What makes a good business mentor?

01 February 2022


Expansion & Improvement

Starting your own business can be a steep learning curve, with new challenges on a daily basis. One way to shorten that curve can be to work with a business mentor – someone who has been there before and who can draw on their own experience. In fact, research found that 92% of small business owners said mentors directly impact growth and the survival of their businesses.

Ben Loveday explains the key traits of a good business mentor, as well as how to build a value-driven relationship.


Why do you need a business mentor?

Starting and running your own business is a huge challenge, and one for which many entrepreneurs are unprepared – recent research found that two-thirds of entrepreneurs had no experience before starting their companies.

While books and courses can give you theory and general direction, talking to someone who has that experience of what you’re doing can be a hugely valuable asset. And while you may have friends or acquaintances who have experience in business, it can actually be more valuable to talk to someone impartial. Your friends are personally invested in your success, which can cloud their judgment. However, working with someone independent allows them to deliver tough messages and challenge you and your thinking.

This is where a business mentor comes in – an advisor who not only knows what you’re going through, but who can provide a neutral but informed outside perspective to help you see through the range of options available in front of you. This can be especially useful for owner-managed businesses, where more responsibility sits directly on the owner, creating additional stress.


What makes a good business mentor?

My experience mentoring businesses grew out of my existing relationships and services as I built stronger bonds with my clients and wanted to support them further. I realised that my experience running and growing my own business could be helpful to others.

However, finding the right mentor for you is about creating a connection where you feel safe, supported and informed. Key traits to look for in a mentor include:

  • Listening skills: Your mentor should be focused on helping you achieve your goals and supporting you. That requires fully understanding and appreciating your position. This will usually mean frank, honest conversations that may even be uncomfortable sometimes, but should always feel relevant to the present circumstance and valuable.

  • Guidance: Mentorship is very personal and variable from client to client. It is not unusual to find the mentee knows the answer they’re looking for. The mentor just helps them sift through what the scenario requires, gives them feedback and supports the agreed outcome.

  • Empathy: When you’re facing a challenge for the first time, it can feel insurmountable. The role of your mentor is to put your position in context to help you see a way through. However, this certainly does not mean dismissing your concerns or feelings – the emotions involved in running a business can be stressful and difficult, and therefore deserve the space to be explored.

  • Trust & respect: While the mentee should trust that their mentor is going to advise them to the best of their ability, the mentee should also ensure that all decisions ultimately sit with them.

What makes a good business mentoring relationship?

Every mentoring relationship is different, based around the specific needs of the mentee, as well as the capacities and expertise of the mentor, however there are certain considerations that can help shape the collaboration:

  • Regular, open communication: In order to effectively advise, your mentor needs to know what matters to you and your business, the problems you're facing and the options available.

  • Agreed structure: Your business mentor can be as involved in the business as you wish, but it’s advisable to have clear boundaries and expectations agreed from the outset. This could mean creating a role, such as your mentor joining the business as a non-executive advisor, or it could be a simple call schedule based around monthly and weekly reporting.

  • Owner autonomy: The role of the mentor is to empower you to make your own decisions with confidence, not take responsibility away from you. The right mentor provides context, advice and support to help you feel like you have the information you need to run your business exactly the way you want to.

Why your accountant could be your trusted advisor

While many business owners just see their accountant as a service provider, you could be missing out on a significant value-opportunity. Accountants are ideally placed to support your business beyond compliance and tax functions due to the nature of their role.

  • Existing relationships: Accountants and their clients work with a bond of trust, sharing intimate financial information, and trusting each other to ensure compliance and avoid penalties. This base of trust is an essential for creating an honest, value-driving mentor relationship based on impartial advice and full disclosure.

  • Prior knowledge of the business: If your accountant has been involved with business for compliance or advisory purposes, they will already have an understanding of the business, its direction, the key roles and challenges faced.

  • Relevant experience: Accountants work with hundreds of businesses over their career. Many also have direct experience of entrepreneurship, if they have set up their own firms or partnerships. They can also draw on their experience from other clients to provide valuable context, insights and solutions to the challenges you face.

However, 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.

For example, some work exclusively within one area of accounting, while more general practitioners can link together financial impacts, tax implications, market insights and personal considerations to create a holistic relationship.


Support to move your business forward

Running a Reading-based business is an amazing adventure, but can also be difficult and sometimes lonely. Finding the right support to advise, guide or even just listen can make a huge difference to your success, outlook and your mental health. If you’re already working with an experienced accountant, you could have an opportunity already right in front of you.

Get in touch with us to find out how the right support and guidance can help you build the business you want.