Mentors are people who guide you through a time of change, transition or gradual improvement.
I am fortunate to have had some great mentors during my career so far, particularly during career transitions. You may know that I moved from nursing into business development. My mentors through that time of change significantly impacted who I am today.
In this blog, I discuss what I have come to believe: Mentors can add a new dimension for startups, aiding vision, clarity and growth.
My First Mentor
I will specifically talk about Laura, my first boss after a career in nursing. Her mentoring moulded my career in business.
Laura helped me to recognise the transferable skills I had gained in nursing. The opportunities she gave me built my confidence in networking at senior levels and strengthened my understanding of what it takes to run a business. I developed an appreciation for the challenges and considerations of turning a business around, and driving growth.
I had a good grounding to go to my next role and a few years later, I started my own business.
Main Challenges for Startups
Startups have several challenges; the unknown world of customers, competitors, product-market fit, investors, partners, the list goes on.
In NE Scotland, startups survival rate is 61.2%, the highest in the UK. London has the lowest survival rate after three years at 50.1%. Startups have a lot to contend with, given that they have a 50%-60% survival rate! Therefore, a good mentor can guide startups and their founders in the following areas:
- Deciphering what they want to achieve and how to get there
- Developing commercial knowledge to build a sustainable, growing business
- Ensuring the seemingly boring but important stuff is in place e.g. T&C’s, accounting, contracts
- Building a strong and trusted network as a continuous source of support and guidance
This is not an exhaustive list, as startups have a variety of challenges depending on their experience, industry and goals. The above is a good place to start with mentoring. Getting these right makes a big difference.
Mentoring Accelerates Growth
One of the fastest ways to learn is to learn from other people’s mistakes. If you have ambitious growth plans for your business, you could benefit from a mentor who has successfully launched products in the market and developed a strong brand.
Such a mentor is invaluable in offering advice on cash flow, market entry strategies, product launches, customer acquisition and retention.
Qualities of a Startup Mentor
I’ve mentioned some of the benefits of a mentor. But you need to have a mentor with the relevant experience and a willingness to give guidance. A mentor should ideally be someone who has run their own business, been on the board of a successful business and/or has a background in advising and mentoring companies in the growth phase.
While the experience of a mentor is important, it is equally important that the person doesn’t focus on creating a mirror image of their own experiences when providing guidance. Learning from their mistakes and actively listening to their mentee are key qualities of a good mentor.
Getting a Good Mentor
Telling you about the value of a mentor is one thing. But how do you get a mentor? Many people are mentored by a former boss, former colleague or business associate.
If these are not options for you, fortunately, Aberdeen has a host of mentoring support opportunities. These include the Aberdeen Young Professionals Mentoring Scheme run by Ross Jolly, AXIS Network chaired by Jenny Junnier and Ideas in Partnerships, run by Carolyn Maniukiewicz. If you engage with Elevator UK, you could also get a mentor as part of its Accelerator Programme, which runs a few times every year.
The essence of a mentor is to motivate and inspire. Sometimes the best way is to find someone who inspires you and who has achieved things which you aspire to. Then learn as much as you can from them.
Other Support in Aberdeen & Scotland
I have already mentioned Elevator UK. Business Gateway is also a good first port of call whether you are a startup or an established business looking for support. The courses and resources provided by Business Gateway support the growth and management of new and existing companies.
If you are looking to export your products and/or services, Scottish Development International (SDI) provide advice, support and introductions to international markets.
Remember to keep building your support network. Be open-minded as you never know what you will learn.
If you do these things in addition to working with a good mentor, you will add great value to your journey as a startup and perhaps you will give back one day as a brilliant mentor yourself!