Choosing a Mentor

In the first of this series of articles we looked at the fact that there was actually quite a lot of help available to you when you set up your own business, and specifically we started to look at entrepreneur accelerators and the roles that Mentors play within that overall service. This time I wanted to take that further and start to explore the actual role a Mentor plays, how best to choose one, and then how best to maximise that relationship.

It is worth mentioning that whilst Mentors have accumulated a lot of experience over many years, they have become a Mentor because they want to help others to succeed. I have yet to meet a Mentor with a big ego or one that is interested in playing the great ‘I am’ – indeed most are much more likely to talk about where they have failed and why, as that is often a better learning experience to share with others than only speaking about easy success stories.

Everybody’s career tends to follow a meandering path and the majority of people may start with, or focus on, one area of expertise, but over the years each of us picks up a lot of knowledge in many other areas also. Many entrepreneurs linked to an Accelerator feel that they do not find that they need to work with a Mentor at all but often the staff recommend that they should do. This may be by way of putting them in touch directly, or simply by making the suggestion that they would benefit. Certainly as the resource is available for free then why not see how you as a startup can benefit?

Firstly, as the entrepreneur, you should of course know what area it is that you feel you would benefit from most and there may of course be a number of key areas. This will be driven by your product or service, how advanced your business is, whether you are considering raising funding, and many other factors. You may then decide that your ideal mentor will have a strong background in marketing, or e-commerce, or fashion, or retail, or finance, or sales, or FinTech, or any other field. Remember of course that each of these Mentors will also each bring with them a lot of wider experience, over and above their main focus.

Once you have found a Mentor with the right ‘technical’ abilities that you are looking for I would suggest that it is extremely important that you like and get on with them as a person. You must feel comfortable that they really do understand YOU, your hopes and dreams, as well as your fears. Some entrepreneurs meet with their Mentor on a very regular basis whilst others find it necessary only to contact them in specific need, but whatever you seek, that personal relationship is very important.

The Mentor will of course be able to offer their insight into the areas of their specific expertise that you chose to work with them on in the first place but they will almost certainly also be able to offer a lot of very valuable feedback on your business as a whole as they will be looking at it from the outside and applying years of hard won experience. Just in the process of the Mentor asking questions, challenging assumptions, and making suggestions, you as the entrepreneur will often gain further clarity on a whole range of issues – or at least a number more points to add to your action points! Maybe the Mentor will simply echo what you had already thought or been told by others or maybe, and in my experience this is often the case, they will also come up with totally new points. On occasion these new insights might even mean you totally rethinking your business model.

It is of course not only experience that Mentors bring, but also access to their direct and indirect personal contacts and these in themselves can potentially transform the fortunes of a startup company. Networking takes a lot of time and then turning those people met into proper contacts takes yet more time, and often real business relationships take years to form properly. So to be given warm introductions to your Mentor’s filtered and trusted contacts can save a lot of time and literally pay dividends.

In closing this time I would ask you to think of a twist on the old saying that “it’s not what you know but who you know”. Think instead of getting to know a Mentor AND getting to know what they know!

Next time we will look at that age old problem of finance and trying to decide if your start needs to raise external finance and, if it does, when and where from.