I WAS in Belfast recently, to speak at the International Business Women’s Conference. There were many conversations around exactly what distinguishes successful entrepreneurs, and unsuccessful ones.
It’s no mystery as it comes down to a number of factors: role models play a significant part, as do structures and institutions that support entrepreneurship; training, relevant and accessible support, as well as confidence are all important. The last pillar, which I’d like to discuss here, is mentoring.
Mentoring is vitally important. Following in the footsteps of London, IIBN Dublin (of which I’m a board member) recently launched its new Future Leaders programme; it pairs up seasoned, successful entrepreneurs with dynamic people between 25 and 35, in order to put them on the fast track to becoming the business leaders of tomorrow.
The stories shared by the two speakers on the night were eye-opening: Jamie Heaslip, captain of the Leinster rugby team, talked about how crucial mentoring had been to his success, from the influence of his parents, to mentors who were stars on the field or in other domains.
On the night, he spoke personally of how mentoring had been so impactful every time he had had to venture into unchartered territory, whether it was managing his performance as an athlete or being in the public eye.
Damien Kennedy of WheyHey Ice-cream had a similarly inspiring story, albeit in a very different arena. He shared stories of unlikely doors which opened, humbling mishaps and the emotional journey of following a path against the odds.
However Damien pointed out that every time the company was faced with a specific issue, he would simply ring a senior IIBN member or another mentor and ask for their advice and feedback – which averted disasters the company didn’t need to suffer.
Mentoring is so effective and it’s available in so many forms. Recently I was on a call with a budding entrepreneur in my network. She had asked for my advice with a quick tweet and I spent a half an hour brainstorming solutions, going through different scenarios and generally giving her encouragement and direction.
Reflecting on my own experience, I realise the number of times I’ve reached out to more experienced entrepreneurs and received similar advice. And at a time when I had a lot less experience, this advice was invaluable. A huge amount of such informal mentoring is there for the taking, through the sheer good will of those who offer it.
A note on asking for mentoring: remember that mentors’ time is finite and scarce, so make sure you have a relationship with them before you ask for advice, and make sure to ask for specific feedback on a specific issue. In fact, in The Savvy Guide to Making More Money I’ve included a script on how to ask for advice from a busy potential mentor.
But there also are some more formal mentoring venues, and I would wholeheartedly encourage you to explore them. I took part in the New Frontiers enterprise platform programme; it offered many valuable things such as training, a grant, an executive coach, and I had a mentor who had had such real life experience that adjusted my own thinking, and indeed, the course of the business for the better.
He taught me to look out for red flags that stand out dramatically if you take notice of them. Through a fresh-eyed approach clients, projects, outcomes were all analysed, asking the question “would we embark on this again today or would we change direction?”
To him, everything was a percentage; everything had to be looked at through the lens of a KPI. It allowed me to identify what can cloud judgment. It showed me how to counterbalance emotions with objective indicators that will help either back up a hunch or discard an illusion. Non-quantifiable benefits should of course be taken into account, but they need to be adequately justified.
Mentoring is hugely useful, and widely available, because there are so many people willing to pull you up the ladder just as they’ve been pulled up before you. Check out formal mentoring opportunities, through a networking group like IIBN or other institutions. And don’t be afraid to ask.
You will easily find out if people don’t have the time, interest or the energy. But if you don’t ask, the answer is always no.
Susan Hayes Culleton is The Positive Economist and MD of international financial training company Hayes Culleton. Her latest book is The Savvy Guide to Making More Money.