That is why even the most talented entrepreneurs seek out mentors, says Petro Bothma, head of enterprise development and non-financial support at Business Partners Limited (BUSINESS/PARTNERS). But effective mentorship is more than getting a bit of friendly advice over coffee. It takes thought and effort to find the right mentor for your business and to cultivate the relationship.
Bothma compiled the following nine tips for making mentorship work for you:
1. Look for experience
Consultants can be hired based on qualifications alone as long as they know how to perform the short-term fix that you require. But a mentor is more than a consultant. Where consultancy is a short-term intervention, mentorship implies a longer period of involvement. A consultant fixes a specific problem. A mentor looks at the business as a whole, and measures success in the broader overall strength and growth of the company and entrepreneur. A consultant aims to impart a specific set of knowledge. A mentor seeks to transfer knowledge and wisdom - the kind of judgement that can only come from experience.
The ideal mentor has years of experience as an entrepreneur in your industry.
2. Look for motivation
Consultants work for a fee. Mentors, on the other hand, are mainly motivated by the satisfaction of seeing a business and an entrepreneur develop. Although it is important that mentors receive some kind of remuneration for their involvement in a business (see below), ideally they should not only be doing it for the money.
3. Personal chemistry is important
For the kind of expertise that a consultant imparts, you don’t really have to get along, although it is nicer to work with people whom you like. But when it comes to the kind of wisdom that a mentor seeks to transfer, a personal bond will have to develop between the mentor and the entrepreneur. The stronger the level of mutual respect and fondness, the more empathetic the mentor will be towards the struggles of the entrepreneur, and the more seriously the mentor’s advice will be taken by the entrepreneur.
4. Build a relationship of trust
As outsiders looking in at a business, mentors obviously have to work at establishing trust, not only that their advice is sound, but also that confidentiality will be upheld.
But it is not only up to the mentor to establish trust. The entrepreneur also has to work at gaining the trust of the mentor by being open and forthright about all aspects of the business.
Mentors also want to be sure that their advice is taken seriously. Good mentors are driven more by their impact on the business than by any financial reward that they might get. They do not like it if their advice is ignored.
5. Make sure there is an exchange of value
Even though a mentor should not primarily be motivated by a consultancy fee, and even if there is no money involved, it is very important that the mentor must be able to derive some clear benefit from the relationship. If the exchange of value is too one-sided, the relationship will not last. A monetary fee to the mentor is often the simplest, but it can also be paid in the form of a bartering deal. It is always a good idea to write down the expected give and take aspects of the relationship.
6. A facilitator can help
Given the complex relationship described in the points above, finding a good mentor can seem daunting. Fortunately, there are various programmes aimed at fostering a culture of mentorship by matchmaking between mentors and entrepreneurs.
7. Have clear terms of reference
Just because the chemistry of a successful mentorship relationship is partly based on intangible personality factors, it does not mean that the business at hand does not have to be negotiated and clearly stipulated. In fact, it could be argued that having clear terms of reference helps to manage expectations and creates a setting in which the personal relationship between mentor and entrepreneur can flourish. Even if you meet a mentor informally and develop a relationship organically, at some point it is a good idea to draw up a clear deal to outline the mentor’s involvement in your business.
Like any personal relationship, good, constant and open communication is crucial. A mentor can only give you optimal advice if all aspects of the business are accessible, and if the advice is the result of a robust discussion between the mentor and the entrepreneur.
9. The best time to get a mentor is now
When a business is in crisis, the last thing an entrepreneur wants to do is spend time and money on a mentorship intervention that will only bear fruit in a few months. And when things are going well in a business, the perceived need for mentorship fades into the background. The best approach is to recognise the power of mentorship early, and set about seeking out a good mentor before your blind spots and weaknesses become problems in the growth of your business.