5 tips to get the most out of your business mentor

Kevin Ronaldson is an entrepreneur and business mentor. He previously built two financial services businesses from scratch to a combined annual turnover of £100m, with funds under management of more than £3bn. Kevin currently acts as a business mentor and he recently established the business growth consultancy Clarus Fortior.

Today is National Mentoring Day, a great opportunity for mentors and mentees alike to ask: how can get more value out of this relationship?

The fact is that there are some great mentors out there – many of them have built successful businesses in their own right and are in a position where they want to share their knowledge with the next generation of budding business leaders. At least that’s the position I found myself in after co-founding my latest venture.

However, not every mentor – no matter how successful in their own right – is geared up to be a teacher. It’s very much a two-way relationship and to get the most value out of it I find it’s always useful for entrepreneurs to come into the process with a clear set of ideas of what they want to get out of it.

My top tips would be:

1. Know your goals

If you run a business, often the main reason you want a mentor is to help you build, grow or manage your company. But it can be helpful to break these goals down with your mentor into the short, medium and long-term goals of the business.

These should be agreed within a three or five-year plan. Your mentor may also want to set goals per week or month, so you have a clear idea of what success looks like on a rolling basis.

In my experience, business owners with clear goals will tend to achieve greater success. A goal-oriented environment means decisions can be made more efficiently, as you will have a clear and focused sense of your objectives throughout the process.

Without clear goals, decision-making can become confused and counterproductive.

2. Work with your mentor to map out the journey

You have your destination, now you need to map the journey. This is the track your business will run through to get there. There will inevitably be twists and turns, so the planning should be intuitive, allowing flexibility for unexpected changes or new opportunities to be factored in, understood and reacted to effectively.

I would recommend working with your mentor to create a regularly updated business plan, a marketing plan and a product development plan. Depending on the business, you may also wish to plan for market research, fundraising and recruitment.

3. Get advice on team building

You should never underestimate the importance of the people around you. As William Blake wrote, “we become what we behold” – i.e. we inevitably come to reflect the behaviour and attitudes of those around us.

In my experience, collective endeavour is far more valuable than individual brilliance. However, this is only true if you create a team dynamic and culture that good people want to buy in to. Shared responsibility leads to a shared sense of purpose, ensuring your team will drive together towards the end goal. Sharing responsibility also means sharing the wealth created within the business – so never be afraid to bind the team in with equity, share options and bonus schemes.

The business case for diversity is also well-established now: in simple terms, your team’s diversity of background, thought and expertise will give the business a competitive advantage.

4. Have a ‘risk register’.

I would recommend spending some time auditing all potential risks, with a corresponding plan to mitigate each risk. I call this a ‘risk register’, as it allows risk to be understood and your responses planned in advance. By pre-empting risk, you know what to do if the worst happens.

Ask you mentor to help you create one. It’s important.

What would you do if you turned up to the office and it had burnt down? Implement the disaster recovery plan, of course! Without a plan, nobody would know what do. Future acquirers and investors will also want to know about your risk mitigation plans.

5. Learn how to outsource

As you grow you may need to outsource – don’t feel that you have to build every capability within your business. There are a range of new digital tools and services that can make core business functions both cheaper and more efficient. It could be useful to brainstorm with your mentor which of these are nest for your business.

Outsourcing will keep central costs lower and allows you to access expertise without the need to pay for full time staff –this is particularly true for marketing, HR and IT. However, make sure you run due diligence on any new supplier!