This week's e-zine is focused on mentoring. I make no apology for returning to this subject; I have always felt that the most important success factor in entrepreneurship is finding and retaining the right mentor.
When we were developing our entrepreneurship model, my co-author Chris West put together the three items to go on the 'original Beermat':
After developing your elevator pitch, we recommended finding a mentor, long before you spent much time and effort in preparing complex business plans or investing any money in your business. This mentor would give invaluable personal and business advice, and might even help you in the next crucial stage, finding your first paying customer.
Since The Beermat Entrepreneur was released ten years ago, I must have provided face-to-face mentoring to over 1,000 people, ranging from very early stage people with, frankly, too many good ideas; through to highly experienced entrepreneurs agonising over whether to sell their companies.
I have never charged for mentoring, and continue to believe that what differentiates mentoring from paid advice, such as coaching and consultancy, is the fact that the advice is given without any thought of commercial gain, and is therefore more likely to be impartial and given with the best of intentions.
My advice for finding a mentor centres on preparation. You should first be able to state in simple terms where you are and where you want to get to. If you are struggling with this, you should employ a business coach to help you with this process, including putting rough timescales on your ambitions. This advice should not be expensive, and should not take long. Beware snake-oil salesmen who claim to offer advice but leave you without any clarity or obvious path forward. Certainly, if you're paying for advice, get recommendations from everyone you can.
Having thus answered two key questions 'what?' and 'when?' your focus should now be on the next key questions: 'who?' and 'how?' To find the right mentor, you need to have done your research into who the right mentor might be and how they might be able to help you. You might be looking for specialist advice in your chosen market sector, or simply someone who has "been there, done that and got the T-shirt".
In the first instance, you should look for a first mentor in your own personal network. If you are young, it might be a schoolteacher or lecturer you liked. If you are older, it may be someone you met in a business environment, whose opinion and skills you admire.
This personal touch is very important. At its most basic level, an ongoing mentoring relationship works if both parties like each other and thus are willing to spend an hour in each other's company.
You can also visit mentorsme.co.uk, the government's new national web portal that provides a single point of access to mentoring services offered by other businesses, NGOs, charities and government delivery agencies.
Incidentally, if you would like to become a mentor, head to the www.getmentoring.org site. Get Mentoring, led by the Small Firms Enterprise Development Initiative (SFEDI), is recruiting and training thousands of business mentors in the UK from the small, medium and micro business community.
The mentoring process itself is very straightforward: the mentor gives the best, impartial advice they can, based on the facts laid before them. Effective mentors should have specific skills and a good general business grounding to give confidence to early stage entrepreneurs taking their first steps.
The mentee should listen carefully and note any particular actions that need to be undertaken before the next meeting. These actions should be simple, easily delivered and mutually agreed; the skill of a good mentor is to find 'tiny steps' that are within the mentee's ability, thus building their confidence.
We say at the beginning of The Beermat Entrepreneur that 'business is simple'. It does involve long hours and hard work, but the process itself is very straightforward: simple things done well. Finding the right mentor is an invaluable part of taking the first steps in this very exciting journey.