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Why I Wish I Had A Mentor As A Start-Up Entrepreneur

You'll overcome early obstacles faster with the help of a good support network.

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You'll overcome early obstacles faster with the help of a good support network.

Opinions

Why I Wish I Had A Mentor As A Start-Up Entrepreneur

You'll overcome early obstacles faster with the help of a good support network.

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Being a start-up entrepreneur can be simultaneously the most exciting and alienating time in someone’s life. You are making decisions quickly, you are racing to keep up while your business grows around you and you’re navigating a new and unknown landscape.

At least, so it was for me! While this can be a totally exhilarating experience, I remember a time during the early years of New Covent Garden Soup Co. when it was growing at a very rapid pace and it often felt like I had to make decisions faster than I had time to weigh up the pros and cons, or consider all of the various outcomes.

Later I realised this is completely normal in an entrepreneurial environment but more importantly,  I really could’ve overcome many obstacles much faster had I proactively built a support network around me.

For me, with the benefit of a great deal of hindsight, the best support a start-up entrepreneur can avail of is a good mentor. Someone who augments your weaknesses, brings a wealth of knowledge that only comes from experience, and offers an energetic and refreshed passion that an outsider is better positioned to provide.

A good mentor is able to pre-empt problems or obstacles that lie ahead and, through their experience, help ensure serious mistakes aren't made and that often hidden opportunities are recognised and seized. A great mentor will also offer the ultimate start-up tool: the Little Black Book, opening doors that you may not have been able to open for yourself.

Having exited my previous three businesses, I now focus much of my time on angel investing and providing business growth advice. I typically find myself playing an active role in these settings.

Without being too overbearing, I am keen to  understand the company’s challenges and any barriers to growth which may exist or potentially arise later. I like to speak to customers of the businesses and hear their opinions and feedback.

It’s this information that provides a really strong foundation for a mentor-mentee relationship. It’s a fine balance but once fine-tuned, can accelerate the growth of your business and massively impact profitability.

Here are my top 5 insights on finding the right mentor, and building a prosperous relationship:

·         First, it’s important you consider the difference between a mentor and a coach and what style will work best for you – given your own experience and the growth-phase of your business.

A coach will use methodologies to coax answers from you; a mentor will draw from his or her own experiences, and give you advice based on their first-hand experience

·         Don’t start searching for a mentor until you’ve taken the time to step back and figure out what you and your business need the most and what you hope to achieve from the relationship.

Consider whether you want to work with someone with established experience in your specific sector, or if you’d prefer to work with someone whose experience and skills could help you be disruptive in your space

·         Once you have met your mentor, it’s critical you, together, establish  goals and deadlines  early on. You can easily clarify your objectives by asking each other, “What does success look like?”

Everyone’s answer is very different, so ask the question to unify your approach from the outset.  You’ll also want to agree your ‘Rules of Engagement’ – how often will you speak on the phone, meet face-to-face and what level of involvement do you both want to see?

·         You should also think about where you want to  meet. Often when you are so close to the day-to-day activity it really helps to  step outside for a moment to clearly and laterally see what is going on (and not going on) in your business.

It’s important to get out of the office and get away from the daily action to help you think clearly about where the business is, whether strategic decisions are working and what changes you need to make

·         Finally, it’s important for you to remember that, in this relationship, you’ll need to take the driving seat.

You’re in this position because you have recognised your business has the potential to really benefit from another’s insight: take charge of the relationship to ensure you get the best possible outcome for you and your business and don’t leave it to your mentor to always run the agenda.

John Stapleton is an entrepreneur; non-executive director; speaker and investor. He provides value-added advice and mentoring to growth businesses.

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Why I Wish I Had A Mentor As A Start-Up Entrepreneur

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