An entrepreneur’s life is tough and unpredictable. Often, you are faced with many doubts, fears, and challenges. At times, you even find yourself moving from challenge to challenge, and perhaps facing another problem just as you resolved an earlier problem. Against this backdrop, having a mentor on board your business venture can benefit you enormously.
Mentoring is a brain to pick, an ear to listen, and a push in the right direction.
John C. Crosby
Over time, working one-on-one, the mentor and mentoree – and the organisation – reap real rewards. A successful mentoring program benefits your company by:
- Enhancing strategic business initiatives
- Providing insight into alternative approaches to challenges and problems
- Encouraging retention of employees and reducing turnover costs
- Improving productivity and increasing revenue (and profitability)
- Elevating knowledge transfer from just getting information to retaining the practical experience and wisdom gained from long-term employees
- Enhancing professional development
- Linking employees with valuable knowledge and information to other employees in need of such information
- Using your own employees, instead of outside consultants, as internal experts for professional development
A mentor is a priceless resource for any company, especially for companies that are in the startup stage. However, in South Africa, finding a good mentor can be difficult. In fact, I’d go as far to say that entrepreneurs in South Africa will find accessing funding just as difficult as it is to find a good mentor.
A good mentor can add enormous value to an enterprise. If an entrepreneur can benefit from mentoring, his/her chances of success (and the scale of success) are very likely to be higher than otherwise. At a nationwide level therefore, we need hundreds of very good mentors to support our entrepreneurs. This is true especially now, when the focus of Government is on creating entrepreneurs and subsequent jobs.
My mistakes have been my greatest mentors.
As an entrepreneur, you may be wondering: ‘How exactly will a mentor add value to my company?’
Here is how.
(Please note, in order to make the writing of this blog easier, the masculine pronoun has been used and is not based on gender bias).
- He will hold a mirror to your business because you HAVE to look at it from another point of view: A mentor will objectively assess the state of your business and the direction in which it is headed. He will bring in an unbiased point of view. In doing so, he will act as a mirror, reflecting the state of your business exactly as it is: imperfections, blemishes, crooked body parts, and all other defects. He will identify what’s right and what’s wrong with your business (or the business plan, depending on when exactly the mentor is brought on board) and help you fix things that need to be fixed. If there is something wrong with the business (such as a weak process, poor accounting standards, a bad marketing plan, and limited policies and procedures) he will point it out to you and nudge you to take corrective action.
- He will ask you tough questions that HAVE to be asked: From time to time, the mentor acts as an examiner who poses tough questions to you as the entrepreneur. Not to rattle you or make you uncomfortable, but to really get you thinking about improving things in your company. If the mentor does not perform this role diligently, complacency will most likely set in, giving you and your team the feeling that all is well, when actually all may not be well. A mentor’s questions could pertain to the business model itself, the definition of target customers, the customer acquisition cost, the delivery times and Service Level Agreements, the time taken for the business to break-even, the extent of capital investment needed, the systems and processes being adopted, basically anything!
- He will make you step back because you HAVE to see things from a different perspective: Because you perhaps work 18 hour days and wear different caps for different roles – operationally speaking – the mentor will pull you back a step every now and then, and make you see the big picture. He will help you look at the changes that are happening around you, which may have a bearing on your business. For instance, changes in consumer mindset, distribution channels, technology, law, etc. could all affect business and so, must be constantly factored into your planning.
- He will open doors for you: As an entrepreneur, one of the biggest roadblocks you will face is a lack of professional contacts such as domain experts, service providers and potential employees. For instance, your business may need a website designer, an accountant, contacts in prospective client companies and an event manager, not to mention an investor. The mentor can make a few calls and put you in touch with the relevant agencies and people. It is up to you to take it from there.
- He will push the bar higher: A good mentor will demolish this self-doubt, instill large doses of confidence in the entrepreneur and make him push the bar really high. As the saying goes, it is only when you aim for the stars that you will reach at least the moon.
- He will share his value system with you: A good value system and work ethic are most important to an inexperienced organisation. If set up early, they can take the organisation a long way. They help maintain a clean and healthy working environment. A mentor will share his professional value system with you and to the extent relevant, and get you to incorporate it in your organisation.
- He will motivate you and make you laugh: All the grind must be balanced with large doses of humour. A mentor with a sense of humour can indeed be a great asset to your business. His Joie De Vivre is likely to rub off on you and your team, with the result that all of you unwind once in a while and keep celebrating successes along the way. You will even learn to laugh hysterically at your mistakes and move on. All this eases the working atmosphere tremendously and helps you retain your sanity. The mentor will also pat you on the back once in a while for a job well done or for a milestone achieved, thereby spurring you on further.
- He will teach you patience: The quest for success and for greatness is often really long. You will have to weather many a storm and keep digging deeper into your reserves of strength, creativity and resilience. A mentor’s knowledge will prove invaluable at such times. He will urge you not to fret (which is anyway useless), but to keep chipping away patiently. The mentor has a big role to play in calibrating your tempo, curbing your impatience and helping you keep the faith.
In sum, a good mentor keeps his cross-hairs firmly on the interests of the business and from time to time, gives you the necessary inputs. And so, if you haven’t brought a mentor on board your company yet, perhaps now is the time to do it right away?!