Getting a start-up off the ground can be a lonely – and a scary - process. Nobody else really understands what you're going through and you're faced with hundreds of decisions and challenges every week – many of which you have little idea how to solve. The whole nature of entrepreneurship is doing something different, so it's understandable that you'll be facing new and unexpected problems all the time.
Of course, entrepreneurs thrive on these kind of challenges (or so we're told!) and making mistakes is all part of the process. But there are times when you need advice from somebody who has been through what you're going through. Somebody with some pearls of wisdom to keep you on track! And this is where a business mentor can be so valuable - offering expertise, experience and contacts in those areas where you're struggling.
The value of mentorship is tried and tested, with research by Endeavor, the global mentorship network, showing that start-ups who meet regularly with a mentor are more than three times as likely to be top performers, than those without this support. Entrepreneurs who have benefited say it helps them make decisions quickly and with more confidence – both crucial elements in the high pressure and fast-growth world of start-ups.
A case in point, Silicon Valley is famous for its mentoring culture, with many attributing its consistent and continued success to the 'pay-it-forward' culture that has developed there. Following in its footsteps, London's Tech City, spearheaded by Tech City UK, has fostered a similar mentality, along with the many networking groups and accelerators in the area.
So if you don't have a mentor yet, maybe it's time to find one! Here's a few pointers on where to start and how to get the most out of the experience:
Plugging the gaps
A good mentor should plug gaps in your knowledge or experience, whether that's related to an area of your business, a key objective, or building the contacts and partnerships you need to grow. So have a good think about where you really need help and the kind of experience and perspective that will be most valuable.
You're likely to be drawn to other, more experienced entrepreneurs for mentoring, as they understand first-hand the situation you are in, as well as where you want to be. But, you may equally decide that specialist experience in your industry is more useful than an entrepreneurial background – if that's where your specific needs are.
It's also worth bearing in mind that you can have more than one mentor for different aspects of the business, and at different stages of your growth. Don't feel that one person needs to fit with all your needs.
The best place to start is with your existing contacts. Do you know somebody, or perhaps a 'friend of a friend', that has the kind of expertise and experience you're looking for? Asking around and doing some digging on LinkedIn should be your first port of call.
If you have no joy there, then networking events can be a goldmine of potential mentors, whether specific to your industry sector, or with fellow entrepreneurs. If you meet somebody who you think could be a good fit and the chemistry is right, then follow up to see if they're interested. If they are an active member of the community, chances are they'll be happy to help.
You may find you acquire a mentor while seeking funding, as investors often double-up as mentors to those they help finance, particularly when they have a history in your sector. So if you are currently going through investment rounds, add this to your 'wish list' when talking to potential suitors.
Another possibility is to use a mentoring network, such as Mentorloop or mentorsme.co.uk, which can help match you up with suitable candidates. With this option, you're guaranteed to find somebody ready and willing to offer their assistance!
One thing to note - when finding a mentor, remember that quality matters, so take the time to find the right person. If the chemistry isn't there or you're not sure about their background, or track record, you should probably keep searching.
At the outset of the relationship, be clear with your mentor where it is you need help and what you're hoping to get out of the relationship. Remember, they are likely to be as busy as you are, so use their time wisely. Agree with them where they can offer the most value and try to stick to those issues when you meet.
Regular, face-to-face meetings are essential to ensure your mentor can get a good feel for your business and help you in the best way possible. There are no hard and fast rules on how often you should meet - it depends how often you need the advice and support, and the time you both have available. But it should be at least once every couple of weeks, particularly at the outset.
It's also important to commit to building and sustaining the relationship over a significant period of time – the real value will come from your mentor getting to know you and your business in-depth. So invest the time in getting the most out of it you can.
This is vital – while your mentor is likely to offer you lots of advice, possible directions and potential solutions to your challenges, remember that they don't run your company. You are the boss and every decision must ultimately come down to you.Your mentor is there to provide guidance and help you to make decisions, but they can't make the decisions for you. Don't expect them to have all the answers and don't just blindly follow their advice – the business is still your responsibility.
Finally, you are getting all this fantastic free guidance from your mentor, so make sure that they are also getting something out of the relationship. That means being passionate, enthusiastic and grateful for the help they're giving you, keeping them updated on successes (and failures) in your business and making them feel involved as much as you can. By doing so, you'll both truly get the most out of the relationship.
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