Shattering the myths about mentoring

Many small businesses shy away from mentoring, perhaps due to a misconception of what mentoring really is.

In a business sense, mentors provide the support and advice that you might seek from friends or financial advisers. To provide further insight into what business mentoring is, here are the top four myths about mentoring, and the truth behind them.

  • Myth: Having a mentor means you’ve failed
    Quite the opposite.  Running a business can be very lonely, as any entrepreneur will tell you.  Having a mentor – having someone to talk to – who will listen to your ideas and share experiences, is a great way to regain your perspective, develop new solutions to existing problems and be inspired by new ideas.    But don’t just take my word for it.  The stats speak for themselves  – business people who use external advice are three times more likely to succeed than those who don’t.
  • Myth: Mentors are either glorified consultants and cost a fortune, or enthusiastic amateurs who offer poor quality support
    Mentoring can be free, or it can be a service you pay for – it’s up to you to choose what type of mentor you want and can work with.  But whether you pay your mentor, or your mentor is a volunteer standards are important. Mentorsme, the BBA’s mentoring portal, lists over 110 mentoring organisations across the country.  Some charge for mentoring, others don’t, but all of them have been assessed against a range of criteria to ensure they provide a quality service.  And the Get Mentoring volunteers (accessible via mentorsme) have all completed training based on national occupational standards ensuring they have the knowledge and skills to be effective business mentors.
  • Myth: A mentor is the same as a coach
    Not true!  Although they can both be complementary elements in a broad programme of business support and have the business owner at the centre and aim to help improve business performance, there are key differences. Mentoring is relationship oriented – it’s about the direction of travel, ideas and plans.  Coaching tends to be task oriented and therefore more tactical. I like to think about it in this way:  a mentor can help a business person decide on the path they want to travel; a coach can help them master the skills required to reach their destination and ensure they reach it.
  • I don’t need a mentor
    In my view, if you’re a credible business person you’ll use a mentor!  A fifth of businesses who don’t use external advice later wished they had – particularly  in areas such as raising finance and developing and growing the business, both areas where a mentor can really help.  And 9 in 10 of those using a mentor have seen the benefits including increased sales or profits, enhancing leadership and management skills and developing business plans and strategy.  Everyone needs a mentor!

Carl Hopkins, who contributed this blog, is a marketing expert and serial entrepreneur, perhaps best known for his appearance on Channel 4′s Secret Millionaire. He is also a mentoring ambassador for BIS and a member of the Entrepreneur’s Forum, set up to advise government on business and enterprise policies.