How to be a good mentor for new entrepreneurs

What makes a good mentor?

Good mentors are genuinely invested in the success of the businesses they help, and do it to pass on their knowledge – not because it will make them a profit or get them ahead.

What are the key problems facing startups?

The first step to being a great mentor is understanding the problems facing our startups today – problems that you probably faced yourself at some point. Here are some of the issues that crop up again and again when we talk to small businesses:

1. Financial Understanding and Management. Maintaining cashflow and keeping to the business plan is one factor that entrepreneurs often have difficulties with. Things don’t always go as expected, and if you’re uncomfortable with figures it’s tempting to bury your head in the sand or just wing it as you go along.

2. Managing time and attending to all tasks effectively and patiently. Success takes time, but with a thousand things on your to-do list it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, or be tempted to go for quick-fixes or rushes. Knowing how to prioritise, delegate, and work efficiently is vital.
3. To not lose focus. When starting up it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement and neglect the bigger picture in favour of concentrating on unimportant details. Mentors can help entrepreneurs keep focus and make them aware of any blind spots they might have – that bit of distance makes all the difference.

4. Developing connections and relationships within the industry and partners. It can feel scary trying to break into a new industry if you’re inexperienced – if you’re starting from the bottom, approaching people and networking can be a terrifying idea.

5. Meeting expectations. Being motivated is one thing, but when you’re new to your business there are bound to be a few hiccups. Customers don’t care very much that you’re new and still learning – they care about a certain standard being met.

6. Promotion. How to get your product or service noticed on overwhelmed social media, and how to get the edge on your competitors? Marketing can sometimes feel like a dark art to those who aren’t sure about the best ways to publicise your business and get it out there.

How can you help a mentee?

Giving back to the business world by encouraging entrepreneurs to build their own success stories can be one of the most rewarding experiences there is, and this should always be the key motivation behind giving up time and effort to mentoring someone starting up. Always be mindful of how you felt when you were starting up. Here are some tips on how to help your mentee:

- Make time for your mentees – not just Skype, emails and calls, but face to face chats and meetings. This is how relationships are forged and where the most productive ideas and decisions will come from.

- Be enthusiastic towards the business idea - believe in it! Knowing that someone unconnected with you thinks your business is a fantastic idea can be an amazing business boost.

- Manage expectations. Make sure you clearly outline the support you’re willing to give, so you don’t disappoint a mentee who thinks that mentoring means you will essentially be acting as a co-founder, or that you can get their product into Selfridges at the drop of a hat.

- Reach out to your own connections seeing how you can help your mentee outside your meetings – even a simple introduction email that takes 5 minutes to write can be a huge opportunity to your mentee.

- Share your experiences and insights. Tell your own story and identify with the mentee – it can be really encouraging.

- Provide guidance with constructive feedback, even if you have to lay it down harshly but fairly. The knowledge and perspective you’re able to pass on is incredibly useful, and even though hearing something bad is difficult it’s better than beating around the bush and not giving the entrepreneur the opportunity to improve on a key weakness.

- Keep the momentum - maintain the motivation and focus, stay enthusiastic, and check in with your mentee often.

It’s not you – it’s me

Always remember that mentoring is a two-way street – a mentee and a mentor need to work together if they’re going to have a productive and useful business relationship.

Mentoring can also have amazing benefits for the mentor, so don’t take the view that you’re giving away your time and knowledge and that they should be grateful. It can put you in touch with some really exciting businesses who you might go on to have lasting professional relationships with. It keeps your finger on the pulse of what’s going on and alerts you to new trends. More than anything, mentoring can reconnect you with why you started your own business, reminding you of the sheer joy of starting up.