What is the role of a mentor?
The role of a mentor is to support you, guide you and help you overcome some of the challenges that you would’ve otherwise hopefully overcome yourself, but with a mentor, you should be able to do this in a shorter time period. A potential mentor would have been through similar mistakes and should be able to offer you advice about how to avoid these going forward (mistakes that otherwise could have been timely and costly!). A mentor should be a source of wisdom and offer you valuable long-term development.
A mentor, therefore, should accelerate your progress and potential. By speaking to experienced entrepreneurs who have been through many challenges and made mistakes, in the long term you will be able to avoid making similar ones yourself. Whether you’re a freelancer, a solopreneur or micro business owner, a mentor is there to help you achieve professional growth in your sector and build upon your skillset.
According to Sage, only 25% of small and medium-sized businesses in the UK currently make use of business mentors. This article should inspire you to find a mentor who can help assess your strengths and weaknesses, develop new skills and help implement long term career goals. A fresh perspective should lead to accelerated learning possibilities.
What makes a good mentor?
A good mentor will enjoy the process themselves and thrive off the mentor-mentee relationship. A good mentor will also learn as much from the mentee as the mentee learns from them. In this sense, it should be a two-way relationship where there is a value exchange. The mentor should feel gratified and rewarded from empowering you, the mentee. For the mentor, the knowledge of making a difference to the success of others is a great way of giving back.
The best mentor is someone who is just two or three steps ahead of you. For example, if you are just starting out in your freelance career and you would like to get to a point where you have a healthy client list and are managing some collaboration projects, you want to be getting advice from someone who is only two years ahead of you in that process, rather than someone who is a multi-millionaire and just exited a business. Of course, these people will have some great advice, but it will not be directly relevant to your own experience and they will be too far away from where you are on your freelancing journey now. So always keep in mind that a good fit mentor will only ever be two or three steps ahead of where you currently are.
Seeking out a mentor: how to find them
In terms of finding a mentor, it is good for them to be in a very closely aligned or related sector but it does not necessarily have to be identical. For example, if you run a digital marketing agency, someone who runs a similar small business – such as a PR, content or video agency – and has done so for a few years would make an excellent fit. This is because you would not be directly competing with this person but you are able to understand each other’s business models, which enables them to pass on useful advice that you can actually put into practice.
A recent survey by the UK’s Department for Business, Innovation and Skills found that 94% of SMEs using external support have seen benefits; these firms are more ambitious and have higher relative turnovers. But how can you find this kind of external support? The key thing is to put yourself in the sort of place where you are not the smartest person in the room. When networking or at events or conferences, try to converse with people that are smarter than you in your industry. First and foremost, offer them value; do not just abruptly ask them to be your mentor. By opening up a dialogue with them, sparking a conversation and sharing some interesting insights, you should be able to get their perspective on things and work out whether or not there is a click for a potential mentoring relationship. If there is at this point, the mentor-mentee relationship should develop naturally rather than there being a formal agreement between the two of you. An organic relationship built off of previous discussions will be of a much higher value to both the mentor and mentee than that of organised business meetings.
Putting yourself in the room with other business owners or freelancers does not have to be done physically; these days, it can just as easily be done remotely via a phone call or online. Social media is a great place to start and LinkedIn groups can be really great for building relationships with people in similar industries. Another excellent site is mentorsme, which lists all of the mentoring organisations that have met national standards. Remember that to be a good mentee yourself you need to give something and add value rather than just take because you will never get the most out of a mentoring relationship from simply taking. So be open to feedback and review your progress: a mentorship is most fulfilling when the mentor believes in the mentee and if the mentor can take something away from the mentee as well. Research has shown that 70% of small businesses that receive mentoring survive for five years or more, which is double the rate compared with non-mentored entrepreneurs. Therefore, simply finding a mentor could provide you with the ability to stay in business for the longer term.
A good mentor can make a real difference to your career and one day you may even become a mentor yourself. According to Sage, 67% of businesses reported an increase in productivity due to mentoring. Being a part of a mentor-mentee relationship will broaden your business acumen, network and knowledge, but as a mentee, it is down to you to make the most of this experience and apply it to your business. If you want to unleash your hidden potential, then find a mentor who will motivate you and guide you to make good business decisions.