Why should I seek a business mentor?
Expansion & Improvement
As an owner-manager, it can quickly feel like everything is your responsibility. There’s day to day decisions to make, staff to manage and work to execute, and the buck stops with you. Amid all this work, it can be hard to find the time, or the right audience, to share your thoughts, plan the big picture and develop your own strategy. That’s where a business mentor can come in – an impartial, experienced partner who can provide an alternative perspective when you need it most.
Gary Heywood explains the role of a business mentor, the personal and professional benefits it can bring and the best ways of working together to maximise value.
What is the role of a business mentor?
As much as our culture idolises the image of going it alone as a maverick business leader, mentors are very common. A survey of 200 small businesses reported that 92% of entrepreneurs said mentors directly impact growth and the survival of their businesses.
The world of a founder can be very insular – in terms of perspective and focus. There’s always a hundred things requiring your attention, making it hard to find time for planning activity beyond the immediate needs of the business.
Meanwhile, no matter how great or talented the team around you might be, the hierarchy of the business makes it hard for those working under you to directly challenge you. Not to mention that, since you all work in the same environment, your collective point of view is limited by your primary focus on the business day to day.
A business mentor can be a highly valuable asset for any business owner, providing a fresh point of view when it’s needed most, including:
- Offering a structured environment for discussing larger business concerns
- Sharing alternative points of view on key challenges
- Bringing insights from different sectors than your own
- Sharing experiences from businesses in different stages of development
- Challenging you on the big questions to help you think through problems
Key to achieving this is finding the right partner for your business.
What makes a good business mentor?
The role of a mentor is to provide you with the tools, guidance, support, and feedback you need to build the business you want. At the core of this is the relationship between the two of you – a personal foundation that gives you the space, security and encouragement to seek the help you need.
While there is no one model for what makes a good mentor, there are several factors that can help guide your choice:
1. The right attitude
A business mentor isn’t there to tell you what to do. Their goal should be to help you find your own answers and develop your judgement. To this end, your mentor needs to be able to listen, empathise and guide without taking control. You also need an environment where you can open up, being honest, even vulnerable, about your concerns and plans. This requires a degree of personal connection and trust.
For this reason, it can be more fruitful to look for a good connection first, with relevant experience coming second. Initial mentor searching can be started among existing business connections to build on established relationships. I’d recommend against choosing direct family relations though, as these can lead to shared interests getting in the way of impartiality.
2. Diverse experience and knowledge
One of the primary roles of a mentor is to provide insight beyond your direct experience and share a fresh perspective for your thoughts. In this, there is a ‘goldilocks effect’ of being the just right level of removal from your immediate experience. While you want your mentor to bring experience from other areas of business and other stages of professional development, you also need them to understand your position and perspective.
This is especially important if you are in a fast-changing or specific industry. For example, while a mentor with decades of experience in industrial manufacturing may have many valuable insights, they may be less applicable to a business owner working in, say, digital marketing.
3. Relevant network connections
While your mentor shouldn’t be a fix for every challenge, they can be a useful source of further advice and support, connecting you to other sources of knowledge. Especially when you’re first starting a business, your mentor can be an excellent way to grow your professional network and to get advice and experience.
By choosing a mentor with relevant experience you can also leverage this relationship to find new talent, services, investment and expansion opportunities within your wider ecosystem.
Tapping into a network of experience
The search for a mentor can be a highly personal experience, but turning to your existing network can greatly streamline the process. While many business owners just see their accountant as a service provider, they can also be ideally placed to support your business beyond compliance and tax functions due to the nature of their role.
This doesn’t necessarily mean every accountant makes a good business mentor. Their suitability for this role will depend on knowledge and experience, both in business and within your industry, as well as their focus within accounting.
At Haines Watts, we specialise in working with owner-managers across a wide range of industries to help them achieve their business and professional goals. From startups to international leaders, we’ve helped thousands of entrepreneurs develop their business and solve challenges.
Get in touch with one of our team to find how the right support could make the difference for your business.