However a broad spectrum of questions regarding business mentors present themselves to the founder, not least of which is how to ensure they are getting the most out of the relationship.
Often this stems from an uncertainty regarding exactly what role a mentor should play in the growth of their business, and how, once secured, they can add much needed value and expertise.
Of course this is not an exact science; businesses, founders, and mentors vary so much in their needs and abilities that creating a failsafe instruction manual on making the most of mentoring isn’t possible.
But that’s not to say that there aren’t ways and means of ensuring that the relationship is a fruitful one. To lend a hand, we have compiled some basic thoughts on how to make the most of a business mentoring relationship.
Understand the relationship
The first step in getting the most out of a business mentor is to build a clearer picture of what the general purpose of having one is.
There is an unaccredited quotation floating around social media at the moment that quite concisely (and rather poetically) lays the foundation for an understanding of the mentor / mentee relationship ‘They are someone whose hindsight can become your foresight’.
That’s basically it…they are a person whose knowledge and / or experience exceeds your own to such an extent that their input can have a substantive positive impact on your business’s performance, and your ability to successfully run it.
The potential positive outcomes are very wide reaching and cover everything from avoiding common pitfalls, to implementing growth strategies. What an individual founder can glean from the relationship is very much dependent on the experience of the mentor, and the kind of support required.
Strategic digital marketing consultant Connor Boyce who provides mentoring for the Northern Ireland (Derry and Strabane areas) based ‘Growing the Digital Economy’ programme, shared some interesting thoughts with us on the matter.
“The relationship between a mentor and a business is, I often think, similar to that between a Doctor and a patient. It is a two-way street, and the skilled/experienced mentor should be able to ask the right type of probing questions/and possess the data analysis skills to very quickly get a perspective on the key issues to be clarified. Think about all the questions a Doctor has to ask and the x-rays/blood tests/scans etc. that have to be run before a proper diagnosis can be made. The participant must play an active role in this process from the outset to ensure the mentor is getting a full /360 Degree view of the issue”.
Know where the issues are
Whilst an effective business mentor will be able to intuitively suggest beneficial assistance, you must demonstrate that you are keyed-in to the most crucial issues surrounding the future growth and success of your business. Not only will this allow your mentor to quickly identify where their assistance is most needed, but also highlight other potential areas for improvement, that the benefit of greater experience reveals to them.
“Remember nobody knows your own business better than you do” says Connor “and it is important to volunteer as much information as possible at the start and let the mentor decide whether it is relevant.
It is important to work with the mentor to set clear goals, with both a short and long term perspective. Of course it is important to plan ahead but if some short terms goals can be identified with ‘low hanging fruit’, then positive outcomes/results will happen early on in the relationship. This is important to gain ‘buy -in’ and build momentum”.
Have the right attitude
It’s imperative that you enter into the relationship with the correct mindset and attitude. This often proves more challenging than people expect, as it is all too easy to become protective and defensive in the face of perceived criticism. Such an attitude is a major threat to the mentor / mentee relationship. Whether you are accessing mentoring services through a formal programme, or a networking connection you have made, mentors have the potential to carry your business further, and therefore all suggestions / advice should be gratefully received and well considered.
Having said this, it’s important that you take a realistic approach to the skill and ability of your mentor; they can only give you the benefit of their own business experience, and cannot guarantee growth and success. You must also carefully maintain your own autonomy as leader of the business; at the end of the day, you will have to face the consequences of any major decisions and thus, have ultimate responsibility for their implementation.
Know how your mentor can add value
A mentor cannot be ‘all things to all people’, and to make the most of their input, you need to understand what their particular areas of expertise are, and find ways that these are applicable in a significant way to your business.
This is important because, not only does it help to manage expectations of what the mentor / mentee relationship can achieve, but it also prevents you from soliciting potentially incorrect advice on topics which are beyond their area of speciality.
Find the time
The immediacy of the day-to-day operations of the business can sometimes prevent you from dedicating an appropriate amount of time to the long-term growth and development of your business; this is also the case when it comes to making the most of your mentor.
The simple fact is that when faced with deadlines, paperwork, and a plethora of other ‘urgent’ tasks, meeting with a mentor can easily be relegated to the ‘unimportant’ section of your to-do list. This is a big mistake.
Of course you mustn’t throw good sense to the wind and abandon all of your responsibilities, however a little bit of perspective is certainly required. A mentor is going to help to develop the long term growth and sustainability of your business, and therefore should trump many of the things on your to-do list.
Often a business mentor is someone you have met or been referred to through networking, but more and more government organisations and agencies are taking a proactive approach to facilitating the mentor / mentee relationship, as a means to encourage the sharing of knowledge and growth of enterprise within their area.
If you are based in Derry / Strabane, Northern Ireland you might want to find out more about the Growing the Digital Economy Programme which offers creative and traditional businesses a whole load of support - including Business Mentoring! Handy link provided just here to our recent article on the GDE Programme.