How to choose a business mentor and the advantages of paying them

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Utilizing the services of a suitable mentor can be an important ingredient in your business success and avoiding failure. So, how do you choose a Business Mentor and should you pay them for their advice?

This article explains how to choose the best Business Mentor using 5 key criteria. We also cover the advantages of paying for their service. 

Clickable summary

1. What is a Mentor?
2. What is the difference between a Business Mentor and a Business Coach?
3. Why do business owners use a Mentor?
4. Should you pay your mentor?
5. Do you have trusted advisors nearby?
6. How can a trusted Business Mentor help?
7. Does my business mentor need industry-specific experience?
8. What makes a good Business Mentor?
9. The advantages of paying a professional mentor

Being a business owner can feel lonely at times. Problems swirl around in your head and it’s easy to feel like you have the weight of the world on your shoulders. Making steady progress toward your business purpose will help your feel more in control and achieve a better work-life balance.

The good news is that there is a group of people who completely understand what you’re going through. Business Mentors.

Someone you trust, acting in the role of Mentor, can be of great benefit to you as a business owner. Just having someone in your corner, boosting your knowledge and confidence, can maker a huge difference to your entrepreneur mindset

What is a Mentor?

A Mentor is someone who uses their knowledge, experience, expertise and wisdom to advise and guide a Mentee. The relationship is always confidential and personalized in nature.

What is the difference between a Business Mentor and a Business Coach?

A business coach concentrates on improving the running of a business often by using structured or standardised methods. Business coaching is instructional in nature. Some coaches create and monitor business plans and establish targets as a way to seek improvement. Some business coaches are general whilst others are industry specific and can, at times, coach competing businesses.

A business mentor, through a less structured but potentially deeper relationship, assists the business owner to develop confidence in making decisions.They will act as a sounding board for ideas and provide guidance about how to tackle problems. It is not uncommon for mentor-mentee relationships to last for many years.

Business Mentors have usually been successful business owners or have managed businesses at the most senior level. Mentors have broad experience gained through overcoming many business challenges throughout their careers.

Why do business owners use a Mentor?

Often, you will be solely responsible for making the key decisions in your business. Making crucial decisions that affect your business or your family’s financial security can be challenging and stressful. This pressure can test the most resilient of us. It is vital to avoid procrastination and becoming stuck. Business owners frequently face challenges that are outside their business experience. Some decisions will be to do with some of your critical business functions that you lack expertise in. 

Even if you are a “grey entrepreneur” with considerable corporate experience, running a business can be challenging.

You might also be making the transition to a business owner from being an employee which can be tricky.

In these situations who can they ask for guidance?  

Two heads are better than one!

It is not a perfect world and many times you may be confused about the best medium and long term options for your business. An experienced business mentor may have faced similar situations and can provide valuable insight and a new perspective to help you navigate your challenges.

In this podcast interview you can hear about a real life example of how Phillip Kuoch used a mentor to choose a new direction for his bakery business during lockdowns. Goldelucks Doughnuts then grew from a family business into an online success.

Of course, many entrepreneurs and business owners choose to go it alone. They rely merely on their own foresight or gut-feel to make decisions.

Sadly, given the huge number of business failures, it is safe to assume that many of their decisions didn’t turn out too well!

Cartoon man at black board as business mentor

Should you pay your mentor?

You may be fortunate enough to have access to a mentor who will guide you without charging a fee. Maybe you know a successful business person who wouldn’t mind being taken out for lunch once in a while. Perhaps you have a family member with an enviable track record in business. Providing they are the best choice for your needs then go for it.

Having said that, I’d suggest you check them against the 5-point criteria below to make sure.

Remember, the primary consideration is that any mentor you choose is able to assist you and your business to develop. It is not whether they charge a fee.

Free does not mean valuable.

Confidentiality is a key consideration if you choose family, friends or acquaintances who offer free mentoring.

Many business owners, especially new ones, do not have access to a suitable person in their network. If that sounds like you, you’ll need to consider engaging a professional Mentor rather than simply confiding in friends or family whom may not have the experience you need.

Do you have trusted advisors nearby?

What about if you have people within your business whom you can turn to for help?

Well, although there are situations where this can work, you need to be careful. There are good reasons why sharing your innermost thoughts with your staff can be problematic. 

  • Your decisions may affect them, and therefore may bias their opinions and any guidance they give you.
  • Any decisions of a personal financial nature are solely your affair and are not for sharing with staff.
  • Your team may not have the depth of business experience to give you a good insight.
  • You need to maintain sufficient separation between you and your team so that you make objective decisions about them.

Some owners turn to their Accountants for advice. And, there are certainly situations where this is completely appropriate. However, few Accountants, unless they are the principal of their own Accounting firm, have run a business. As a result, they may not have the level of insight you need given many of the challenges relating to business ownership are not technical accounting problems.

In this episode Your Business Support team: the people helping your new business succeed we explain who you should consider for your support team.

How can a trusted Business Mentor help?

The ability to discuss your business ideas and challenges with an experienced, trusted mentor can be an enormous benefit.   

A good mentor should constructively challenge and guide your thinking to help you decide the best course of action. 

They provide wisdom and experience gained across years of business ownership or executive leadership, often gained in different industries to your own.

Receiving cross-industry ideas and best practices can be like gold for your business growth. It may also provide you with a competitive advantage and improve your business model

Does my business mentor need industry-specific experience?

You may be wondering if your ideal business mentor needs to have specific industry experience? The answer depends upon where you are in your journey.

A general business mentor should have experience across a large number of sectors. Bringing that diverse experience and knowledge into your business can make a substantial difference.

A specialist or industry-specific mentor, on the other hand, can be just as valuable. They may have a deeper understanding of what it takes to be successful in your niche. The choice is ultimately yours to make.  

However, be aware that, unless you are their only client, an industry specialist may also be advising your competitors.

The key benefit of using someone outside your industry is that they will not encourage you to think like everybody else in your industry!

What makes a good Business Mentor?

1 Trust and personality

A mentor must be someone who you will get to know, like and trust. You must be at ease with sharing confidential information with them.

If you do not feel comfortable with them, then the mentor-mentee relationship will not work well.

2 Small Business Owner experience

The small business world is not the corporate world so pick a business mentor who has run a small business or business unit. There is no substitute for the experience of someone has been responsible for a business.

If a business mentor uses too much corporate jargon or an over-reliance on business processes, be careful. It may be a sign that they do not truly understand the issues particular to small business ownership.

3 Creative Thinker

Your business mentor is not only a sounding board but a catalyst towards boosting your creativity. 

Their thinking should not be constrained, and they should bring a fresh perspective.

They should challenge your comfort zones and assist you to explore new possibilities.

4 No ego

A simple test for your mentor is whether they listen more than they talk.

A mentor needs to be empathetic to your situation and take the time to appreciate the nuances fully. Every business is unique and deserves individual attention. If they offer a highly opinionated or dogmatic approach, this will probably become a source of friction.

If they talk about themselves too much, find someone else.

The right business mentor is more interested in you that themselves. After all they should have nothing to prove.

5 Respectful but honest

A business mentor should always be respectful and non-judgmental in their interactions with you. To be of value, however, they must also tell you what you need to hear.

The advantages of paying a professional mentor

  1. You can choose a mentor with the experience that best suits your needs.
  2. A paid mentor has a professional relationship with you that is not complicated by any feeling of obligation. It also helps to get independent input as your family and friends may be impacted by your decisions.
  3. The paid mentor will allocate their time and attention as agreed with you because you are a client not a friend.
  4. Professional mentors maintain client confidentiality and exclusivity in your industry. This should be clearly defined in their agreement with you.
  5. You may be able to treat their fees as a business expense (confirm with your Accountant or tax advisor).

If you choose your business mentor wisely, you will likely enjoy a long-term productive relationship.

Our Entrepreneur Personality Quiz guides you on preparing to be a successful business owner.

Written by Brendan Barrow
Brendan Barrow is the Co-Host of the Should I Own A Business Podcast. Brendan has a wealth of business experience across many different businesses and 3 continents.

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