Ben Bierman is a managing director at Business Partners Limited
*The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL or of title sites