4 ways a mentor helped me start up

Emily Wright is the founder of T&Shop, a café and boutique selling both delicious sustenance and carefully-curated homeware and accessories. We gave her an £8,000 loan to start up, payable back over 2 years with our usual fixed 6% interest rate, and also matched her with mentor Jonathan of Fairhurst, CFO of FitFlop. Here she shares some ways in which having a VSU mentor helped her business.

The practical bits

“It's always nice to have a constantly enthusiastic mentor, but it means something more coming from someone who understands business and maths,” says Emily. “Jonathan is basically my spreadsheet saviour. He enabled me to monitor everything, which is more exciting than it sounds – as I was able to see when I first turned a profit and when I’d made my first 10,000 coffees!”

While spreadsheets, financials, and all the other admin of running a business might seem hopelessly dull, they’re a vital part of your success – staying on top of everything that’s going on means you’ve got a better chance of all the balls you’re juggling staying up in the air. Mentors can advise you on the best and easiest ways of keeping track of it all, reinforcing how important it is to know exactly what’s going on – even down to every coffee sold, as Emily points out above.

Being kept accountable

“My mentor is committed to visiting, and just knowing he’s coming keeps me on my toes in terms of up-to-date paperwork!” says Emily.

Virgin StartUp mentors are required to commit to two hours of face to face mentoring every month for the first three months, and an hour of face to face time every month after that. Knowing that someone will be meeting with you to discuss your progress and see how you’re doing can be a motivation to keep everything up to date and ensure you don’t let things slide.

Helping with the hard decisions

“Sometimes it's vital to have  affirmation when it comes to spending,” says Emily. “Jonathan practically had to force me to buy a new Macbook (on Black Friday – scary!) but he was absolutely right – the website is the future for the growth of the business.”

Making large investments in equipment or other scary spends can be daunting, but it’s necessary if your business is to grow – it will pay off in the end. A mentor can give you the encouragement (or the push!) to take that step and splash out on something that your business really needs; they can help you be that little bit braver when it comes to big decisions. Trust them.

Experience

“We are now working on press and distribution for the brands I source, and he is steering me to make the autumn trade show a success,” says Emily.

The experience of mentors can vary, but the thing about running your own business is that so many skills are always transferable. No matter what size your business or in what industry, there are always going to be the same challenges – marketing, customer service, cashflow, to name just a few – and once you’ve gotten to grips with these, it’s a matter of scaling up or applying to different situations.

This experience is invaluable when being mentored, as your mentor is likely to have been in the same place that you are now, facing the same challenges – and they can use this knowledge to help guide you towards your own success.