There is no dearth of Business Mentors in Toronto or Canada. There are large companies, subsidiaries of US companies and there are individual coaches working out of home offices. Entrepreneurs, Small Business Owners and Self Employed individuals seek their services on a regular basis.

For our species mentoring is an evolutionary biological process, it starts with parenting for all human children. We learn most of the life skills (also unlearn a lot of them as life progresses) and unlike other species our survival depends mostly on acquired knowledge rather than instinct.

In professional life (except for a few gifted people) there is a strong correlation between success and good mentoring. If we go back in history, we will see Plato was mentored by Socrates and Aristotle was mentored by Plato. Alexander the Great always felt indebted to his mentor Aristotle.

The modern day workplace recognizes the importance of mentorship and the practice is widespread. A doctor must complete a residency program and also specializes in a specific field of practice under the guidance of senior physicians and surgeons. A professional Engineer must complete a project under the supervision of a Senior PE before he or she gets the designation.

It is no different in the world of business; the large corporation have structured mentorship programs in the form of Internship, Orientation and Management Trainee Programs. Some family run businesses provide mentorship to successors and it comes usually from parents to children. However only a small percentage of small or medium sized business owners/operators go through structured or even informal mentorship programs. Despite the fact that on the supply side of the market many different services are available, the lack of standardization and benchmarking is a huge problem. As a result, the small percentage of small business owners who avail the opportunity of enrolling in a mentorship program find it difficult to measure the benefit due to the lack of benchmarked data. An entrepreneur usually learns things primarily through experience and observation instead of benevolent counsel. Having a mentor offers an easier, better and more focused path. Despite the fact that the market is strewn with problems and shortcomings as stated above, Mentoring remains as a much sought after method of development. It gives access to skills, knowledge, experience and insight that other initiatives are unable to do.

A mentorship program for entrepreneurs needs to be structured, however a boilerplate approach in delivering the program to different individuals of the assemblage is destined to end up in a fiasco. Since each individual has different needs, a structured program must be tailor made to suit the need of each individual.

The mentoring should be a win-win-win situation. It should help the “mentee” become more proficient at his or her business, it is also good for the mentor to “give back” by sharing wisdom and it helps the mentor by developing the well-rounded, knowledgeable professionals everyone strives to be. The mentoring needs of an entrepreneur or small business owner covers a broad spectrum. The most common areas where such a person expect advice or mentoring are:

  • Regulatory Framework and compliance with regulation
  • Financing
  • Cash flow management
  • Marketing
  • Increasing Revenue
  • Expense Control
  • Crisis Management
  • People Management
  • Relationship Management
  • Slowing down burnout rate
  • Succession Planning
  • Retirement Planning
  • Stress Management
  • Anxiety Issues
  • Leadership Qualities
  • Conflict Resolution

Obviously it is not possible for one mentor to address all the needs of an entrepreneur, a small business owner or a self employed individual. A multidisciplinary team of mentors is an ideal solution for such situations. Designing a program around a specific business expertise or a body of knowledge is comparatively straightforward. Then again, mentoring a person on emotional issues like stress management or taking a mentee through certain anxieties cannot be achieved through “off the shelf ” programs. Moreover in a partnership situation, compatibility between the partners is sometimes key to the success of business. The mentor in these situations should be able to resolve conflicts and sometimes the mentor is required to take the role of an arbitrator.

So in designing a mentoring program for SME’s the following are important considerations:

  • It’s a complement to training. The training we do is primarily about functional things – the “How To” stuff that teaches us about the “manufacturing” part of a job (making ads, writing decks, making presentations, understanding financials, etc.).
  • Mentoring is much more about coaching and counseling. It’s much more about the qualitative and subjective parts of the job – dealing with frustration, giving constructive criticism, handling disappointment, behaving with humility and compassion, etc.
  • The design should follow a flexible concept that should reflect the unique culture from which the mentee comes from and objectives he or she wants to be fulfilled
  • Being a good mentor is a hard thing to do. It takes a serious commitment that takes precious time away from other important things – getting a job done, social life, family, etc.
  • It also takes an emotional commitment that is very much like parenting in its drive to help teach a child to be successful (even when the child/”mentee” doesn’t feel that he needs this guidance).

Our goal is not to design off the shelf mentoring programs that will be sold/delivered to entrepreneurs and small business owners. We intend build a network of professionals and probably an informal organization that will be able to provide resources to mentees in all types of situation through referral to appropriate professional. Our efforts will be focused on:

  • Linking competency development to strategic business needs
  • Ensuring that skills are developed
  • Involving best professional in relevant areas
  • We will also keep in mind that
  • Goals of the programs are established prior to the start of a mentoring program
  • Outcomes are measurable
  • Mentees/Mentors match is considered and ensured
  • Training and support provided
  • Mentoring time limited (9-12 months.)
  • Mentee benefits directly