Having the guidance of an experienced mentor can be invaluable to startup founders, offering support on what can sometimes be a lonely path, and one which can throw up challenges for which you have no precedent.
According to the FSB, 70 per cent of entrepreneurs who receive mentoring are still in business after five years, approximately double the number of those who received no mentoring. Mentors can bring huge benefits to founders, not just in terms of business growth but also personal development and career satisfaction.
Experience & Expertise
It’s impossible to overestimate the value of being able to tap into the knowledge of an experienced professional in the early stages of founding a business. Founders often seek mentors who have a background in the same industry or sector as their startup, though this is not always necessarily the best fit. Founders must identify the challenges and issues they are facing before even starting the search for a mentor; If you need a solution to a specific problem, for example, supply chain issues, finding a mentor with experience in this area makes sense. However, you may need someone to help you navigate the growth of the business, and in this case sector specific experience is less important. By identifying where a mentor could add value through their expertise and experience, you will reap the maximum rewards.
A good mentor will ask searching questions that challenge your perspective and create the need for reflection. Mentors should pose questions that you may find a little uncomfortable rather than simply reinforcing your attitudes and behaviours. By engaging in some genuine self-reflection in response, you will gain new insight into the situations and challenges you are facing and create solutions to problems you may not even have recognised. Challenge and constructive criticism will encourage you to be more self-aware and help you to avoid the echo-chamber effect that can come with being a founder.
Network & Connections
Mentors can provide founders with an incredibly powerful tool: a little black book of connections, and will have a broad and varied professional network. Having access to a relevant and vibrant network will give early-stage founders the essential support and creative input required to build their business; mentors may be able to find the perfect consultant or team member to help you realise your growth plans. Any business’s success relies on the ability to access the right kind of expertise on the core elements that are mission critical, so founders need to be eager and able to expand their personal networks. Beyond building your team, mentors may also be able to make introductions to advisors, NEDs and investors.
An objective sounding board
Sometimes founders need to step outside of the business and discuss matters with an impartial person. While your team will be your fiercest allies, discussions within a business can suffer from group think and complicated interpersonal dynamics. Your mentor will be able to take a wider and more objective view of your business and its issues than would be possible with a co-founder or colleague. Mentors will listen, advise and guide at a remove and will be able to drill down on long term, strategic areas which can sometimes get lost in the noise of day-to-day business.
Develop your own leadership style
Mentors will, by definition, have enjoyed successful careers and it can be easy to be impressed by them to the point where you begin to emulate their admirable qualities and behaviours. But no mentor will want this to be the outcome of your relationship and will actively encourage you to develop your own leadership style. Your confidence and competency as a leader will grow as your business grows, and a good mentor will encourage you to build your own unique way of leading. Your best qualities should come to the fore and allow you to lead your company in an authentic way which you find rewarding, rather than aping other founders or your mentor.