Behind every business success story you will find great people, something our region prides itself on having in abundance. A quick visit to any ‘about us’ web page and you’ll discover the business leaders, directors, managers, supervisors, shareholders, grass-roots operatives and customer service teams that drive the business forward, but it’s often the people not named here that are having the most impact.
The relationship between an entrepreneur and their mentor is perhaps the most important of all, something backed up by almost half of the Entrepreneurs’ Forum members citing a mentor or coach as their key source of business advice; after only their accountant and the Forum itself.
It is reassuring for business people, as it is for professionals in any field, to be able to draw on the experience of people who have been there and done it all before. While success in business, especially in the early phases, comes down to the drive of the founder and their team, mentoring can help entrepreneurs avoid pitfalls and see opportunities as they arise and the business grows.
There are many different kinds of mentoring arrangements, some formal and some informal, some free and some paid for. These can take the form of a cup of coffee and a chat from time to time, or a more structured, planned programme, and can come into place by chance or by the individual actively seeking a mentor.
The kind of advice provided by a mentor varies from person to person, and depends on circumstance. From strategic advice, and ideas about motivation and management, to financial control and international marketing, no business subject is off topic.
As with any relationship, that of the mentor and mentee only works when both parties are committed and play their part. The Entrepreneurs’ Forum Mentoring Charter expresses that a mentor should act as an altruistic, wise friend, offering advice and counsel and providing constructive feedback. It defines the role of the mentee as someone who asks questions, listens to the answers and recognises the value in not leaping to the defence of all their own views and actions; being open to the mentor’s suggestions, but also responsible for their own decisions and development.
As an organisation we were proud to name James Robson of Alexander Jewitt & Co. our Mentor of the Year, at the North East Entrepreneurial Awards. This award celebrates the importance of people who offer their time altruistically to support their peers, helping them to overcome the barriers to business growth. James joins Alastair Waite, who won the inaugural award in 2015, in our hall of fame.
As a business support organisation, we run regular mentoring drop-in sessions for our members, which allow them to spend an hour with an experienced mentor, confidentially discussing challenges faced in their businesses. Some of these sessions provide one-off support that allows an entrepreneur to triage an issue or take on an opportunity, and some result in long-lasting, mentoring relationships and friendships.
I’m really encouraged the North East LEP sees the value of mentoring as part of its effort to support businesses to scale in the North East and I am keen to support this as much as I can through my new role as Business Growth board member.
Mentoring is a two-way process and there are no guarantees but, whether it’s a long-term relationship or a specific answer to a specific question from an entrepreneur who’s been through the same experience, the impact of having a brain to pick, an ear to listen and a push in the right direction can be business changing.
Gillian Marshall, chief executive at the Entrepreneurs’ Forum