The importance of mentoring for female entrepreneurs

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“You can’t be what you can’t see”, is a saying we’ve all heard. Yet when it comes to female founders, it’s proving a barrier to success. The Rose Review found one of the key challenges for women in business is the lack of relatable role models and mentors. According to the Pew Research Centre, 63% of women have never had a formal mentor. Yet the 2022 Mentoring Matters Report found two-thirds of previously mentored respondents agreed that mentoring was crucial in helping their business to survive. Meanwhile, 76% agreed that mentoring had played an important role in the growth of their business.

It’s no wonder this lack of guidance is a problem. From the pitch process through to the day-to-day realities of running your own start-up, it’s a huge challenge to navigate on your own.  Emma Jones, CBE, founder of Enterprise Nation, says, “As a founder of a growing company myself, I’ve benefited from having a mentor over the past decade. When there are so many questions to address each day – about product, people, finances and growth – it’s vital to have a sounding board; someone with experience who can hear you out as you navigate the entrepreneurial journey.”

If you’re in the process of starting your own business, or are already running your company but want guidance and support, here’s all you need to know about mentoring…

What are the main barriers to mentoring?

According to the Mentoring Matters research, 59% of women surveyed said cost was a reason for not seeking a mentor, while 52% said it was the lack of available time. (For men, the same figures were 42% and 43% respectively.)

Luckily there are ways to receive mentoring for free. The most common way of finding a mentor is through a friend or colleague, and in most cases you won’t have to pay. Alternatively, search on the government’s Growing Your Business website for free (and paid for) mentors.

The Help to Grow: Management Course offers business leaders one-to-one support from a business mentor, with the government covering 90% of the costs involved. 

How do mentoring sessions fit into your day?

Each mentoring relationship is different: you may have daily or weekly video calls, monthly face-to face meetings or a completely different set up. It’s usually up to you and your mentor to decide what works for you both.

How to find the right mentor?

Unsure where to start? Ask yourself the following questions:

What stage of my business am I at? Finding the right mentor is really important. Who that person is will depend on what stage you’re at in your business (maybe you need a mentor for the very early stage of your start-up for example) and your specific needs.

What exactly do I want help with? Whether that’s growing your turnover or specific expertise like writing a business plan, pinpoint exactly what you want your mentor to help you with.

What are my goals? Just as you would with any other part of your business, setting out objectives and expectations is key. It’s also useful to work out what each of your roles and responsibilities are.

Emma’s top tips for a successful mentoring relationship

  1. You can select your mentor through an online platform such as Enterprise Nation or the Association of Business Mentors for example via sector or region (or both) and set up a call to make sure the chemistry works.
  2. Set up video calls at regular intervals to get them cemented into the diary. As your relationship develops, this can be more flexible to fit with issues arising.
  3. Prep for the meeting by bringing along questions and key challenges. What do you want to achieve long-term?
  4. Leave your ego and prejudices behind and talk openly and honestly about your hopes and fears for your business and current strategy.
  5. Be open to feedback and act on their suggestions. Your mentor is there to help you succeed.

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