How your start-up can get the most out of a mentor

Looking for a small business mentor? Shraga Zaltzman MBE shares tips for finding the perfect mentor and maximising your meetings with them

The benefits of mentoring to start-ups are countless; from helping to fast-track growth to boosting vital skills such as leadership, client management and pitching for investment.

Our research has shown that start-ups are three and a half times more likely to grow user numbers for their products and services if they have supportive mentors who are able to guide them through their business strategy, and offer support with the daily activities of running a business.

So, while securing finance is important for scaling up, there’s a reason why entrepreneurs pitching for investment on Dragons’ Den do plenty of research and think carefully before choosing a Dragon – who they believe will bring more to the table than just money.

The person you choose to mentor your business can make or break the success of the relationship. So, what should your start-up look for in a mentor and how can you make the most out of mentoring?

What to look for in a mentor

Expertise

First and foremost, choose a mentor who has expertise in successfully starting and growing a business. A proven track record of success is vital; he or she will have plenty of valuable advice to share.

What’s more, a mentor who has years of experience in business will have a wealth of contacts and will be able to introduce you to all the right people – networking is priceless for small business growth.

Don’t rule out a mentor who works in a different sector to your own. Sometimes people who work in the same industry as yourself can be a threat, while someone who runs a complimentary business – or has specific business skills – might be better.

Passion

Chose a mentor who will have enough time to guide your business in the early stages, and is genuinely passionate about the work you do and invested in your success.

Mentoring can be an equally fulfilling experience for both mentee and mentor, so find someone who is keen to take on this responsibility and will be motivated as they watch your business develop.

Chemistry

It is important that you get along well with your mentor. You cannot build a beneficial mentor-mentee relationship without mutual respect. Nothing will be achieved, and trust and communication will break down.

A healthy relationship is one in which mentor and mentee feel comfortable with complete honesty and are able to discuss strengths and weaknesses in order to support the development of your business.

How to make the most of your mentor

Finding a suitable mentor is only the first step. You must then ensure that you manage this relationship carefully in order to get the most out of your mentor’s experience and knowledge, and tailor each meeting you have towards a specific goal.

Set clear goals

Setting both short and long-term goals will allow you to assess progress, and will keep you on track and heading in the right direction.

Work with your mentor to ensure goals are realistic and achievable in the given time frame, while also challenging you.

Commit to meeting regularly

Meet with your mentor on a weekly basis, allocating at least an hour for each meeting, so you have sufficient time to make steady progress and achieve something in each session.

Draft an agenda with aims for each meeting to ensure you maximise time. Both parties must be committed to attending regular sessions – complacency will put the brakes on progress.

Practice a range of business activities

From analysing industry trends and competitors to practicing networking and honing your sales skills, participating in a range of activities with your mentor will enable you to develop a variety of new skills and challenge yourself to approach learning in different ways.

Another useful exercise is to have your mentor observe you in action, for example dealing with clients or pitching for business. This will give you the opportunity to receive invaluable real-time feedback and help your business to continue to improve and grow.

Take an active role

While your mentor should guide the sessions and use their experience to help you develop to the best of their ability, learning is a two-way street.

Communication and collaboration are key, so don’t be afraid to ask questions and suggest topics for discussion.

It is also vital to consolidate your learning outside of these sessions and put advice into practice. Don’t take a back seat – challenge yourself.

Shraga Zaltzman MBE is founder of charity Work Avenue.

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