3 reasons why you should mentor an entrepreneur

When you get a Virgin StartUp loan, you're also matched with a mentor to help guide you through that turbulent first year of business. However, mentoring doesn't just benefit the mentee - it can also be a fantastic learning experience for the mentor too. Virgin StartUp mentor Tracey Stern of Emarketeers, a leading digital marketing training agency, talks about why you should mentor an entrepreneur.


The official (or at least the Wikipedia version) of mentoring is as follows : ‘Mentorship is a personal developmental relationship in which a more experienced or more knowledgeable person helps to guide a less experienced or less knowledgeable person. The mentor may be older or younger, but have a certain area of expertise.’

This started me thinking about my ability to be a mentor, and question whether I could really add value to someone who was putting their all into starting a business and what help I could give. As with most people, there is always the pressures on time, alongside the headspace to be able to donate time and expertise in the right measure. However, I ignored any potential pitfalls and applied to become a mentor for Virgin StartUp after being recommended by a friend who was already involved in the process as a mentor.

I have only been involved as a mentor for a relatively short period of time, but I can say with all honesty that it is proving to be not just exciting and rewarding, but it has taught me more about myself and business than I have learnt in some considerable time.

1. You will learn a lot!

I left the corporate media agency world over 6 years ago, having spent 20+ years working in a traditional business  framework and paid employment. I was incredibly fortunate to reap the benefits of a well-paid career, but I had stopped learning along the way. That isn’t to say that I knew it all, which I certainly didn’t, but I had stopped wanting to learn. Both passion and self-realisation were hugely diminished. In the midst of one of the worst recessions we had ever seen, I was without a job and unsure of how I would recapture both the passion and the salary! Thankfully, I was introduced to my now business partner, and we have grown our digital marketing agency in the last 6 years to something I am incredibly proud of. At the beginning, I had no idea how to be an entrepreneur. When I started at Emarketeers I hadn’t paid a phone bill, booked a taxi or restauarant, or managed my own diary for many years. Suddenly I was thrust into the world of small business - everything from buying toilet rolls for our office to developing the business & marketing strategy, managing a P&L, and ensuring we had enough fax paper to last the week.

What I discovered was that being entrepreneurial simply means developing and utilising the right skills, and applying them.  Working for a business that meant something to me, that could effectively change my world if it succeeded  -now that was real drive, and unlike anything I had experienced previously. The comfort of a monthly pay cheque and health insurance doesn't do much to the adrenaline levels, to say the least!

So I hoped I would be able to share the lessons I learnt from developing Emarketeers with any potential small businesses, focussing specifically on my area of expertise in marketing and commercial development.

After being approved, I was matched quickly with my entrepreneurs. Attollo Lingerie was founded by two ladies who saw a gap in the market for D+ women and matched their needs to the product, creating beautifully designed underwear created to support and inspire women in the D+ range. The match could not have been more perfect.

I was slightly hesitant prior to my first meeting, as I had no idea what to expect and whether I could deliver to the mentor ‘brief’. After spending two hours at the initial meeting with the founders, I was blown away by all they had achieved and how they had started something with no prior business experience, having founded the brand straight out of university.  I have continued to learn so much along the way in such a short space of time, and it has helped to show me why I did what I did six years ago. In addition, I have learnt how to help prioritise budget, time, focus and energy at the start of the journey for the optimum outcome. I have learnt how to guide rather than dictate, to advise rather than ‘do’, and how to take a broader view on areas which are fundamentally critical to success.

The Attollo founders, Alice and Fleurette are prepared to take risks, are self-motivated and not put off by failure whilst being driven by achievement, and this has reinforced my vision of what a great entrepreneur should be. As mentioned, I am only a few months into the process, but at the risk of sounding like an X Factor contestant, I am hugely excited by the journey to come with Attollo, and feel invested in their future which I am sure will be a rosy one.

2. You will meet lots of other likeminded people who will inspire you

Virgin StartUp and Start Up Loans have invested significant time and money into this venture and therefore the process is a very thorough and well-managed one. As part of the process, it is mandatory to attend a mentoring session, which I was involved with a few weeks ago. I was fortunate enough to be seated with approximately 25 other mentors, all of whom have their own very interesting and successful story to tell. I was inspired by their stories, their experiences and their passion for helping – which is sadly a rare occurrence in everyday business life. As I looked around the table, I realised why the UK economy is in growth phase and was hugely proud to be a part of it.

Furthermore, when I reached out to a fellow mentor to provide guidance for my entrepreneurs in an area where I lacked expertise, he willingly gave up more than two hours of his time to meet them and support and advise them, which not only helped them massively, but restored my faith in the human spirit!

3. Because it matters

This may be hideously clichéd, but it really does matter. Over 168,000 start-ups have launched this year, which has been driven by support from the government for an ‘enterprise-led’ recovery.

Without the likes of these bright, talented and passionate people, the UK will be worse off.  Without support and guidance and investment, many of these brands will not come to fruition - and that remains for me one of the critical reasons to help grow and nurture entrepreneurs, if you can.

Everyone will say the reason to become a mentor is to ‘give back’. And they are right. But also be prepared to learn about yourself and remember why you became an entrepreneur, and meet some amazing people along the way.

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