10 myths about mentoring
How do you become a business mentor or get advice from one?
Ruth Lowbridge, Executive Chair of the Small Firms Enterprise Development Initiative (SFEDI) dispels some of the most common myths about mentoring, while Fatima Najm introduces a scheme that uses mentors from the creative industry.
Myth 1: Mentoring is only for people and businesses in trouble
Using a mentor is not a weakness, but a form of professional development.
Ruth explains, "If you were employed in a corporate environment the company would give you continuous development, but business owners don't have anyone to give them feedback, which is where a mentor comes in."
Mentoring is essential for every stage of business development from thinking about an idea, starting-up, through to expansion.
"Business owners don't have anyone to give them feedback, which is where a mentor comes in." Ruth
Fatima Najm is one of the co-founders of the collective Creatives Against Poverty, a mentoring scheme where creative professionals pool their skills for social impact.
This can be anything from mentoring young people in schools to working on the ground with charities. She believes: "A good mentor will show someone how to take the right steps to where they want to be."
Myth 2: You need to be old to be a mentor
Age is irrelevant, but in business mentoring you need substantial experience which you need to prove, to join Get Mentoring (archive), a project that aimed to train people to become business mentors.
Jodie Marshall set up A Mind Apart Theatre Company, a social enterprise, after she graduated from Lincoln University with a degree in Drama and has since trained to become a mentor.
Joide says, "Experience and the ability to listen matters most. I set up the company when I was 21 and I’m now 25, but my business experience may be more relevant than someone who has been in business for years."
Myth 3: Creative people don’t have anything to offer mentoring
Mentoring is about sharing your skills, knowledge and experience with others. If you have a skill you can share, there is always someone who will benefit from it.
Fatima believes, "Creative people are good at creating environments where mentees can thrive, showing new paths and opportunities they may not have realised were open to them."
Myth 4: Finding a mentor is difficult
The sister website of Get Mentoring, Mentors Me is a good starting point to find a mentor for your business, whether you are an SME or sole trader. The site lists mentoring organisations by region.
Ruth says, "If your mentor is in the same industry as you, they are more likely to give advice. But mentoring is not about answering your problems, it helps you solve them yourself which is why someone in a different sector who can share business experience is more useful."
"Creative people are good at creating environments where mentees can thrive." Fatima
Jodie on the other hand, specifically wanted to become a mentor in the arts because she felt there was a lack of them. "The arts is a niche sector and for too long it’s been about obtaining grants. I want to show that it can stand up on it’s own, and generate income.
"Secondly I think female mentors are very important to females in business because they can share experiences that men can’t, such as maternity leave and managing business when you have children."
Myth 5: Mentoring takes up too much time
There are different types of mentoring. Face-to-face, one-to-one mentoring is the most common type, so it helps if you are geographically based in the same area. If not, you can telephone, do e-mentoring, or combine them.
The needs should be dictated by the mentee, which is why the first meeting is so important. Jodie advises, "Draw up an agreement, whether you want to meet monthly, or whether you only need that specific mentor for a short time."
Myth 6: Only mentees benefit from mentoring
Mentors have a lot to gain from the mentoring process. Ruth says, "As a mentor, the experience should enhance your own career development. One of the advantages of mentoring younger businesses is that you get challenged with new ideas – especially their approaches to communications."
"At 21, none of my other peers faced the same issues so mentors were my only guidance." Jodie
Jodie adds, "When I started sharing my knowledge that’s when I realised that actually, I do know what I am talking about, which made me feel more confident about my business."
Fatima says, "Mentors need to bury their own egos and give unconditionally for the time they are mentoring, they need to listen and react to needs."
Myth 7: Mentees should be worried about sharing too much information
It is common to feel unsure about how much you can share with a mentor, but remember it is a professional arrangement.
Ruth assures, "Mentoring is built on trust. If you go through an organisation they will have a code of conduct that covers confidentiality. If you go to an informal acquaintance, draw up your own privacy agreement."
Myth 8: Mentors tell you what to do
In business, mentoring is a tool that should be used along with other enterprise support.
"The advantages of mentoring younger businesses is that you get challenged with new ideas," Ruth
A mentor’s role is to give an outside perspective, listen and share their own experiences, give honest and constructive feedback and unbiased support and encouragement, but they will should never tell you what to do.
Jodie received mentoring while she was setting up her theatre company. "My mentors helped me process my thoughts and ideas. At 21, none of my other peers faced the same issues so mentors were my only guidance."
Myth 9: Becoming a mentor is complicated
Get Mentoring trained mentors through an online learning programme. The training involved recognising your role as a mentor, reflecting on your skills and knowledge, understanding how to apply them, identifying strengths you wish to develop further and reflecting on your own experiences and the challenges you have faced.
Jodie explains, "I did the one-day session. After that, you are encouraged to top it up with your own learning.
"I’m currently doing a masters in Cooperative and Social Enterprise Management, so mentoring will help me should I want to offer consultancy services to arts organisations in the future."
Myth 10: Mentoring stops when you become successful
Mentoring relationships develop over time. Ruth says, "Mentoring can be just one session or take place over years. I have mentors for different aspects of my business, one who’s been with me for 18 years."
"One way of knowing if mentoring is working for you is how the sessions make you feel. You should be enthused, motivated and look forward to meeting up with your mentor.
"Then there are the more tangible outcomes, whether your business is keeping on track, or whether you’ve seen any financial rewards if that’s what you were aiming for."