I just finished reading “Burn the business plan”, Everything we believe that works for startups, does not work. Business planning, enterprise support, ecosystems, mentoring, etc.
He is particularly critical about mentoring. Decided to look up what mentoring means. According to Wikipedia; Mentorship refers to a personal developmental relationship in which a more experienced or more knowledgeable person helps a less experienced or less knowledgeable person. Apparently, it stemmed from ancient Greek and was inspired by the character of Mentor in Homer’s Odyssey.
I have some issues with mentoring as well. It might have to do with my own experiences with mentors, mentor schemes and business using mentors. Most mentors I know of are unemployed consultants or retired managers of big organisations. Most wouldn’t know much about entrepreneurship or small business and as a result, cannot add much value.
It was one of the reasons we created www.smallbusinesscan.com, (now www.business-achievers.com) so businesses can interact with other companies and get help from people who have been there and bought the T-shirt.
It is what KPMG is now doing with the CEO and SME roundtables. Good old eyeball to eyeball conversations amongst owner-managers, CEOs and entrepreneurs, sharing lessons, insight and learning. No social media allowed.
There appears to be a massive mismatch between the business that really need resolved and the capabilities of an assigned mentor. Huge amount of time is wasted. What can an ex-banker tell you about social media? How can a retired CFO help you with your sales?
The truth is also that many entrepreneurs got lucky and would not be able to repeat their success. Luck is not transferable. Always look for the serial entrepreneur who got lucky a few times.
Would you prefer a sales mentor that talks about it or somebody that actually sells for you? Do you want somebody to talk about finance or do you want somebody that can pitch to banks and investors with you? Do you prefer a mentor or a team member?
That brings me to my biggest issue with mentoring is the non-committal nature. It is too soft, too fluffy and with no accountability for the results. My preference is for an advisory board to which a CEO, founder or entrepreneurs reports on a regular basis. A board filled people that create the creative tension and grit (blood on the boardroom wall) necessary to move a business forward. Swimming with the sharks. Cold, hard, cynical, yet constructive.
Create a mentor job spec
If you decide to go for a mentor make sure you know who and what you are looking for. Have a problem definition and be clear on the expectations. Write a job spec. Be prepared to say “no” to the mentors that are on offer. Be also prepared to fire the mentor once they have outlasted their usefulness.
Get a shark
What I am saying is that mentors could be useful if they are the right ones, can add real value. The wrong mentor will waste your time. Get a shark, not a bunny. Even better, get a shark tank full of piranhas or what the author of “Burn the business plan” calls a cold circle. Look for tough love.