Any entrepreneur will tell you how influential their mentor has been in launching their business successfully.
That’s why Virgin Media Business VOOM has recruited 12 Professionals to help support entrepreneurs and businesses that have entered the competition. But what can a mentor actually do for a business and why should every start-up make sure that they have one?
The advice that a mentor can offer might seem obvious, but it can be invaluable for a business that’s just getting off the ground. “As you go along in business, you will come across all kinds of pitfalls and ride many a wave,” Ramesh Sharma, founder of Tech City News, says. “This doesn’t mean that a mentor is a know-it-all, but they do have an insight and wisdom about some aspects of business that you may find useful.”
Mentors can also help you to spot the holes in your business plans. It’s all too easy when you’ve come up with an idea to think that it’s perfect and not be able to see its weaknesses. As Bonnie Reiss, global director at USC Schwarzenegger Institute, writes: “We tend to defend our beliefs aggressively, selectively choosing the data that reinforce what we think and explaining away, or outright ignoring, the data that do not. Smart people change their minds when presented with new facts; only the obstinate cling to opinions in the face of contrary evidence. The women you seek out as mentors may challenge you. They may force you to reexamine your worldview.”
Additionally, your mentor can help you to widen your professional network. Chances are, your mentor won’t have all the answers to your problems, but they may be able to introduce you to people who do. And you never know which connections could turn out to be useful in future.
However, advice, networking and guidance aside, mentoring has also been found to reduce stress and minimise the risk of burnout, according to research from earlier this year. The study looked at how mentoring can have an impact on employees who are likely to experience symptoms of severe stress as a result of work overload.
“More and more employers are recognising that employees feel they are being pushed to their limits and that steps need to be taken to promote their physical and social wellbeing,” Lebena Varghese, a doctoral candidate and lead researcher in the Norther Illinois study said. “Stress and burnout can be manifested in several different ways and there is no single answer for preventing stress at work.”
Even Richard Branson notes the importance of having a mentor. He says that he wouldn’t have got anywhere in the airline industry without his mentor Sir Freddie Laker. “It’s always good to have a helping hand at the start. No matter how incredibly smart you think you are, or how brilliant, disruptive or plain off-the-wall, your new concept might be, every start-up team needs at least one good mentor,” he adds.
“Someone, somewhere has already been through what you are convinced nobody else has ever confronted! Okay, so their version may have been analogue rather than digital, but trust me, many of the business fundamentals are exactly the same. Building a new business takes more than technological skills and creative genius – it needs people, and if you’re going to create a great culture as well as a great product, those people need tending to in a plethora of different ways.”