Mentors play a key role in growing businesses, supporting entrepreneurs and enabling SMEs to survive and flourish in tough trading conditions, according to Christo Botes, executive director of South African risk finance firm Business Partners.
Such is the positive impact of mentors, Botes said he has witnessed businesses on the verge of bankruptcy not only recover but be propelled to new levels of success as a result of guidance from a mentor.
Although there are various types of advisors available, business owners should opt for a mentorship approach when seeking advice and guidance. The difference, Botes said, is subtle, as a mentor can play any number of roles.
“A mentor is able to play the role of a strategic adviser, technical expert or business consultant, and sometimes all of them at once. However the key characteristics of a mentor has to do with their experience, attitude and approach. They practice the science and the art of business, not merely the science,” he said.
Business consultants tend to solve specific problems in the business and impart formal, defined pieces of knowledge or procedural know-how, while a mentor strives to impart wisdom based not on textbook learning but instead on their own experience.
Botes said another key differentiation is the motivation behind a mentor’s actions.
“The ordinary consultant will keep within his scope of work and may not consider long term growth and goals,” he said.
“For a mentor, however, success means being able to walk away from a business with the entrepreneur standing solidly on his own two feet. A mentor can also work with a defined plan and for a fee, but gains satisfaction from seeing the client succeed as a result of his work. Even if he is brought in to implement a technical process in a business, he does so with passion, and with a broader view to empower the entrepreneur and the business.”
The greatest insight gained from mentors is their ability to deal not only with the business’ problems, but also the person behind the business.
“An experienced mentor knows that most of the problems in an owner-managed business stem from the quirks and weaknesses of the owner,” Botes said.
When taking the decision to approach a mentor, he said a formal and clear business agreement works best.
“The agreement should include a scope of work, a timeline, measurable outcomes, and clearly defined tasks for the mentor, as well as the business owner. As good mentors are intensely invested in the success of the businesses that they assist, they do not easily tolerate their advice being ignored by a stubborn business owner,” Botes said.