6 Steps for Mentoring StartUps and New Entrepreneurs – Article 7

Entrepreneurs are ambitious, driven individuals, more often than not, with a clear vision of where they want to go. Mentoring Executives and Mentoring Entrepreneurs is different. It requires even more ‘EMPATHY’ and patience for the Mentor.  Unless the Mentor is able to put him/herself in the Entrepreneurs’ shoes – they are not likely to help. To develop an effective mentoring relationship it is worth considering the following points:

  1. Don’t judge their ideas as you will loose their trust and confidence. If you are unsure about their business concept or entrepreneurial skills, it is best to encourage them to undertake market research or a test trading  activity that will help them to understand whether their business idea will work or not. The less judgemental we are the better. Sometimes, I introduce to them to a concept of Three layered boards.  One SMS or Subject Matter Specialists who are available for informal critique of the Concepts at work. A Second Informal Advisory board consisting of people they respect and have available for advice from different fields like Legal, Finance, Social, Technological, Environmentalists etc..  This works with a Team 100 Program I learnt and licensed from the great coach Late Thomas J Leonard. But shall talk about it sometime later. Once they have three levels of informal advice and communication going which is not judgemental, cogent, free advice from someone they respect – the mentor’s help becomes even easier.
  2. Celebrate their achievements each time you meet. Entrepreneurs don’t tend to get this recognition from anyone else as they are often working alone.  Starting a business can be an emotional roller coaster, so it is important to identify and celebrate their latest achievements to boost their motivation and confidence. My habit which I acquired years ago and continued all my professional life of GIFTING – i.e. choosing the right gift and giving it at the right moment to appreciate, convey value of the good work and relationship has always helped me here. Words and pats on the back are good no doubt but surprise gifts are great. 
  3. Help them to find solutions to their weaknesses. An entrepreneur needs to deliver across all areas of business  and they will quite often avoid or dismiss areas in which they are weak. As a mentor it’s important to use mentoring tools that discuss all areas of the business, to flag up some of these issues and address them. Much before they start making presentations, SWOT, PESTLE, BEP etc. I ask them to benchmark people in the same ‘Bootstrappers’ League’ and what they are doing.  Peer competitive feeling is always a great motivation rather than the IDOLISING of great businessmen of the past century.  Younger people love success stories of their contemporary people, same age group, different locale. 
  4. Become a critical friend by asking them key questions to explore their assumptions or plans in further detail. This isn’t about being critical it’s about questioning and understanding their rationale. Don’t be afraid to dig for  detail as ultimately it will help the client to identify the strengths and weaknesses of their assumptions. You could  role play this activity – for example by pretending to be a potential investor, for example.  In my own experience, many of them were found to be too sensitive to critical questions and they found it as criticism and started going into their shell.  I used a coaching lesson Upfront.  That is ‘A Coach Provokes,  By asking provocative questions, which lead to challenges being accepted and orients coachee to Action’.  The mentor has to make these swift, dynamic changes often banking upon their years of experience and experience of treating each individual as – INDIVIDUAL – a unique person ! That helps. 
  5. Don’t overload the mentee with action points. An entrepreneur is constantly aware of what can feel like a never ending task list, so you don’t want the mentee to leave the mentoring session with a sinking feeling and a  to-do-list they fear is unachievable. Action plans created from a mentoring session should help the client to feel  more at ease with what they have to do and what they need to prioritise to achieve the outcomes they want
  6. I also ‘Leave them alone’ for long periods and do not remind them to return for advice, suggestions unless they wish to.  I remain accessible in the virtual world and generally avoid too many physical meetings. Mail, Whatsapp, Skype, Facetime are great tools as also the mobile SMS.