New research from Kabbage underlines how important mentors are to small businesses. In fact, the research finds almost all (92%) of respondents that had one found them vital to success in spite of the fact only 22% were mentored when they were a start up. And 89% of that segment wish they’d had a mentor in the beginning.
Often a mentor can make a huge difference to a mentee through the additional insights they share from their own personal experience. In this respect mentoring differs from advising, coaching or consulting.
When we ask a client “why do you want a mentor?” and “how would it benefit you?” there are many different answers. Everyone has their individual challenges and no two people are the same. This is why mentors are matched with a person rather than a business.
“A mentor can be crucial especially in the very early days of a business when a company is trying to establish itself,” Amy Zimmerman, Head of People Operations at Kabbage, tells Small Business Trends .
“Mentors expand your viewpoint, helping you see multiple perspectives to solve problems, and from my experience, give you the ability to collaborate and workshop ideas with a trusted source,” Zimmerman says.
61% of Business Owners Mentor Others
She says they also provide encouragement and act as reminders that hard work pays off. The Kabbage study also reports there’s no lack of enthusiasm. For example, 61% of owners mentor other businesses and 58% gear their efforts toward younger entrepreneurs.
“I liken mentors to coaches,” Zimmerman says. “It’s a relationship to which many of us can relate.”
The numbers show a big swath of small business owners want a mentor but don’t have one. The reason, Zimmerman says, is obvious.
Time is the Biggest Barrier
“The problem is not necessarily where to find a mentor as there are several organizations and online avenues to connect with one. I believe the difficulty comes down to time,” she says.
“Entrepreneurs are so busy trying to build up their business that seeking out and committing to a mentorship can seem like an unmanageable commitment among the many other responsibilities faced day in and day out,” she adds.
Zimmerman goes on to say the solution is in the scheduling. For example, lunch can be a great time to look for a mentor and you can set aside one hour to talk business at a café.
Refine Your Search with Help from Networking Groups
She suggests there are a few organizations to help you refine your search like Vistage, SCORE and the Chamber of Commerce in your municipality. Networking groups, startup incubators and even social media can be added to the mix too.
Still, setting aside a block of time isn’t the only problem. Business owners need to be looking for the right kind of person. The person you choose should have a wealth of common experience and draw on high levels of commitment and knowledge.
Seek a Mentor Who Understands your Business
“A mentor doesn’t have to have the exact same career background as you and your business, but it’s important to find someone who has a good understanding of the mechanics of your work and how to improve and build upon it,” Zimmerman says.
Finally, while the research shows mentorship is certainly more prevalent in some industries, Zimmerman stresses it’s beneficial to all small businesses.
Some Industries See More Mentorship Than Others
“From the Kabbage survey, we saw a greater percentage of businesses in real estate, property management and construction actively working with mentors as well as acting as a mentor to others. Those businesses are both highly network driven as well as require technical training, both of which are areas where mentors can help you excel,” Zimmrman says.
She adds, “No matter the business or industry, a mentor is beneficial and someone you can consult anytime you have a question on anything from funding to marketing, or when to hire your first employee.”
Mentors can be helpful in many different ways. Here are 5 ways you can benefit from having a mentor.
A sounding board and reassurance
This, in my experience, is the most common request. Most people have supportive “cheerleaders” around them. Coaches can motivate and consultants can advise. However, hearing firsthand experiences from the mentor can often be the reassurance that you are not alone. Mentors will often share their mistakes and successes. They can listen and offer an opinion when asked, after all, they have probably “been there and done that”.
Savvy business owners are always looking to add to their skill sets. So what better way to learn how to be a more effective leader, speaker, marketer, project manager etc. than to have a private 1-2-1 with a skilled mentor?
Motivation is the key to taking action. A mentor can challenge how their mentee spends their time and why they are doing that. By being challenged by, and being held accountable to a respected influence, mentees become highly motivated and answer the big questions which they often avoid.
Mentors have different circles of influence to their mentee and usually have a much longer list of contacts. By having regular meetings with a mentor, names are dropped and contacts are made when relevant and mutually beneficial introductions are made.
Mentors love to share their experience. I have met hundreds of mentors and it’s almost impossible not to be inspired by what they have achieved. Being set challenges and targets by a mentor or coach can motive and create volition. Hearing stories about what your mentor has done in their career and lives can provide the spark. Mentors love to share their experiences and that is often why they mentor in the first place. Imagine having coffee with your business idol, what would you ask them?
There are many benefits to having an outside perspective from someone you admire and respect. Business mentoring has become incredibly popular in recent years and with good reason too. Ask many successful business owners and entrepreneurs who their influencers are, almost all will describe a mentor.