Ireland’s start up scene has enjoyed an impressive revival since the depths of the recession, with a reported 61 new companies formed every day in 2017 – the best year ever for new business formation.
Add to this the persistence of the SME in Ireland, which as a group make up 99% of all Irish businesses, it’s clear that Ireland’s business professionals are a group who aren’t afraid to plough their trade outside of the security of the large enterprise.
But while sidestepping the red tape and bureaucracy of the large enterprise has its appeal, the independent entrepreneur can sometimes miss out on the benefits of having experienced and talented people around them who they can learn from and collaborate with.
Determined entrepreneurs and ambitious SME professionals are discovering that a relationship with a mentor is the ideal way to fill this gap.
What is Mentoring?
A mentor is someone who can impart their knowledge and experience to you to help you navigate the business challenges ahead of you and run your business more effectively.
A mentor will not do the work for you, but they offer valuable support, guidance and possibly even networking opportunities and contacts.
What’s in it for them?
The mentor–mentee relationship can either be paid or unpaid. Many people who are in positions of mentorship simply do it for the reward they feel when they give back to the business community; sharing the benefits of their knowledge and experience to help other’s reach their full potential who in turn, make significant contributions to the industry themselves.
Being a mentor to someone is also a great way for the mentor to stay connected to an industry and even learn some new things themselves from their mentee. Ultimately, the best mentor-mentee relationships are those that find mutual benefits.
How can a mentor benefit me?
According to a 2014 survey by The UPS Store, 70 percent of small businesses that receive mentoring survive more than five years – double the survival rate of non-mentored businesses. There are many practical and emotional benefits to having a mentor such as those below.
1. Ask for help
As a business owner, you might receive more ‘advice’ than you ask for, from well-meaning family and friends, to clients, to suppliers. Organising all these perspectives can overwhelm and a catch-up meeting with a mentor you know you can trust is the ideal safe place for you to digest what is helpful, set aside what isn’t and move forward confidently.
2. Navigate the learning curve
The man with a quote for every occasion, Warren Buffett, aptly pointed out
“It’s good to learn from your mistakes. It’s better to learn from other people’s mistakes.”
This is a major benefit of having a mentor. While there’s no one formula to business success, having someone close by who’s ‘been there, done that’ can help you to avoid at least some of the pitfalls they experienced.
A mentor can be equally valuable to you when you inevitably do make a mistake, providing the support and inspiration that can help you to identify the lessons you should learn from the situation, pick yourself up and move on.
3. Expand your network
As the old adage in business goes “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know”. And as the years go by, this is one turn of phrase that continues to hold quite true.
A natural off-shoot of a long career in an industry is an extensive list of connections. While many entrepreneurs are excellent at finding networking events to attend and developing their networking skills, having a mentor can be a short-cut to an incredibly strong network. Your mentor might even have other like-minded individuals under their mentorship who could be worth connecting with.
4. Confidence and encouragement
Impostor syndrome is real. This is a psychological pattern where an individual doubts their abilities and accomplishments. It can cripple development as the person constantly lives in fear of being outed as a ‘fraud’. This happens in personal life but in business life too.
As someone with experience in your industry, a mentor can be very effective at validating your accomplishments. They will be able to put your achievements in the context of the market. This will give you a better perspective on areas that you are excelling in but also areas that need more attention.
Your business will undoubtedly go through some tough times. A mentor can provide you with the confidence to keep going, once again, having ‘been there, done that’.
One of the hardest things to establish when you are starting a new business is credibility. Unless you are first to market, chances are some other company already offers a solution like yours. Though you have refined and improved the offering, inertia may prevent consumers from changing products or provider.
In addition to having an extensive list of connections, a mentor can endorse your business and give you credibility in the market. The familiarity people have with your mentor will transfer to your business in time.
How to find a mentor in Ireland
While the prospect of trying to find a mentor might be daunting, it doesn’t have to be.
Your mentor should be someone you admire, can build rapport with and someone you are going to get along with.
Start in your immediate circle of family and friends and see if there are any likely candidates. Beyond that is there someone in your industry that you have admired from afar?
Networking groups can be a place where you make great connections and possibly meet a mentor. Your local Chamber of Commerce will probably have meetings that are purely for networking and meeting liked-minded business people.
There are several websites offering mentorship as a service, for example, Mentors.ie. They have a panel of seasoned business professionals actively seeking opportunities to mentor new business people.
Enterprise Ireland’s Mentor Network has over 400 highly experienced business people ranging from entrepreneurs, founders and senior executives with a wealth of local and international commercial experience.
You should also check in with your Local Enterprise Office to see if their Mentor Programme is available in your location. All applications for mentor assistance are preceded by a business needs analysis review to make sure the right people are paired together.
LinkedIn is a social media platform dedicated to connecting professionals all over the world. If you are not one of the 500 million business people with a profile, we would recommend you create one soon.
If there is someone you think would make a great mentor but are unlikely to meet in person, LinkedIn is the solution. A connection request with a personal note on LinkedIn is probably the most welcome form of cold communication.
Also worth noting is that LinkedIn is currently trialling a new service that will attempt to pair users with mentors. It is only available in limited locations now, so watch this space.
How to approach a mentor and set boundaries
The most important thing to remember is that your mentor is not there to run your business. They are there to give you advice and guidance. This is a crucial distinction and understanding it could be the difference between developing a lasting relationship and incurring the wrath of a seasoned professional.
Here are a few ways to ensure you get the most from your mentor.
1. Be specific about what you need help with.
The best way to get value from your relationship is by having specific issues that you need to have resolved. It goes without saying that you want to achieve business growth, but a more specific item to discuss with your mentor might be tactics and strategies for locating your priority target customers.
2. Measure your progress
The relationship only works if you and your business are progressing. If you have highlighted a specific issue you need to address, make sure you have highlighted something that indicates success. Your mentor will benefit from knowing whether the advice they are giving is worthwhile.
3. Add timelines to your goals
There will come a point where you will be able and will want to stand on your own two feet. By adding a schedule of timelines to your goals it will become clear what needs to be achieved and when. For example, ‘my product will be in stores at the end of Q3, I need the promotional strategy agreed and executed by then’.
4. Give honest and transparent feedback
It’s important in any working relationship that all parties are learning constantly. While your mentor will have vast experience in business, the way we do business is ever changing. Your mentor should be asking questions and it’s important you provide them with open and honest feedback.
Remember that your mentor’s time is precious, so be sure you agree how often and when you will meet. Be sure that your meetings are structured, to avoid wasting time. Also, don’t presume that your mentor will help you financially. This should be common sense but must be remembered.
What assistance can Virgin Media Business provide you?
When it comes to keeping you connected and ready to do business, Virgin Media Business strives to be the only partner you’ll need. We understand that each small business is unique, and our team will be delighted to discuss how personalised services can help you reach your goals.