Our Virgin StartUp mentors are some of the best in the game. They help our startups to achieve bigger and better things with free support - and one of the benefits is that being a mentor to such committed and exciting new entrepreneurs is that it can help make the mentor better at what they do too. That's been the case for Lee-Ann Johnstone, founder of digital and marketing consultancy AffiliateINSIDER - visit https://affiliateinsider.com/.

Here's what mentoring Virgin StartUp-supported businesses has taught her about running her own ventures.

As a Virgin StartUp mentor, I’ve had the opportunity to meet many entrepreneurs. I’ve assisted them in their businesses, but I’ve also gained a lot from the experience of helping others to achieve their goals. As an entrepreneur myself, this has had a great effect on my own personal and professional development.

My experience as a mentor

Throughout my time as a mentor, I’ve been able to help various start-ups with digital marketing and commercial expertise and this has been rewarding on many levels. In exchange for my time and knowledge, I’ve been able to watch businesses grow and learn lessons from the process they are following. Being a part of their journey has shown me ways that I can improve my own journey as a small business owner. 

By giving honest feedback and working on pain points together, mentors get to provide a valuable service to these start-ups. By providing a fresh pair of eyes, we can find new ways around problems and implement them strategically. Building trust and working on your listening skills are also important parts of the process, both of which can provide real improvements to your own business success. 

The key lessons I've learned

While teaching others, there’s a vast pool of knowledge that you can learn to better your own business practices. Mentoring may seem like you’re spending a lot of time on someone else’s business, but the lessons you learn are invaluable - by problem-solving others' pain points, you learn to deal with your own more efficiently. 

Identifying problems before they become much larger

Any new business owner will tell you that starting a business is scary - it takes a lot of guts, grit, and determination. Strategy is at the heart of every successful business, and even if your strategy has to change somewhat regularly to accommodate the changes in the environment around you, you should still have one in place. Decide what your goals and KPIs are before you strive to complete them. Then you can look back on these as a measure of how your strategy has served you.

Looking back before looking forward is essential. You should assess which parts of your strategy are working, and let go of the ones that are simply draining resources. Scalability should also be a part of this; if you do reach those projected returns, then how will you keep up with that demand? We want our businesses to grow, but are we really thinking about how we will manage this growth?

The bottom line is that you need a plan, and you need to review it regularly. 

Reaching new heights through innovation

Start-ups, especially those within a competitive market, need to push their innovative tendencies to take on the larger companies. You may not have the biggest budget, so you need to think of a way that you can bootstrap your marketing strategy to make the most of it.

This kind of creative and imaginative environment has been greatly stimulating, giving me ideas for my own marketing strategy. My own business is in its first year, so planning and innovating has been a massive priority for me. The start-up mindset is also rather inspiring, as most in this position will find a way to overcome any obstacle. Working with start-ups makes you see that when you have a will to succeed anything is possible and that excitement at achieving success is absolutely addictive. Being a part of the success of a start-up is incredibly rewarding and generates a genuine “feel good” experience.

Watching digital disruption first-hand 

When you give guided advice and it is taken forward and followed, you get to see first-hand how it all pans out. This can lead to shake ups, change ups and great implementation. It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach - each business has to make the strategy their own and make it authentic to their company. Knowing your customer and creating a strategy around targeting them is the easiest way to reap the rewards. 

Advice doesn't have to be stuck to

Just because you have a lot of experience or can give a lot of advice, doesn’t mean that you always know what works best. Experiencing your mentee’s passion for what they’re creating and doing has much more value than sticking to a plan or pre-determined business model.

Feel free to pull on your experience to give guidance to your mentee on how to move forward, but appreciate they may change the advice you give and do better. The fact of the matter is that all the best-laid plans will change, and allowing for this is the key to success. You need to teach your mentee that this happens in all businesses. Everything can change at a moment's notice - and that’s ok, they just need to know how to readjust and refocus. Hard advice can prove fatal if you don’t know how to be flexible. 

Work on your business, not just in it

Running a business isn’t easy and it requires constant work. Talking to a mentor helps you to take stock and assess what’s really happening and get an unbiased perspective. It’s all about being proactive and not reactive, something which each and every business owner out there can take as a teaching point. When mentoring someone else about their plans, you often have a think about your own and how long it’s been since you spent quality time on your business - not just working in it.

Mentoring is a two-way street - you get as good as you give, and that’s what makes it so rewarding!

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