Good business mentors are worth their weight in gold

In today’s challenging economic environment, mentors play a key role in growing businesses, supporting entrepreneurs and enabling SMEs to survive and flourish in tough trading conditions. Business Partners Limited, South Africa’s leading risk financier in South Africa, has witnessed businesses on the verge of bankruptcy recover, and be propelled to new levels of success as a result of some guidance from a mentor.

Although there are various types of advisors available, such as advisors, coaches and consultants, business owners should opt for a mentorship approach when seeking advice and guidance. The difference between a business mentor and the many other types of business advisers is subtle, as a mentor can play any number of roles.

A mentor is able to play the role of a strategic adviser, technical expert or business consultant, and sometimes all of them at once. However the key characteristics of a mentor has to do with their experience, attitude and approach. They practice the science and the art of business, not merely the science.

Business consultants tend to solve specific problems in the business and impart formal, defined pieces of knowledge or procedural know-how. While a mentor can also do this, they also strive to impart wisdom based not on textbook learning, but instead on his or her experience earned in the real business world.

Another key differentiation is the motivation behind a mentor’s actions. The ordinary consultant will keep within his scope of work and may not consider long term growth and goals.

For a mentor, however, success means being able to walk away from a business with the entrepreneur standing solidly on his own two feet. A mentor can also work with a defined plan and for a fee, but gains satisfaction from seeing the client succeed as a result of his work. Even if he is brought in to implement a technical process in a business, he does so with passion, and with a broader view to empower the entrepreneur and the business.

Many mentors that works with BUSINESS/PARTNERS believe if their interventions does not result in improved profits of at least eight times their fee, they have not succeeded.

Most importantly, the greatest insight gained from mentors is their ability to not only deal with the businesses’ problems, but instead deal with the person behind the business - the entrepreneur. An experienced mentor knows that most of the problems in an owner-managed business stem from the quirks and weaknesses of the owner.

For example, most entrepreneurs tend to gravitate towards their own field of expertise and neglect all the other aspects of their business. For example, a business owner with a production business, may not feel comfortable with finances and instead tends to overcompensate by running a tight workshop, thereby not spending enough time on the financial side of the business. A good mentor will set about turning him into a more balanced entrepreneur.

When taking the decision to approach a mentor, a formal and clear business agreement works best. The agreement should include a scope of work, a time line, measurable outcomes, and clearly defined tasks for the mentor, as well as the business owner. As good mentors are intensely invested in the success of the businesses that they assist, they do not easily tolerate their advice being ignored by a stubborn business owner.

To encourage a strong mentor-entrepreneur relationship, BUSINESS/PARTNERS advises that it is useful to have a facilitator when approaching a business mentor. Good mentors are rare as they aren’t produced by business schools, but instead through years of experience in the business world.

BUSINESS/PARTNERS plays a facilitating role when it pairs one of its pool of 360 mentors with a specific business. By correctly matching the mentor and entrepreneur, the relationship lasts and grows with the mentor sometimes becoming a board member, and very often a long-term confidant and friend.

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