What is a business mentor?

Posted: 5th June 2017

When I started out in business I was fortunate enough to have a business mentor.  However, this was only for the first 3 months as I believed that I had all the tools I needed to run a business.   After all, how difficult could it be?

I didn’t understand that mentoring should continue beyond startup.  I wasn’t aware that some of the top business people in the country…in the world, have business mentors.

A business mentor is someone who works with you on a one to one basis as you work on your business.  It’s not coaching, although coaching skills do come into play. A mentor listens to you, guides you, challenges you, puts you in touch with their business contacts, helps you with strategy, business growth, and all those things that crop up in the life span of a business.  Most of all, a business mentor should understand your business, be a sounding board and work with you to achieve your business goals.

When I had cash flow difficulties, my mentor helped me plan and work through it.  At the point where I needed external finance, I had someone to help me find the best finance available. As my team grew, my mentor worked with me to get the best out of my employees.

After working through the whole business cycle, myself, from start up through to exit (several times), I now work with business owners as a mentor. I help businesses with their growth strategy, business planning, marketing strategy, access to finance and people management.

What I didn’t realise at the outset of my business journey was that I needed to work on my business, as much as I need to work in it! Working with a mentor ensures that you take that time away from your business to work on it.

The following points may be of use in considering a mentor to work with you:

How do I find a business mentor to work with? Most business mentors are found through existing contacts, recommendation and word of mouth.

What skills should my mentor have?  Your mentor should have been self-employed at some point and have knowledge of running a small business.  Very often people with a corporate background set themselves up as business mentors.  This is great if you are working with corporate clients and need to understand the workings of a corporate entity.  However, does the mentor have the requisite skills of managing a small business? Ask your mentor to see their CV or what practical business experience they have. You may decide to have multiple mentors who have specific skill sets for each area of your business.

How often should I meet or speak to my mentor? That is largely down to you, your mentor and what support you need. However, it’s important to have an agenda and to come away from each session with action points. Generally, mentoring is a monthly commitment depending upon what issues arise within your business. Some businesses need a more hands on approach and this may be where the relationship deepens into a Non-Exec role. Find out if the sessions are face to face, by telephone, Skype or similar. Face to face is best wherever possible with phone, email and Skype support.

What type of things can a mentor help me with? Business mentors can help you with anything. However, rather than offering general advice or support, it should be specific to your business. Mentors can support you with any aspect of your business growth, work with you and guide you.

How much should it cost? Mentors either charge a fixed daily/session rate or a monthly support fee. Ensure that you are clear about how much it’s going to cost at the outset and what you will be getting for your money. Be aware that expenses are usually charged in addition. Be careful not to tie yourself into lengthy contracts and the mentoring relationship should have quarterly reviews. Typically, mentoring can cost anything between £250-£1,000 per month.

Sandra Garlick is a former business and employment law solicitor and is now a business growth consultant, mentor, trainer and public speaker. Speak to Sandra about Business Mentoring. She frequently speaks about StartUp and other business growth topics.

Follow @SandraGarlick @SGBusConsulting @WomanWhoAwards