Being your own boss is something that appeals to many. Typically, running your own business is an extremely rewarding experience; however, the role of a business owner can also be lonely, especially for smaller businesses with one sole owner / Director.
Finding a reliable mentor could make all the difference.
Not only is a good mentor someone you can bounce ideas with, but oftentimes their wealth of experience can help you avoid wasting time and money on ideas that won’t work.
Our Business Manager, Rachel Thomson, has been working alongside small businesses for many years. Rachel is a business manager within our SME Lending team, and as part of her role, she also provides mentoring for some of our Start Up Loans customers.
Here Rachel shares her thoughts on why mentoring is a useful tool to help your early-stage business to grow and be more resilient.
Why Support is Important
One of the things I’ve found when working with early-stage business owners is how resilient they are in the face of disruption.
But typically, early-stage businesses lack robust support networks. Family and friends can be great sources for support. However, business owners may not want to worry their inner circles with their business challenges, and there is also bias to consider. It’s no secret that friends and family only see good things about the business, and they might only tell you what you want to hear.
Sometimes business owners need more than the support of their friends and families.
As a lender, I spend a lot of time getting to know a business and its owner so can offer some support. There is also support around from the local Growth Hubs, but sometimes this isn’t enough, and more support would benefit the business owner and help them move their business to the next level.
This is where mentoring can help.
How Mentoring Can Help
Generally speaking, mentoring is where one person shares their skills, experience and knowledge with another person to help them progress.
For a business, a mentor is able to provide support with general business knowledge, or they may specialise in certain areas like marketing, sales, and financial information.
An experienced business mentor will act as a critical friend – they will ask those difficult questions that the business owner or someone close to them may not be able to help.
A good mentor will listen and act as a sounding board for ideas and frustrations – but they are not there to run the business.
Of course, if the mentor sees something happening that could be detrimental to the business, then they should say – I’ve certainly been in this position and felt it was right to try to suggest alternatives and point out potential pitfalls, but the role of mentoring is about guiding and encouraging the owner to think through their own journey.
Over the years, I have mentored a range of businesses from starts ups, experienced businesses looking to grow, to female-led businesses and social enterprises. Often, I’ve built great relationships with the owners, but it doesn’t always work and then either the owner or the mentor needs to say and to suggest alternatives.
Real Life Example
My most recent mentoring was with Sam Downing from Ponnek Running – Sam is one of our start-up customers and had set up a new ethical running brand for trail runners.
As part of the SWIG Finance start-up package, we offer mentoring support and Sam was keen to take this up. By coincidence, Sam and I both share a love of running and we had taken part in a number of the same events so this gave us a common bond and certainly helped with getting to know each other.
From a mentoring point of view, was able to support Sam with discussions around monitoring and managing the business to help it keep on track with its growth goals. It was great to watch the Ponnek brand launch and see sales come in. Plus, as a runner, I felt a burst of pride every time I saw someone wearing Ponnek clothing.
Sam said that having someone with valuable experience helped steer him in the right direction with regard to spending and keeping an eye on numbers and future plans. All of this helped Ponnek to form a really solid foundation to build from.
I think that mentoring benefits both the mentee and the mentor. For me, the range of businesses I’ve supported over the years has increased my knowledge and understanding of the challenges business owners face, but from a different perspective to that of a lender. For the mentee, having that critical friend can be, as Sam says invaluable.
Top Tips to Identify Your Mentor
1 – Go to industry events and connect with business leaders who inspire you.
2 – Look for someone who has a wealth of experience – don’t just stick to your industry, as mentors outside of your industry may help you to see things differently.
3 – Make sure you feel comfortable talking to your mentor, you should be able to share your highs and lows with them. If you’re not comfortable doing this then the mentorship won’t work.
4 – Scope out your mentor carefully and do your due diligence – are they what they say on the tin? You’ll need someone with reliable knowledge, and someone who has the time to engage with you.
5 – Make sure you understand your business goals and objectives before you source your mentor. Whom you’ll choose could greatly depend on what you are trying to achieve.
You may also be able to find free and paid-for mentors via MentorsMe, an online gateway for small and medium-sized businesses that require support.
About SWIG Finance
SWIG Finance is a non-profit company that supports viable South West businesses that can’t secure sufficient funding from their bank. By empowering underserved SMEs to overcome their financial barriers, we are working to create a more balanced financial ecosystem.
We’re growing every year. In 2021/22, we lent £10.8m to 502 businesses, helping to create and secure over 1,000 jobs and generate £32.3m. For more information visit https://www.swigfinance.co.uk/social-impact-report-2022/
If you’d like an informal chat about your funding requirements, get in touch with our friendly and professional team to see how we can help: email@example.com / 01872 227 930.