Many of you may be seeking out a business mentor for the first time or are participating in an incubator or accelerator programme where coaching and mentoring is on offer. You know that mentorship will be useful, but what could you be expecting or asking for? How you start the relationship will often define how much value you can gain moving forward. Strong foundations are key.
In order to advise you and your business appropriately, a mentor will have to ask you many questions to understand your business and your individual and specific needs. Without the asking of great questions, they will be making assumptions. If for some reason you find that they don’t ask you for the detail, you can be proactive and provide it.
I have a list of 12 core areas which I cover in my first mentoring session with a new business. Some areas and their related questions will have more emphasis than others depending on the stage of the business but I do look to understand all these areas. I have created a pro forma for this purpose which underpins my discovery session with a mentee.
For anyone new or experienced in being mentored, these headlines can be used as a checklist for some pre-thinking.
I recognise that some mentoring is being sought out for very specialist expertise, this is how I seek out mentoring for my own businesses. If this is the case there will be a specialist set of questions required to elicit more detail under one or some of these headers.
Whoever you select as a mentor, they will be required to have a good overview of your business in general. If your mentor is not asking questions to cover some of these areas, use these headers to prompt you to provide them with a strong understanding of your business strategy and operations.
- General introductions. Determine how mentoring will be delivered, remote, in person or a blend of the two. The frequency and time that can be committed, expectations from both sides and any metrics for accountability. I like to do a 12-month review with the businesses I work with, to grasp achievements, disappointments, learning and resources required.
- Company structure. An understanding of how your business trades, its Board structure and key roles.
- Vision/strategy and business planning. Eliciting purpose, the problem that your business solves and whether business planning is done and current.
- Finance and funding. Understanding if you are income-generating or pre-revenue and relying heavily on grants and investment. Whether you have accountancy in place, understanding of R&D tax credits and similar.
- Management. Understanding leadership skills, ability to delegate and how your staff report and to whom is central here.
- Product development. Discovering whether this is an in-house or outsourced activity and related IP ownership has been covered. No surprises later, please! Understanding your product or service innovation and related digital services for scale, along with storage and distribution for some products.
- Sales & Marketing. This can be a pet hate of many but is often the fear of the unknown without specialist sales input. It will be important for a mentor to understand your current performance, how growth is measured through to any partnership/affiliates, use of web/SEO and social media.
- IT/Communications. This can be self-explanatory but this covers many aspects of standardising systems for scale, plus understanding the use of a blend of hardware and software solutions.
- Legal and governance. Contracts are key and can often be missed in the early days, as can the important areas of data governance (including GDPR), disclaimers and T&Cs. Policies, procedures, handbooks and the like are key for any growing business for consistency and compliance. You may not have these in place, depending on your stage but they will have to be created ahead of growth.
- Systems and reporting. This is going beyond what is statuary for your business and includes data collection and metrics which allow your business to monitor performance.
- Business support and training. Some creativity is often necessary here particularly when budgets are tight, where and how can your business connect with its peers and mentors?
- Initial plan and next steps. With a thorough understanding of your business through the interrogation of these areas, it is possible for your mentor to help you to determine the key areas of focussed support to move forward most effectively.
This is not exhaustive and what I haven’t included is the detail I would expect a mentor to cover under each of the topic areas with you. You are most likely unsure what support you require, but this checklist will help you to identify your own gaps in discussion with your mentor. This introductory exercise will help to identify and select areas for immediate focus, including where wider connections and access to other experts in your mentor’s network can be made.
If you have any questions or areas that you wish to better understand, please get in touch.