What to look for in a mentor

Start-up funding and mentoring business Pushstart recently launched, aiming to support the Australian tech and web small business community through various activities, including a mentoring program.

According to co-founder John Haining, the best mentors aren’t necessarily your business idol, as their advice may not be exactly what you need in this point of your career.

“For web and tech start ups, what we believe is the knowledge, skills and networks that mentors bring are really invaluable in context. So sometimes a mentor can be too far ahead of where you are, when the best mentor is two or three steps ahead of you. It’s a bit like the old line, ‘To the year two kid, the year three kid is a god’,” he explained.

Haining  also advised that if you’re looking for a mentor, look for one who has produced the kind of business results that you would like to emulate and who has the relevant experience and networks in your field.

“And remember, it’s a relationship, and relationships need to be nurtured and encouraged and developed. They don’t just happen because you show up,” he added.

Other mentorship programs available for small businesses include the Young Entrepreneurs Network. Small Business NSW also runs mentoring programs, as do several other government-run organsiations in different states.

VIVO Cafe owner and former Telstra Businesswomen’s Award winner Angela Vithoulkas noted that you may wish to look for a number of mentors to help you with different parts of your business.

“Mentors come in different shapes and sizes, and it’s not unusual to have more than one mentor. I think people who expect one mentor to address all their needs are putting a lot of pressure on one person, when mentors can be seasonal,” she said. “You might have one issue with your business this year and next year, it’s a different story.”

No one person has all the answers for your business and even mentors don’t always have the right answers for you, Vithoulkas pointed out.

“They’re someone you can put a question to, to ask an opinion, they’re someone you gather some information and knowledge and experience from, but at the end of the day, you're the one who’s going to make the decisions,” she said.

Vithoulkas mentors several business owners who have just launched their companies, including Karen Morris, who owns Inscriptions Media, a small PR agency. During Morris’ mentorship with Vithoulkas, she has learnt about profit and loss and staffing issues. She believes that it sometimes pays to think outside the box when it comes to looking for a good mentor.

“I don’t think you need to have somebody in your field to be a good mentor, and sometimes, it can be better that way,” she said. “At the end of the day, I want to run my business how I want to do it. To have a mentor who is in PR just takes me more down their path than my own. To have a mentor who can give you advice on practical things that are outside your industry can give you a new perspective on it.”

Mentoring services you may want to check out around Australia include:

WA: Small Business Development Corporation

TA: Business Mentor Services Tasmania

Qld: Small Business Solutions

NSW: Small Business NSW

Vic: Small Business Mentoring Service

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