A Friend in High Places
Not everyone can have the Prince of Wales as a mentor, but the Prince’s Trust highlights the value of getting a mentor: someone who’s been there and worn the T-shirt to help you out. Here’s Mike’s advice for finding a mentor.
We work with the Prince’s Trust, and have become convinced that their mentoring scheme is a major reason why their start-ups have such a good survival record. So if you’re starting a business, get yourself a mentor. But where from, and exactly what should you be looking for?
There are a number of formal mentoring schemes, such as IUKE mentioned in the last issue of Director. These are good, but we believe that the best way to get a mentor is to go and find one yourself. A mentor you seek out is more likely to devote substantial amounts of quality time to you and your business. More important still, the search is a key part of the process of proving your idea. Remember, the Beermat way is about cautiously but rigorously testing and building an idea before you commit totally to it. Finding a really good mentor is one of the best signals you’ll get that your business has got what it takes.
Look for an experienced, senior business person. Not a fellow entrepreneur – all you’ll do is sit in the pub swapping brilliant ideas. The mentor’s job is to help you develop your one, best idea. And while all mentors should be at heart optimists, a measure of realism is needed too. Note that your mentor does not have to be an expert in your field. A wide range of business experience is preferable. Don’t be an e-snob: the world does not divide neatly into dudes and dinosaurs.
They must, of course, like you, and you must like them. Someone may look great on paper, but if you don’t click, they won’t put themselves out for you.
Why do people become mentors? To ‘put something back’ – and because it’s fun. Life at the top of big corporations can become a bit unreal: mentoring a start-up is the business equivalent of getting rid of the Lexus and buying a sports car. So place at the heart of your pitch to a potential mentor that they will enjoy it. And when you do find one, make sure they do enjoy it. Involve them as much as possible.
Finding the right mentor can be time-consuming, but the search is a powerful learning experience in itself, and a successful outcome can make all the difference to your business. A good mentor will provide advice that would cost thousands of pounds, for the sheer pleasure of helping you and your business. They’ll put you in contact with all sorts of interesting people. And you will learn massively from them, in all sorts of ways. Mentoring can be rewarding personally as well as financially.