Growing a small business isn’t easy. The initial costs of setting up, buying stock (if you are a product business), securing a premises and just generally getting your name out there can often add up. For a small start-up company, it is often a case of tightening your belt until work is regularly coming in.
Once you have established yourself and are beginning to see clients or customers come through the door, you can start to look at expansion and growth. You may designate a budget for marketing, to start to improve your digital presence, or even put money aside for recruitment or equipment. Soon, with a little luck and a lot of effort, you will hopefully reach a point where the business is self-sufficient and running at a level that supports you and all the outgoings you have generated.
At this moment, you have the right to feel proud. You will no doubt have overcome immense stress and challenges along the way, but will finally begin to see the first rays of sunlight through the cloud. For many businesses, this is the most crucial point. Having experienced success, it is time to decide whether you are happy at the level you have reached, and whether it is sustainable, or if you are hungry for more.
Quality is the best business plan
John Lasseter, Pixar
Being talented counts for a lot. You may be a craftsman who has designed and manufactured an extraordinary product, or an industry professional who delivers an exceptional service that is invaluable to your clients. These skills will have got you to the level you are and, along with hard work, are the reason you have experienced success. Being a specialist in your chosen sector doesn’t necessarily mean that you have the required knowledge to grow and evolve your business though. Sometimes, you need to look for help.
What is a Mentor?
Although also known as a business or life coach, we prefer the title of mentor to describe individuals who advise you on how to develop your company.
This is because a mentor is defined as:
‘An experienced and trusted advisor’
With mentoring as a practice seen as:
‘A relationship in which a more experienced or more knowledgeable person helps to guide a less experienced or less knowledgeable person.’
The key characteristic here is ‘experience’. In all aspects of our lives, we look to others who are either older or wiser for advice. As children, we seek the guidance of our parents as to how to pronounce words and experience the world. As we get older, we are influenced by teachers and professors, who help us to supplement our knowledge with new information. Even as adults, we speak to mortgage advisors and technical support agents to give us the answers that we lack.
In business, it is no different. For our accounts, we speak to an accountant. For marketing, we may well seek out an agency. For admin services, there is always the option of outsourced PA or VA support. So why are people often so reticent to speak to a mentor? Much of it comes down to control.
Who runs your business?
From speaking to owners of small businesses, and sole traders too, we have found that it often comes down to feeling like control is being taken away. Asking someone to prepare your accounts is different. Although the numbers can be manipulated and financial advice offered, an accountant has little influence over your company and how it is run. Equally, asking an agency to run your social media, or produce blog content, again relinquishes very little control.
Many feel that bringing in a mentor falls into a separate bracket. There is an unfounded belief that these are people who will tell you how to run your business and force you to integrate processes that you feel uncomfortable with. The thing people fear most is losing this control over their business, and watching it evolve and grow around them rather than with them.
The reality of mentoring is quite different. Once you have found the right person for you and your company, you will have someone that supports and challenges you. The decisions you make will be your own, and will have come to thanks to counselling rather than orders. A mentor is valuable because they will have been there and achieved what you are hoping to do. They will likely have bought and sold businesses in the past, and understand what it takes to reach the next level. More than likely they will have received mentoring themselves, and have actively felt the benefit.
Finding the right Mentor
It is vital that you choose a mentor who matches your personality. Some people are naturally more reserved and risk-averse, others are open to significant change. Whichever category you fall into, try to find a mentor who complements these attributes; either pushing your boundaries to become more open, or reigning you in if you are inviting unnecessary risk.
What you are ultimately doing is investing in all the experiences your mentor has had. The successes, and how they were achieved, as well as the failures and how they can be avoided. Asking for help from someone with more knowledge is not a sign of weakness. For many, it is the only way that they will be able to push through the clouds and truly begin to realise the sunlight beyond them.
At PA Business Support, we are lucky enough to have worked with and connect with a number of highly influential mentors. If you are struggling to take your business to the next level, or wondering how exactly a mentor might work for you, then please don’t hesitate to speak to us and we will do our best to point you in the right direction.