What is a business mentor?
Mentors come in many guises and are used in sports, schools and very much in the corporate world where more senior staff mentor junior staff to give them the benefit of their experience and help them along their career journey.
In the world of small business – anything from a start up to a company turning over up to £50M – the use of business mentors has become far more prolific over recent years and a survey by Sage highlights ‘93% of small and medium sized businesses acknowledge that mentoring can help them succeed’
I have been mentoring staff for over thirty years whilst in the corporate world and was mentored by various executives myself. Eleven years ago, I started UK Business Mentoring with the aim of providing professional effective and practical support to small business owners.
How does business mentoring work?
Firstly, we need to understand the business owner, what he or she is looking for by way of support, their strengths and areas that they need to improve on. We also need to have good rapport with the owner, it can develop into a long-term relationship and therefore you need to get along otherwise the sessions will become extremely hard work!
Secondly, we need to understand the business, we start by looking closely at all aspects of how the business operates, we use something called the ‘Zulu Business Model’ to assess the effectiveness of a business across fourteen different areas. Once that is completed, we present it to the business owner(s) highlighting the good, the bad and maybe the ugly elements of the business (with apologies to Sergio Leone and Client Eastwood) together with our recommendations.
This is followed by helping the owner to prepare a plan to correct or improve whatever has been highlighted and then helping them to prioritise and implement the plan.
Once the core elements of the business are all in shape, we spend time discussing the owner’s personal goals and objectives and what the business needs to deliver, to realise their ‘dreams’. Typically, that will involve discussing exit plans, what the business needs to look like to be sold or passed on and the strategy that is required to complete the journey. One of my clients I started with ten years ago had a very clear strategy, build the business to a certain level and then sell in 2020. I am pleased to say his business is now on the market and very attractive despite the effects of Covid.
Typically, as a business mentor, we will meet with clients once a month to discuss progress and help them with any hurdles/challenges they are coming up against. That help may be in the form of coaching, to help the owner come up with options themselves or it may be advice based on our experience.
Another key part of what the mentor does is also following up to ensure actions are taken forward and therefore making the owner accountable which can initially be strange for those who have never been employed in the past! We always describe ourselves as being the owner’s ‘unreasonable friend’ that person who may ask the question you don’t want to answer or says the things you don’t want to hear. It maybe is best summed up by a long-standing client of mine who I recently asked ‘Why have you continued to use me for all these years. The answer was ‘You are the one person who doesn’t tell me what I want to hear, who gives it to me straight even if I don’t want to hear it’ maybe we’ve all had a friend like that at some time?
One surprising fact from the Sage report is that in the UK only 22% of small business owners use a mentor which is the fourth lowest of the seventeen countries surveyed. Part of the reason may well be the dilemma of where you find a good mentor. Some owners want to have a mentor who has experience in their industry which can be useful in terms of knowledge and contacts. In our experience however, for the majority of businesses, the issues to be addressed are rarely industry related. They are far more likely to be around people, management, marketing and finance and tend to reflect the skillset of the business owner.
How to choose a business mentor
If you are looking for a business mentor, I would suggest a good place to start is to ask other business owners or contacts for recommendations. Alternatively, there is a site which is run via a partnership with the UK Government and UK Banks which acts as a signpost on where to find different types of mentors across the country:
Once you have some names it is always worthwhile to look at their client testimonials and background, what have they done in the past that gives them the experience and skills that will be of use to you and your business?
When you have done your due diligence, meet with them, ask them how they have helped other businesses and how they can help you. Importantly during this meeting ask yourself ‘Is this someone I want to meet with every month?’ Does he/she have the personality, integrity and experience that will make the mentoring relationship work?
Working with the right business mentor can have dramatic effects on both your business and indeed personally. I have a book on the desk in my office from a client who I helped move his business forward and ultimately sell it. I also persuaded him to try online dating (and helped him write his profile!) which led to him meeting one lady who he has now been happily married to for six years. The inscription in the book says “Thank you so much for your love, care and support over the years. You have been a valuable and significant piece in my jigsaw of recovery. It’s very rare to find real friends and kindred spirits in the world of business and you are one of them.”
It is a book I will always cherish, knowing you have helped another human being along their life journey is priceless and in the book is this wonderful quote from Desmond Tutu:
“One of the greatest gifts we can give to another generation is our experience and wisdom”
We cannot always guarantee we will help you find love, but we will help you and your business both grow.