Business mentors – buyer beware!

Suzanne Kiraly 27 November 2016


“It’s lonely at the top,” they say. (I wouldn’t know myself – I’ve never been there.) For those who aspire to get to the top of their game, a business mentor could be the answer.

But, the question arises, would those at the top of their own business game be willing to give back in the form of business mentorship? It’s an alluring concept, business mentorship. Nevertheless, it’s one that seems an attractive proposition, yet with many hidden pitfalls for the unwary.

I attended a business networking function recently where a young man introduced himself as a business mentor. When I enquired about what businesses he had been in, he said “None, but I have just completed a course.” It was with great willpower and massive restraint I can tell you, that I did not smile, indeed guffaw, as I was wanting to do. But of course, I didn’t want to dampen his spirit. The university of business life would do that swiftly enough I imagined. And soon.

This lead me to reflect on another incident (years ago now), where I sought business advice from a government agency set up to help small businesses and found that not one of their staff members had ever been in business! Hopefully, times have changed since then and we have better services today.

I also came across a business mentor presenting at a business function. She was impressive and gave very cogent reasons why she could make a difference to anyone’s business. A strong marketer, her proposition sounded like a sound bet. One of the retailers there took her on and paid her mega bucks, with the expectation that she would get a good return on her investment and she expected (rightly so) that her business would flourish as a result.

Fast forward to twelve months down the track, her retail stores had subsequently gone through a year of absolute turmoil, with a staff turnover that would have your head spinning. Not only that but also six months into the twelve-month contract, the mentor insisted on investing into her client’s business and became a stakeholder with substantial holdings.

After eighteen months had gone by, I found that the partnership had become toxic, as the business owner found her business had gone backward in the twelve-month period that the mentor was contracted for, to improve it. And it subsequently also took her another six months – and mega dollars – to buy the mentor out and get her business back. It was the daydream turned nightmare.

Consequently, there is no doubt in my mind that there are a number of poor choices we can make when it comes to finding a suitable mentor because the marketplace is flooded with them. But on the other hand, when I interviewed business owners for the Canberra Business Success Stories book, I found that some of the most successful entrepreneurs did indeed have mentors – and good ones at that. Some even had had several mentors, depending on their requirements as they grew their businesses.

So how do you find a business mentor that will help you to make a difference to your business? The very best idea is through word-of-mouth referrals. But of course, they are sometimes hard to come by too, and even if you do get a referral, no two businesses are exactly alike.

The second imperative is that you need to find out about the mentor’s own past business experience. What businesses have they had before and how/why did they leave them? Ask them about their mentorship experiences as well and get some referrals from business owners whom they have already helped. Always remember – buyer beware, especially in cases of significant investment.

Don’t forget, though, that you will have to budget for a good mentor too. They won’t come cheaply either – the old adage that “you get what you pay for” is probably true here. Someone with vast experience in business (ideally in a field similar to your own), will be priced accordingly and so they should be.

Of course, another alternative is that you could form a mastermind group with other business owners you know, like and trust – at a cost of your time only. That can work too, but only if you can find the right people.

The bottom line is, that a business mentor can make or break you – there are good reasons for taking on a mentor and if personal coaches for fitness and other coaches (such as those for “life”) work wonders for people, then it makes sense that a business coach who has walked the talk, especially in your industry, will indeed make enough difference to provide you with a good return on your investment and form a lasting friendship of the best kind.

You may indeed reach the top and not be lonely after all! (And if you can recommend a good business mentor, then please do so.)

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