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Becoming a mentor

Provided by Business Partners Ltd, South Africa's leading investor in SMEs


If you are a veteran in the SME sector, are running a very successful business or just feel you have something to offer a budding entrepreneur, you may consider becoming a mentor. Let's look at the characteristics of a good business mentor.

Mentorship is all about giving back and contributing to the growth of someone who may be where you were as a would-be business mogul. Most entrepreneurs who are starting out or struggling, can't afford to pay for these services. So if contributing to their success is rewards enough, mentorship is probably a good avenue for you to explore.

What makes a good business mentor?

  • A passion for helping others and seeing them grow
  • Skills and experience that will be of value to another
  • Strong interpersonal skills and the ability to communicate clearly
  • Patience and the willingness to follow the direction in which the entrepreneur wants to go
  • Good knowledge of the industry or problem areas the business is faced with

Together with all of the above, you should also be confident in your own knowledge and that you have what it takes to 'teach' or guide someone through various learning process.

What is expected of a business mentor?

As a mentor, there are various contributions you need to bring to the table:

  • Share knowledge and skills that empower the entrepreneur
  • Set clear targets, deliverables and deadlines
  • Offer challenging ideas and opportunities for growth
  • Help build self-confidence and encourage professional behaviour
  • The ability to confront negative behaviours and attitudes
  • Offer encouragement and create a positive outlook

The best mentors are those with so much enthusiasm for their work and for seeing others succeed that they inspire others just by doing what they do.

Is there a downside?

As with anything in life, there are always two sides to any experience. A positive attitude and open-mindedness on your side will always set a good tone for a working relationship. But pitfalls to watch out for include:

  • A lack of commitment from the entrepreneur
  • An expectation that you will do the work and he/she can just sit back
  • A mismatch of the skills you have and what is actually needed
  • A situation that is so dire, you may spend a lot of time just putting out fires
  • Conflict in the business that makes it hard for you to be constructive and productive
  • A lack of clarity from the mentor about exactly what is expected of you
  • A resistance to your ideas and unwillingness to try something new
  • Feelings of mistrust and suspicion from the entrepreneur

While this should not deter you from trying to contribute to someone's growth, if you feel uncomfortable with a mentoring relationship, you should end it amicably (if possible), potentially refer someone else and move on to someone who is a better match.

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