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Why a business mentor is important for your SME

Group of people in an mentorship session. Ignied woman magazine Business mentorship

The question of the importance of a mentor as a SME often comes to the fore. A mentor is helpful in assisting small business owners navigate the terrain.

Yet some people have questioned mentorship especially when you have someone with a different business guiding you.

A business mentor is an experienced professional who offers advice and direction to a person who is starting out on, or at a much more primary stage of, their career journey.

Why do mentors do it?

The general understanding of the phrase mentor is that it is a free of charge, altruistic service offered by a successful person in their field to a promising, more junior employee. So the question may be reasonably asked, “what’s in it for the mentor?”, and the answer is that it is human nature to want to help those in whom we see promise and, perhaps, an earlier version of ourselves.

Charging for mentorship is entering into the consultancy field. Yes the lines are beginning to blur a little with various websites setting up offering to match mentors with mentees for a fee in an arrangement whereby the mentor usually receives some financial compensation as well.

Finding a mentor

A lot of business writers say that you should define the type of mentor you want and then try to find someone who ticks those boxes but I have often found that the people who come into our lives as mentors are often the result of a chance piece of networking, a local business person who we meet at neighbourhood event or a more senior employee with whom we work, albeit briefly, on a project with. The common denominator is that we respect, admire and share a certain chemistry with them. Enough that makes going to them for advice or picking their brains about certain business topics seem like a natural progression rather than a forced request.

Finding a mentor on the net

Just as the internet has changed every other aspect of doing business so too has it increased the range of people who we can reach out to as potential career mentors. Of course if the person in question is geographically far away it will be difficult to create the same type of close relationship inherent in the best mentor mentee relationships but it does provide us with the opportunity for contact with people who previously would have remained outside our remit.

Having a great Linkedin page and a strong digital presence are fundamental to creating the right impression with a possible mentor. As is observing good social etiquette as described in this article by best-selling author Melanie Dodaro.

The net has also been the catalyst for other positive initiatives in the mentorship world such as the mentorship movement in South Africa. This non-profit company aims to connect South Africans in need of mentorship with people who have the necessary experience to provide it free of charge.

What should you ask your mentor?

Honesty above all else

As someone who you respect and whose opinion you value you should be ready to accept hearing uncomfortable truths about yourself from your mentor. Give them your encouragement to be honest and direct with you. If you have chosen a good mentor it is very likely that this feedback will be accurate and that you will need to hear it.

At the same time don’t fall into the trap about making the conversation about yourself all the time. This should only be a small aspect of your interaction with your mentor however it is important that you encourage the intimacy which permits your mentor to speak frankly about you and the impression you give.

One last thing

Another question you might want to ask your mentor is ‘what can I do for you?’ to repay him/her for the help they give you. A great mentor is worth his/her weight in gold so even if you don’t possess currency, and that would probably be inappropriate anyway, always make sure to show your gratitude to someone willing to take on that role.

The original article was published on the Career Junction blog and written by Mark Dempsey.



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Editor's note

American novelist Louisa May Alcott said it best when she said “Far away there in the sunshine are my highest aspirations. I may not reach them, but I can look up and see their beauty, believe in them, and try to follow where they lead.”

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