June 17, 2013

Mentoring – effective, affordable help with your business

The right mentor could help you resolve issues, avoid pitfalls and feel more confident in moving forward. In New South Wales and Victoria, the not-for-profit Small Business Mentoring Service brings businesses and mentors together. Chief Executive Officer David Gregory explains the benefits

When you’re running a business, it’s good to talk to someone who understands the pressure. A mentor takes the process a step further by providing active help and support.

“Someone who has been where you are now, fallen in holes and pulled themselves out again can help you to avoid the same mistakes,” says David Gregory, Chief Executive Officer of the Small Business Mentoring Service (SBMS). “They can help you deal with issues and alert you to things you don’t know you need to be aware of. Our mentors also provide an ear to listen and a shoulder to lean on.”

At a core level, business owners often know what they need to do but, without appropriate support, lack the courage to take the next step. “A mentor can help you to clarify the issues and provide feedback on your thoughts so that you become more confident in your decision-making,” adds Gregory.

If you’re based in Victoria or New South Wales, the SBMS can help you find a mentor with the skills your business needs. And, as this is an independent not-for-profit organisation, a mentoring session will cost no more than $100.

A wealth of talent and experience

SBMS mentors are all volunteers, retired or semi-retired business people who enjoy sharing their experience and expertise.  In Victoria, where the SBMS has been established for 26 years, close to 120 mentors operate across the state. In New South Wales, where the service is relatively new, there are 20 mentors working primarily with the Small Biz Bus mobile mentoring and information service – an initiative of the state government that’s sponsored by NAB.

“Our mentors include the founders of well-known businesses, such as 40 Winks and Auto Barn, as well as bankers, financiers and leaders from a broad range of industries,” says Gregory. “They’ve all walked the walk. And the beauty of having people from such varied backgrounds is that you’re almost certain to find someone with the expertise you need. Then, as your business develops or you start to focus on other areas, you have the option of switching to another mentor with different skills.”

SBMS mentors work with businesses ranging from micros and start-ups to substantially larger organisations.

“Unlike consultants who, in general, are paid to do a job for you, mentors are there to ask questions and suggest paths that can lead to change,” says Gregory. “They’re very respectful of the fact that business operators need to make these changes for themselves.’

There’s no pressure to attend a particular number of sessions though, for most businesses, the SBMS recommends at least four. “That gives your mentor time to get to know your business and how you operate, and to assess a realistic way forward,” says Gregory.

“But we also work with hundreds of businesses every year where just one session is enough – for example, where they have a specific issue or would like an experienced business person to evaluate a start-up idea.  And, at the other end of the scale, we have people who start out with four sessions then decide that they’ll continue indefinitely on a quarterly basis or with ad hoc sessions when new challenges arise.”

Making the most of your mentor

  • Identify key issues you need to resolve.
  • Be committed to the mentoring process – change won’t happen overnight.
  • Do your research – find a mentor with the right experience who understands your objectives.
  • Don’t expect your mentor to do the work for you.

The SBMS website makes it easy to find the skills you need and to book with the mentor of your choice – visit sbms.org.au

Find out more about the NSW Small Business Bus

More from NAB: