The value of wise counsel

No matter how much you know about your business, a good entrepreneur will recognise that they cannot know everything. Once you accept this, the logical thing to do is find someone who can help you fill in the blanks.

In a previous blog I referred to the value of a ‘critical friend’ who can provide advice on how to structure a business, write or review a business plan or offer guidance on whether your idea has commercial potential.

A mentor can do this but also help you identify and overcome obstacles to growth. Because they have strategic and/or sectoral expertise, they are well placed to provide guidance on business development, selling into specific markets, growing the business through partnerships and alliances, contract negotiation and even preparing for funding and raising finance.

Made to mentor?

It is important to understand what a mentor will do before you look for one. They are not a consultant who will become part of your business to achieve a specific objective and it is not their job to run some or all of your business.

Think of them as a confidante, someone you can talk to about the personal as well as the professional challenges of being an entrepreneur. The Oxford English Dictionary defines a mentor as ‘an experienced and trusted counsellor’.

When choosing a mentor don’t be afraid to ask for references or get recommendations from your accountant or someone else you trust, such as your Local Enterprise Office. Another good starting point is MentorsWork, an SFA initiative funded by Skillnet Ireland.

No one’s perfect

You may feel more comfortable dealing with a mentor who has experience of your industry, but you shouldn’t be put off working with someone who has experience in other types of business. Part of the value of mentoring is learning from the mistakes of others and many of these mistakes will apply to any type of business.

The benefits of mentoring have been recognised for some time. Enterprise Ireland’s mentor network was established in the 1980s and it has found that more than nine in ten companies stay in contact with their mentor long-term and three quarters believe their mentor has helped them grow their business.

Know your limits

Like any successful relationship, mentoring is a two-way process. You wouldn’t keep a dog and bark yourself so if you find someone with experience whose opinion you trust you have to be willing to listen and take on board what they tell you.

If you are not willing to accept constructive criticism you will have wasted an opportunity to learn from someone who has already been down this road. You also have to be honest about the state of the business, otherwise any advice you receive will be based on incorrect information.

The best way to measure the value of your mentor is to set targets that you would not otherwise have achieved and see if you meet them. Mentoring costs time and money so it has to be worth your while, but when done well the outcome can be very rewarding.


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