You asked, so I’ll answer – Do I need a mentor?
This is something that social entrepreneurs frequently ask. My response is – it depends if you want to invest in yourself and get support so you achieve what you want quicker or not! In my experience, having had several mentors over the years, mentors are great at helping you see where you need to focus and also when you are spending too much time focusing on unimportant things.
I’ve also found that I need different types of mentors at different times of my entrepreneurial journey, and it’s important to consider the skill-set your mentor has and if those are the skills that are going to help you progress.
Also, it’s important the relationship with your mentor feels comfortable and easy – rather than a relationship where you have to force the conversation. Many social entrepreneurs are offered mentors who have volunteered to do this (or been volunteered by their employer), and sometimes they don’t have the right skills to support you or don’t have sufficient time to commit to the mentoring process fully. Other times, these mentors are brilliant. It really depends whether you have been matched with your mentor properly, and in order to do this you have to be clear about what you want to get out of the mentoring. The other thing that comes up around mentoring is whether you should pay for mentoring or not – and again it depends. If you can find a great mentor who is willing to offer their time for free that’s ideal. If not – then pay someone who has the skills or experience you want access to.
Ultimately, the decision as to whether you need a mentor or not is something you need to consider and weigh up the pros and cons. Some of the reasons you might want a mentor are:
Guidance, information and knowledge
Mentors can provide information on what’s involved in running a social enterprise – particularly if you have recently started-up and have no idea about what’s involved – such as business planning, budgeting, managing your finances, funding, impact measurement, marketing, recruiting staff etc. A mentor can speed up your learning, so you don’t have to do it all by yourself.
Identifying areas for improvement
Often you don’t notice your own weaknesses, and having a mentor can identify these and support you to improve.
Personal and business growth
Many of the mentors I’ve had in the past have asked me tough questions – ones that make you grimace and think deeply – usually about something you hadn’t thought of previously, and help you to avoid tunnel vision or being too focused on one aspect of your social enterprise. These questions are the ones that will enable you and your social enterprise to grow. Mentors often act as teachers – showing you what you need to learn, and then enabling you to take those skills in to your social enterprise to achieve your plans.
Goals and action plans
Mentors will help you to set specific goals and action plans to ensure you achieve those goals, as well as holding you accountable.
A trusted advisor
A mentor is someone you can trust with your social enterprise ideas, information and intellectual property as they are independent of your organisation.
Your personal cheerleader
There’s nothing better than having someone who has your back and is supporting you – with encouragement and emotional support on those tough days. It helps to build your self confidence.
A sounding board
Are you like me and always have lots of ideas – my mentor supports me to look at the ideas I have and filter them, identifying which ones are a priority to focus on and viable. They’re also there to ask all those crazy questions you dare not ask anyone else!
Growing your network
Mentors can be great at connecting you with people who can help you – by introducing you to the right person.
A fast track to success
Mentors have experience you don’t and can share this with you so you don’t repeat the same mistakes. Research repeatedly shows that having a mentor increases the survival rate and success of your social enterprise. 30% of new businesses fail within the first two years, and 50% fail within the first five years. But 70% of businesses with mentors survived more than five years – double the rate of non-mentored businesses (UPS, 2014).