[How-to] Make the Most out of Business Mentoring

Brendan Flattery, CEO UK&I of Sage Group
- Leadership - Sep 09, 2014

You are a small business owner. It’s been your dream for a while to strike out on your own and you have finally taken the leap. You’ve set up and established your business and things are going well. You have a number of people working for you, while you’re responsible for the day-to-day management of the business.

You want to see the company succeed. To achieve this you need to define the strategic direction of the business, help it to run more economically and effectively.

And this is where a mentor can help. From time to time we all face situations which are unfamiliar to us or business scenarios where we might not have the skills and experiences.

When that happens people get stressed. Having someone who has been through that who can share some real life experiences can help in a very practical way and reduce that worries of the unknown.

Exclusive research carried out by Sage identified that 93 percent of small and medium sized businesses globally acknowledge that mentoring can help them to succeed. However, less than a third (28 percent) are currently making use of business mentors.

Europe-wide, small businesses in Spain make the most use of business mentors with 46 percent of small businesses using mentors, compared to only 22 percent in the UK and 14 percent in Portugal and Poland.

The problem is that these days lots of business people understand the theory that mentoring can help but far fewer are actually doing anything about it.  

It can also seem like a daunting task and it’s difficult knowing who to turn to and how best to make an approach. Start with the experts, professionals and business owners you admire and respect and don’t restrict yourself to one mentor.

It’s unlikely you will find one person who can help with everything. Different people bring different areas of expertise that will be relevant to your business as it passes through stages of development.

Look for someone who has:

  1. Experience of your industry
  2. Is a good listener
  3. Has the technical skills to advise
  4. Is willing to introduce you to useful contacts.

Establishing the relationship at the outset is one of the most important things you can do. The rules that you put in place at the start will determine what value you get from the relationship in the long term. 

Keep these things in mind to make sure you get off on the right foot:

  1. Clear expectations:  Both you and your mentor should be clear about your expectations and what you want to achieve from the relationship.
  2. Agreed upon rules:  Agree some clear rules so that both parties know what is expected from them and to ensure you are both fully committed to the mentoring relationship and how it will work.
  3. Trust:  The point of a mentor is to push you to do things you might not have done otherwise. You must have faith in the guidance you are given otherwise the whole relationship will fall down. 
  4. Honesty: Be open with your mentor – let them know how you are feeling, the pressures you are under, what is working well and what isn’t.

It’s important to build a strong, mutual relationship with your mentor, and to work with someone whom you not only respect from a business perspective but who you get along with also on a personal level.

I am very lucky that I have a formal mentoring relationship through a professional mentoring organisation. I meet regularly with my mentor – once a month in person – and it has helped me gain insights into my roles at Sage that it would otherwise have taken years to achieve.

My mentor is a former CEO of a major European business and she has helped me understand how different European cultures work together – crucial for my role as I have strategic accountability for small businesses for Sage across Europe.

Research has found that 70 percent of small businesses that receive mentoring survive for five years or more, which is double the rate compared with non-mentored entrepreneurs. Personally, I have found that if you are open and receptive, are prepared to be challenged and go through a period of change yourself, then the rewards from mentoring can be real business growth.

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