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Could a mentor be the secret to your business survival?


Many people seek help or guidance from family and friends when they set up a business.

But there a number of more formal and knowledgeable sources of advice for firms at all stages of their development.

An advisor or mentor – particularly one who has their own experience of running a company – can help you make decisions or just act as a sounding board.

Research from the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has found that survival rates among firms which use a mentor are double those of other companies after five years.

So where can you turn for help?

Your bank:

When you set up a business bank account or apply for a loan, you will usually be assigned a relationship manager who can offer some guidance.

Although trust in banks among the general public is rather low at the moment, they can be a useful source of assistance.

Marco Soares, a business coach and mentor from Haywards Heath, West Sussex, says: “If you’ve got a really proactive relationship manager, he may understand what’s going on in your market or he may be able to put you in touch with other advisers or fellow business owners.”

Small business groups:

The FSB and the British Chambers of Commerce have local networking groups where you may be able to talk to fellow entrepreneurs or find a dedicated mentor.

Charities and other organisations:

Mentorsme.co.uk is a service which helps businesses get in touch with a variety of mentoring schemes and organisations all over the country.

PRIME, the Prince’s Initiative for Mature Enterprise, is a body set up to promote self-employment among the over-50s. It offers a range of courses and mentoring sessions.

 Government:

There are a number of state-backed organisations and schemes that offer business support. The Business Support Helpline can advise over the phone about the more basic aspects of setting up and running a firm, from the likes of payroll and tax to writing a business plan and seeking funding.

In England, call 0300 456 3565; the Business Wales Helpline is on 0300 060 3000, Business Gateway in Scotland is on 0845 609 6611 and Invest Northern Ireland is on 0800 181 4422.

What does an advisor have to offer?

Before you seek outside help, get an idea of what your goals are. Dan Hooper at the FSB says that a mentor can be a sounding board for you to bounce ideas off.

“Equally, they can help you identify funding channels or improve your access to markets,” he says.

It is important that both parties realise that mentoring is not a scientific process, Hooper adds.

“This is about having a support network rather than getting specific advice.”

The FSB encourages start-ups to seek advice, but Hooper says that guidance can also be important when a firm is making a difficult transition – for example changing strategy or introducing a new product or service.

“The primary function of mentoring is to see if you are going in the right direction, and to see what the impact might be of a decision you are about to make,” he adds.

Soares says that it is also important that there is a personality fit. “You are going to be discussing quite intimate matters. But getting outside help can be invaluable: it can give you a broader frame of reference to help you steer the business.

“The fact is that not enough owners have a network of people to rely on.”

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