Mentoring is often viewed as a service for the young and inexperienced, especially when it comes to business. However, this is simply not the case. The concept of mentoring is becoming increasingly popular in the UK and more needs to be done to encourage businesses of all sizes, from start-ups to large multinational corporations, to get mentors and in turn give back through mentoring schemes.
Common sense tells us that business experience is useful and if you lack expertise in any areas, a business mentor can help you navigate your path to success. Essentially they will use their experience, perspective and contacts to help you to get to where you want to go faster and with greater focus.
For example, there have been 82,887 start-ups so far this year in Britain and while this is an inspiring figure, without proper guidance over a third of these will fail before the year is out. This is due to a combination of reasons but a common theme is that many of these entrepreneurs do not have a mentor to help guide them through the crucial first year.
No matter how much entrepreneurial spirit you have or how many businesses you have set up in the past, entrepreneurs can suffer from poor follow through on good ideas, inability to maintain focus and fear of failure. Additionally an entrepreneurs' strengths can sometimes become weaknesses since over enthusiasm, over confidence and over optimism can sometimes get in the way of practicalities. A mentor will be able to see when this is happening.
I always explain mentoring in terms of a journey, so if you were planning an expedition to the Arctic, where hidden dangers could jeopardise progress and the climate might change at a moment's notice: would you travel without a map, without researching the terrain or consulting an experienced guide? It is very unlikely. The path to business success is no less threatening and changeable. So it always surprises me that hundreds of first-time business owners start up each year without sufficient planning or professional guidance.
As Director of Mentoring at Start-up Loans, the government backed programme to encourage entrepreneurship, I know that mentoring can be just as important as capital when it comes to starting up a business and I have several mentors myself. There are plenty of mentoring schemes that you can get involved in, either as a mentor or mentee and a number of larger companies run mentoring schemes. If you are not aware of a mentoring scheme in your workplace, speak to your HR department as it may be that the scheme is just not well publicised. Alternately, you can find a mentor independently and a good place to start is http://www.mentorsme.co.uk
Before approaching a potential mentor you need to stop and ask yourself what you need a mentor for. Is it to help with restructuring decisions or the launch of a new product line? This will help you to decide what type of mentor is right for you, whether you need a troubleshooter for a short-term project or a long-term mentor to share their wisdom over a longer period of time.
When it comes to choosing a mentor, there really is no magic formula for finding the right person and the majority of start-up entrepreneurs would like to be mentored by the likes of James Caan, Sir Richard Branson or Deborah Meaden however this is unlikely. There are plenty of business people who are prepared to offer you guidance and support, either paid or unpaid, and these people are likely to be in your local community.