The saying that ‘two heads are better than one’ can often ring true for business owners. Whether it’s dealing with an unexpected problem, having to tackle an area which is outside your own skills set, or needing to make a critical business decision – having someone to discuss things with can be a huge benefit.
Mentoring can help you access one to one support to tackle challenges, fine tune your decision making, gain new skills, boost your confidence and progress your business. Studies regularly show that women-owned businesses who have had experience of being mentored, have found it to be valuable. In our latest research, 82% of respondents said working with a mentor made a very positive difference to them and their business.
There are different definitions of mentoring, but generally, a mentor does not tell, instruct or judge, but rather provides a supportive voice, holding up a mirror to your own talents and supporting you to come to decisions. Mentoring is different to coaching. Coaching focuses on improving performance and achieving organisational goals.
You may have more than one mentor, or different mentors at different stages of your business; your mentor may be a man or a woman. A woman mentor may be more likely to understand some of the issues you face as a woman in business.
Mentoring can be short term or longer term in duration. Some business owners seek out a mentor when they have a very particular problem, for others it’s about having access to someone who has generally been there and done it before. Someone who can share their experience and through that insight help you to come to the best decision for your business. Having access to a different perspective can help to identify a range of considerations that you may not have identified by yourself. This information can help to strengthen your decisions and – especially when a particularly difficult decision requires to be made – can give confidence that you have identified the best path forward.
Remember that mentoring is a two-way relationship and the fit has to feel right on both sides. It can be useful to draw up a contract, where both the mentor and mentee write down their objectives and how or when the mentoring sessions will take place. Don’t feel you have to accept a suggested mentor even if it comes through a free or formal mentoring network. You can meet with a mentor and explore whether you feel the fit is there, before you embark on the mentoring meetings; if you’re not sure for any reason, you can always politely explain that you feel you both might not get the most out of the sessions, and ask for another match instead.
Whether you opt to draw up a contract or not, it’s important to have a shared understanding of how the mentoring will operate. That shared understanding should also include how long the period of mentoring will last: without this it might end up becoming a long-term drain on both of your time! It’s worth mutually drawing up a mentor / mentee contract which outlines a framework for how you will work together and include things like where and how often you will meet, how long the sessions will last and when mentoring ends.
There can be value in setting up your own mentoring group. Known as ‘peer-to-peer’ mentoring, this can be a great way of sharing tips, supporting and lending a ‘fresh eye’ perspective from others at similar stages of business start-up as yourself. Even in this more informal mentoring approach, agreeing a shared expectation of your mentoring group will help everyone get something out of the experience. A peer-to-peer mentoring group could spring up from just two or three of you getting together over coffee every now and again, or you can agree a more regular or formal arrangement.
In Scotland women may be able to access mentoring through the Government-funded Future Female Business Leaders programme, which is delivered through a partnership between Scottish Chambers of Commerce and Association of Scottish Businesswomen. You can also find out more about mentoring and find a mentor through the UK Mentors Me programme.