Tips and insights on becoming a mentor to start-ups

15 November 2018 By Guest writer Julian Horrocks

Tips and insights on becoming a mentor to start-ups image

Julian Horrocks, former partner at Eversheds and founder of Yorkshire Business Mentor, is a speaker at the Next-Up conference in Leeds on 20 November. Here he shares his tips and insights on becoming a mentor to start-ups.

Mentoring startup and SME Businesses

What is involved?

  • Offering objective and impartial guidance support advice and input to your mentee
  • Letting your mentee benefit from your knowledge and experience
  • Acting as a sounding board
  • Offering a second – and often – different opinion
  • Help write the business plan and financial forecasts
  • Providing the thinking time for your mentee’s business
  • Performing tasks for your mentee which s/he hasn’t got the time to do
  • Identifying future opportunities
  • Spotting future dangers and risks
  • Offering your skillsets to the mentee’s business
  • Acting as an ambassador for your mentee’s business
  • Using your network to benefit the mentee’s business

There are two different ways of performing the mentor role:

  • Soft i.e. make suggestions but don’t give advice e.g. ‘Have you considered X, Y and Z’: ‘It might be worth exploring A, B and C’.
  • Hard i.e. advising, harrying e.g. ‘For God’s sake, don’t go down that route – it’s got disaster written all over it’: ‘we’re now one month behind schedule’.

Who are the mentees?

People start up their own business because they want –

  • to make lots of money
  • to make money for themselves, rather than their employers
  • a new challenge
  • to work for themselves rather than someone else
  • independence – escape/avoid corporate life
  • to do something different – create something
  • the idea appeals to them – and they now have the time to do so.

Nowadays, both men and women – in broadly equal proportions – are interested in starting their own business: the idea has gained currency with younger generations but it also appeals to members of all generations.

Those planning to start up a business are more receptive to the idea of having a mentor than owners of SMEs. Women are more inclined to seek out a mentor than men – male pride and vanity.

Why mentor?

  • Generate an income
  • Give something back
  • Make use of your skills and experience
  • Rewarding and satisfying

People starting up a business tend not to be flush with money and – even if they are – may not be inclined to spend large amounts on a mentor, when their money is needed to establish and get their business up and running. So, generating a ‘significant income’ from mentoring is unlikely. On the other hand, mentoring for free tends not to be valued and can become irritating, if abused.

Charging for mentoring instils discipline, and an element of formality, into the mentor – mentee relationship: these are both positives. Charging for your time at a modest hourly rate is understood, accepted – and meets hardly any resistance. Initially offering 2/3 hours of time free of charge is to be recommended since this gives the mentee a chance to establish if you are likely to add value as his/her mentor.

Mentor: Coach: Non-Executive Director

A mentor mentors the business via the entrepreneur: s/he is – and stays – outside the business and is truly independent which means s/he can speak his/her mind.

A coach tends to coach an individual within a business. There is no clear demarcation line between a mentor and a coach since both get to know the entrepreneur/individual and quickly identify his/her strengths and weaknesses: a coach will hone in on those strengths and weaknesses, a mentor will take them into account.

‘Mentor’ and ‘Coach’ are words used inter-changeably: in some sectors, individuals are encouraged to have a mentor, normally a member of an older generation who passes on his knowledge and experience of that sector to his/her mentee. There is much to be said for this.

In contrast to a mentor, an NED is inside the business and does not enjoy the same degree of independence.

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Written by Guest writer Julian Horrocks

Julian Horrocks is a former partner at Eversheds and founder of Yorkshire Business Mentor

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