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Whilst a positive mental attitude is key to the success of a smaller business, so too is an open mind, according to the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB).

shutterstock_446643151The UK’s leading small business support organisation and networking opportunities provider, which is an official partner of National Mentoring Day, says smaller businesses need to be prepared to seek out knowledge and help from others, particularly when this comes from a business mentor.

Whilst business mentoring is often associated with more established firms that have experienced growth and then plateaued, mentoring should ideally start as early in the business’s journey as possible. The earlier mentoring is introduced, the better a business’s prospect of survival.

Seventy per cent of smaller businesses that receive mentoring support survive for five years or more – which is double the rate of those run by non-mentored entrepreneurs, according to FSB.  Twenty per cent of mentored businesses are also likely to experience growth.

Despite the compelling statistics, too many business owners allow their fiercely independent nature to get in the way of seeking out professional expertise and guidance. Others fear that a mentor will be too judgmental and are afraid to work with one. Many overlook the fact that their smaller business could achieve its full potential thanks to the wisdom imparted by an impartial mentor and the fresh insights that they bring to the business.

Approaching a mentor is often delayed until the point at which the owner of a smaller business knows they need to step outside their comfort zone, or find new means of launching the next stage of business growth, once the view from the plateau has become rather boring and the frustration of not achieving growth goals has set in.

In reality, having someone who is not attached to your business step back and analyse your strategies is invaluable from day one. A mentor can see things that you may have overlooked, simply because you are too close to the subject matter. They can also apply generic advice to your particular business and its unique circumstances and help you set KPIs, or re-evaluate business goals.

Having this input can be a godsend – and it’s one that top business brains appreciate.  Entrepreneur Richard Branson has commented that, “Whenever I am asked what is the missing link between a promising businessperson and a successful one, mentoring comes to mind.”

American entrepreneur, Steve Jobs, also famously mentored Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg.

But how do you find a mentor and, more importantly, find the right one?  One way is to approach your local Growth Hub and tap into its mentoring programme.  Alternatively, you could search for a mentor at www.mentorsme.co.uk – Britain’s first online gateway for SMEs seeking mentoring services.

When it comes to choosing the right mentor, you need to find someone that you feel will care about your business and show empathy. They should have more experience than you and perhaps expertise in a discipline for which you need particular support, such as finance or marketing. If they operate in the same business sector as yourself, it may help, as they will understand your macro-environment.

You should also consider whether your mentor will give you honest feedback and, at times, criticism. They need to not just be a sounding board, but also someone that will challenge you to explain your thinking and rationale for doing things in the way that you do.

Making sure you can get on with your mentor is key, as the mentor-mentee relationship can become very close and a clash of personalities could be detrimental, or waste both parties time, in the longer run. This means that you need to carefully select your mentor, rather than just accepting the first person who might be offered to you, or who you find. Being honest from the start as to whether you feel you can work together is absolutely vital.

Above all, however, you need to ensure that the mentor’s focus is on you and they have the skills to boost your smaller business by tailoring their expertise to your business’s needs, rather than just trying to make your business a carbon copy of their own. As movie director, Stephen Spielberg, has said: “The delicate balance of mentoring someone is not creating them in your own image, but giving them the opportunity to create themselves.”

Once you have your mentor on board, you need to reap the benefits, by being prepared to listen. A mentor will typically move you from being a business start-up founder, to being a manager and then a leader – three stages you need to progress through if you are to grow, but which each require different skills sets.

If you get the process right, you should perceive a tangible difference. A Department for Business Innovation and Skills survey found that nine of out ten businesses who worked with a mentor believed it to be beneficial for their enterprise. Twice as many mentored, rather than non-mentored, businesses saw their turnover grow.

With mentoring in place to help guide your business and chart its course, it can then be of enormous assistance to tap into the services and online legal and financial resources available to members of FSB – as many mentors will point out.

Membership starts at just £130 a year (plus a £30 registration fee in year one) and provides members with support, a comprehensive suite of relevant business services, networking opportunities and a voice in Government. Using the online forms and resources available can save you many hours that can be redirected into working on the business rather than in it.  More information is available at www.fsb.org.uk

Despite the huge amount of value to be derived from mentoring, only 25 per cent of businesses currently have a mentor, according to Sage.com. If your business is one of these, do something about it now, rather than allowing your business to stagnate to a point where it becomes difficult to revive.  Be open, be brave and take some criticism on the chin, with the right mentor in place, and you could go further than you imagine.

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