Why you need a business mentor – but only one who has actually run a business

The statistics on business failure are enough to take your breath away – more than half of all new businesses don’t make it to the five-year mark and ultimately 95% fail. The latest statistics from government show there were 382,000 new business births and 357,000 business deaths in 2017.

And with business owners increasingly reporting that their new venture has caused more sleepless nights, more stress and given them less cash than before they began, making a business work is no walk in the park. 

When I am approached by people wanting to set up a new business, I spend time challenging whether they really know what they are letting themselves in for and if they have the mental toughness, capacity to succeed and an appropriate support network.

With cash tight and a never-ending to-do list, you might question spending money on a business mentor, but this should be seen as a great investment and here are some very good reasons to help you:

  1. Finding a good quality business mentor can increase your chances of success – 70% of businesses with a mentor make it beyond the five-year mark – as well as giving you a wise person to share the burden with
  2. They can help you grow and develop, as well as your business – 97% of business owners and managers who have used a mentor say they are invaluable to their commercial growth and personal development 
  3. They are a short-cut to good decisions – and help you avoid the bad ones too. Unlike coaches, whose job is just to ask you good questions to help you arrive at your own decisions, mentors have been there and done that, so can save you reinventing the wheel and help avert potential disasters by offering their experience
  4. They are a safe and impartial ear to help you offload the challenges of being a business owner, helping you feel like you’re no longer in this alone
  5. They have established networks they can introduce you to which will help you grow your business and solve other issues you might have 

So how do you find yourself the right business mentor?

Here’s where I offer a note of caution.  Not everyone who positions themselves as a business expert has actually run their own business.  Would you learn to drive with someone who doesn’t hold a licence?  Would you hire a personal trainer who didn’t have the physique you want?  No.  So why would you want to learn how to run a business from someone who hasn’t been there and done that? 

Broadly speaking you will come across three types of business support – coaches, mentors and consultants.

Coaches (hopefully) have qualifications in techniques which help you arrive at your own decisions and are usually short-term relationships.

Mentors have, by definition, experience and can offer guidance and support over a longer-term relationship to add value. They will use this experience to offer solutions and help you avoid problems, stepping into offer words of advice and caution as needed.

A consultant is usually appointed to help identify and tackle a specific problem.

Many of the best mentors also use coaching techniques –asking the right questions to help you think through decisions – while also drawing on time-served experience which means they can guide you when necessary.

There are over 30,000 coaches, mentors and consultants in the UK and in an unregulated sector where anybody can position themselves as an expert, it can be a minefield choosing the right trusted advisor.

There is a new breed of expert emerging called a CCM.  A coach, consultant, mentor is blend of all three and an experienced hand that can adapt their approach and style to suit the specific situation and task that need resolving.

For peace of mind about the quality of the person you choose to support you with developing yourself and your business, start by looking for someone who is a member of the Association of Business Mentors (https://www.associationofbusinessmentors.org/). To be approved as a member their experience and qualifications will have been verified, and they’ve made a commitment to professional development too. 

Ask any potential business mentor about their prior or current business experience. Were they successful (many great mentors have had businesses that failed, that often provides invaluable experience)?  What industries have they worked in and what difference have they made to the businesses they have worked with?  Seek testimonials and case studies.  A great business mentor will be only too happy to provide.

Above all, choose someone you click with, who you feel you can trust and who you have confidence won’t let you off the hook. One of the biggest issues holding back small businesses is the accountability of the person at the top. If no one is making them deliver on their commitments, the business is unlikely to be as successful as it could be.  There will be something on your to-do list right now that you’ve been putting off because no one is making you do it.

If you are working into the early hours trying to tackle the to-do list, struggling to make ends meet financially, unable to grow the business as you’d like to and feeling trapped because you can’t see a way out, something needs to change. Having an experienced hand to guide you through tricky waters is definitely worth exploring.

Having worked in business for 30+ years, including running three of his own companies that were profitable from day one, Gary King is a successful business mentor and Yorkshire’s regional Director for the Association of Business Mentors.

Gary King Tendo Business Mentor Leeds