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Mentors Are the Hidden Gems That Can Make or Break a Business (And Its Owner)

02/05/2013 12:37 BST | Updated 28/08/2013 17:44 BST

This month sees the Business in You campaign focus on Mentoring, but a distinct lack of marketing budget demands that it finds new ways to reach it's audience. With all of the resources it has to offer small businesses and those thinking about starting up, it's certainly a word worth spreading. In fact I'd shout it from the rooftops if I could because I believe that mentoring is the single biggest factor to helping start up businesses plan for growth.

My biggest regret is not finding a mentor earlier on into my journey. I put this down to a lack of clear information about the specific types of mentoring services available and lack of transparency around the costs of their services. When I was planning to start my business at the beginning of last year I went onto the government website (formerly business link) and read pretty much every link they had about setting up and running a business. I was keen to find a mentor because I was entering a sector in which I had very little knowledge and I knew that I would need some help to construct a targeted marketing plan. I knew that there were people out there who had already been through this process and could guide me through it in order to prevent me from making obvious (to those in the know) mistakes to achieve success more quickly. I wasn't looking for shortcuts, just more efficient ways to do things.

My search resulted in a sea of mentoring organisations, all of whom alleged to meet my requirements. I started wading through them, reading their overviews to see if I could filter them down but they were all singing a similar song and requesting joining fees of anything from £50 to £250 plus further costs for the mentoring sessions. As a cost-conscious new business owner I was nervous about parting with up to £1000 for a 'advice' when I had no knowledge of the organisation or a meaningful way to calculate the return on my spend. I decided instead to just spend the time figuring it out myself which although would take longer, would be free. The result was a lot of time spent swamping my head with information that I found difficult to process because it was all new to me.

Something I hadn't considered was how much culture could change between industries. In my former world, everything I needed to research was on the internet. In my new world of micro bakery, the knowledge was held by the community and you went online once you knew specifically what you were looking for. A mentor in the bakery sector would have been able to point me the right direction to make my own choices but from meaningful and relevant sources.

Another thing that took me completely by surprise was the impact the new day to day environment would have on me. I'd come from a structured environment with clear targets and timelines and I was now in a completely frameless environment in charge of my own achievement. Of course I set myself new targets and timelines based upon logical assumptions based on my previous performance, but I spent a lot of time dissatisfied with my approach and feeling that I could always have done things better. A mentor would have supported me in the planning process to ensure that I was setting realistic timeframes in which to achieve my goals. I could have also shared my concerns about my working environment which had become very solitary. The irony is that you spend time in an office surrounded by peers often wishing for some peace and quiet to concentrate on your work. Yet having it all the time can have an adverse affect on your productivity if you're somebody that thrives on the buzz of a challenging environment. Everybody works differently and ultimately its all about balance, but a pair of ears that help you realise its perfectly normal to feel this way can make all the difference.

So, what options are on offer? Well there are the 15,000 business mentors trained via the Government funded Get Mentoring project (2012) who have all committed to giving one hour of their time once a month for 2 years and can be found on Mentorsme. Add that to the existing database and it totals over 27,000 mentors at your disposal offering in many cases, free advice with further payable services should you wish to take them up. The filtered results from the website are still a little broad (refinement is being worked on); however, the data is all there so it's worth spending a little time reading through the options. The 'Useful Resources' resources tab gives a great brief on what you can expect from your mentor and it's worth checking the 'Mentoring Spotlight' to see if they requirements. .

Another great resource is The Institue of Enterprise & Entrepeneurs which is a great community network. As well as promoting MentorsMe, they are also offering free membership to potential and early stage startups as they "recognise that the earlier people seek quality support to start or grow their business the more successful they are."

My reluctance to pay for a service that I felt I should have been able to cope without left me disadvantaged and it's my mission to help others prevent making the same mistake. Find a mentor and let them support you to on your path to success for I truly believe that they are the hidden gems that can make or break a business in it's first twelve months as well as support it throughout growth.

Rekha Mehr took part in HuffPost Conversation Starters at Wilderness. The Huffington Post UK are proud media partners of Wilderness. Check back here for more exclusive blogs, competitions and stories soon. For tickets to the event click here: www.wildernessfestival.com