My experience finding a mentor to help me start and grow a business

My experience finding a mentor to help me start and grow a business
Emma Jones
Emma JonesOfficial

Posted: Fri 27th Oct 2023

One of the most common questions Enterprise Nation members ask me is "How do I find a mentor to help me start and grow a business?"

Entrepreneurship is a complex field that requires a combination of skills, knowledge and experience. Many successful business owners credit their achievements to having a mentor who gave them valuable insight and guidance along the way.

Having a business mentor can be a game-changer. They can provide advice, help you avoid common pitfalls, and open doors to relevant networks and opportunities. In this blog, I take you through some of the steps involved in find a business mentor who will be a perfect fit for you and your entrepreneurial journey.

If you're an Enterprise Nation member, book in for free consultations with hundreds of business advisers and mentors. Not a member? Join today!

What is a business mentor?

A business mentor is an experienced and successful professional who provides guidance, support and advice to anyone who is starting or running a business.

They possess valuable knowledge and expertise in various aspects of business, such as strategy, marketing, finance, operations and leadership. They work to help their mentees grow and develop by:

  • sharing their own experiences

  • providing feedback

  • brainstorming ideas

  • helping the mentees navigate challenges and make informed decisions

Their primary role is to offer valuable insight, inspiration and accountability, ultimately helping their mentees achieve their goals and success for their businesses.

Why do entrepreneurs need a business mentor?

Entrepreneurship is a unique journey for every one of us who tries to create a business out of their passion. Some of us feel comfortable going on our own, while others like seeking guidance.

Whatever your situation, having someone to give you actionable advice and encourage you to give your best can represent a real advantage when growing a business. It'll help you uncover yet unseen opportunities and go beyond your limits.

More than anything, a mentor is a person who's walked both paths – to failure and to success – and can help you stay on the right one.

The importance of learning

As an entrepreneur, the most essential element for success is learning. Keeping a step ahead by gathering the latest knowledge in your industry is one of the first rules for survival in the business world.

Having a mentor is going to enhance this process. They'll be there to guide you and offer you advice on business matters you have little experience in. But I must highlight one thing here: there's no place for pride or fear when asking for guidance. That's not what learning is about.


Help to Grow: Management – Develop your business with a mentor

Small businesses see significant development through mentoring: Become a mentor and provide 10 hours of one-to-one support. Find out more


What qualifications does a good business mentor need?

In the UK, there are a number of qualifications available for people who want to become mentors. These qualifications give the individuals involved the skills and knowledge they need to effectively mentor and support other people in various professional and personal capacities.

Some common qualifications for mentoring in the UK include:

  • Level 2 Effective Mentoring Skills

  • Level 3 Effective Mentoring

  • Level 4 Certificate in Mentoring

  • Level 5 Effective Coaching and Mentoring

  • Level 7 Executive and Senior Level Coaches and Mentors

These qualifications cover areas such as:

  • establishing mentoring relationships

  • communication skills

  • goal-setting

  • evaluating the effectiveness of mentoring programmes

How do I find a business mentor?

Understand why you want a mentor

Before looking for a suitable candidate, assess what it is you're really after. Do you want a sounding board? Someone to whom you talk out loud with your challenges and opportunities and formulate your own answers as they listen? Or do you want someone to tell you how to run the business?

These are quite different requirements and will lead to different people. The sounding board is a good listener, while the guiding coach is more of an action-oriented adviser.

You'll also want to think about whether you're prepared to pay for the services of a business mentor, or if you're after conversation or advice for free (or in exchange for a cup of coffee/pizza/glass of wine.)

The answer to this will influence where you look. Know what it is you're after, and what you're prepared to pay, before starting the search.

Some motivations for wanting to work with a mentor

It's a good idea to sit down and think about why you want to work with a mentor. Here are a few reasons I've heard:

  • You've become stuck with your marketing: This happens a lot and that's because people confuse marketing with promotion. It's easy to do a few social media posts promoting your product or service. But marketing is so much more than that.

    It's about understanding your target customers, knowing the problem your product or service solves, making sure you're priced correctly, and promotion. If you only focus on the last part, you'll get to a point where you get stuck. That's the time you want to talk to an expert.

  • You're overwhelmed: It happens to us all. There are so many things you could be doing to grow your business. An SEO expert will tell you to focus on that. A PR expert will tell you that you need to get coverage in the press. A social media expert will tell you your business needs ads.

    And you know what? They're all right. I know that isn't helpful, but they are. Your business needs a mix of marketing in order to grow. But it needs to be the right mix for your business to achieve results.

  • Free advice has only got you so far: Most new businesses don't have a lot of budget to work with, so must spend it wisely. And fortunately there's a lot of free advice out there. So many people add so much value that's free and it gets you started. I love that about the small business world.

    But there will likely come a time when that free advice isn't enough. Because, let's face it, you want your business to grow. And if you take a look at what's out there for free, it's really for beginners. So, if you want to move your business on, you need to make the decision to invest in it and work with someone who will help you get there.

  • You need an outsider's view: You're stuck in the day-to-day of your business. That old adage is true: you can't see the wood for the trees. That's when having a mentor comes in so useful.

    Start working with a mentor, and you'll quickly realise they're able to pick up on things you can't see because you're too close to it all. You'll get that one-to-one time that really helps you focus. You'll no longer be that magpie distracted by all the shiny, new things!

Look for the right qualities

A good mentor possesses several important qualities that make their mentoring effective. Here are some key examples.

  • Expertise in their field: They should have a deep knowledge and understanding of the subject matter they're mentoring on.

  • Patience and understanding: They'll be working with people whose businesses are at different stages of growth or development, so shouldn't be too hasty in their judgements or guidance.

  • Strong communication skills: They need to convey information effectively and provide clear advice that their mentees can put into practice.

  • Good listening skills: They should be able to actively listen to their mentees' questions, concerns and goals in order to provide the most relevant and tailored guidance.

  • Ability to be supportive and encouraging: They should motivate their mentees, celebrate their successes, and provide constructive feedback to help them grow and develop.

Impact of a bad mentor

Having a bad mentor can have a significant negative impact on your business's growth and your own personal and professional development.

A bad mentor may lack the necessary skills, knowledge or experience to provide effective guidance and support. They may have a negative attitude, be unresponsive, or provide misleading advice. If this happens, it's likely to leave you confused, frustrated and demotivated.

Impact of a good mentor

A good mentor should leave you:

  • more knowledgeable and skilled

  • clearer on how you can get your business performing as effectively as possible

  • better at problem-solving and decision-making

  • more confident, particularly when it comes to leadership

  • better connected, with a wider network of business contacts

Do your research

You're reading this, so you're in the right place! Start with Enterprise Nation. We've worked hard to assemble a great network of advisers and mentors – all in one place!

And with technology, the mentor you choose doesn't even need to be near you. Video calls, emails and the good, old-fashioned telephone make remote mentoring really simple.

So, widen your search and make your choice from the best. You really don't have to limit yourself by geography.

Look at their online activities

Go check out their website. Look at their social media networks. Join their email list. Find their reviews. All of these things will help you build a picture of the person, their expertise and whether they get results.

You want this to be a good relationship that works for you. So, invest some time in finding out more about the people you've shortlisted (yes, shortlist some!) That way, you can make an informed judgement about their expertise.

Talk to them

Did you know you can book discovery calls with mentors on this very website? I mean, how great is that?

And think about it. You wouldn't agree to go on a second date with someone if you weren't keen on them after the first one, would you? Chemistry is important.

If you don't get on, those mentoring sessions are going to be a slog. You won't enjoy them and neither will your mentor, and you won't achieve what you want for your business. That's why you need to have an initial chat, even if the person comes recommended.

Ask questions

During your conversation with your potential mentor, you should ask a lot of questions. They will, too. They'll want to know about your business, product or service, and what you've achieved so far. For mentors, it's their way of finding out if we can help you.

But you need to know if they can help you too! So, ask questions like:

  • Why do you recommend that for me?

  • How will that help my business?

  • What can I expect from you?

  • Can you tell me a bit more about your background?

Keep your questions open so you get longer answers. It gives you a chance to make sure the person you're talking to knows their stuff.

Where do I find a business mentor?

Looking into your professional network for a mentor

Some of the best mentors are people you already know. In other cases, LinkedIn groups can be really helpful in looking for and engaging with people you resonate with and who have more experience than you do.

Attend business and start-up meet-ups to find experienced entrepreneurs

You can find mentors by attending networking events and getting to know people who are in the same industry as you and looking for ways to grow their own businesses.

Find a mentor on Enterprise Nation

When it comes to finding your perfect match, head online to services such as the Enterprise Nation adviser matching and out to events (we run hundreds of events for you to pick from!).

Explore your local small business networking events

If you've identified that an industry expert offering practical tips is what you're after, find them by attending industry events or getting involved in interest groups on LinkedIn.

If you're looking for more of the sounding board mentor, the chemistry has to be right, so better to meet this type of person face to face and build the relationship from there.

There are thousands of experienced executives and entrepreneurs who have the potential to become mentors, and programmes such as the government's Help to Grow: Management Course are focused on expanding the size of the mentor pool. Tap into them to keep updated.

How do I know if I've found the right business mentor?

Set targets

This step is primarily for business owners who have decided to pay for the services of a business mentor.

As with any commercial relationship, you'll want to set targets on what you expect to achieve. Agree how often you'll speak (will this be in person, via video, on the phone?), how long the relationship will last for, and what outcomes you expect. Ideally write this down in the form of a mentor agreement, so expectations are clear from the beginning.

When is it time to change my business mentor?

In my own experience, I've found that mentors aren't for life! As the business – and indeed your own leadership skills – develops, you may find it's time to move on and find another business mentor with a different outlook.

Hopefully your first mentoring experience, and the guidance set out above, will stand you in good stead to make one wise move after the next.


Help to Grow: Management Course – Develop your business with a mentor

Want to help a small business grow?

Being a mentor goes far beyond the rewarding feeling of 'giving back'. Mentors gain a range of personal development benefits from the experience.

Become a voluntary mentor for the Help to Grow: Management Course and commit 10 hours over 12 weeks to support businesses with their growth action plan. Sign up today


Relevant resources

Emma Jones
Emma JonesOfficial
Following a degree in Law and Japanese, Emma joined international accounting firm Arthur Andersen, where she worked in London, Leeds and Manchester offices and set up the firm's Inward Investment practice that attracted overseas companies to locate in the UK. In 2000, bitten by the bug, Emma left the firm to start her first business, Techlocate. After 15 months, the company was successfully sold to Tenon plc. The experience of starting, growing and selling a business from a home base gave Emma the idea for Enterprise Nation which was launched in 2006 as the home business website. The company has since expanded to become a small business membership community of over 75,000 people who benefit from events and support: online and in person. Enterprise Nation also presents a campaigning voice to government and the media on behalf of its members. In 2021, Emma was awarded a CBE for services to small businesses and entrepreneurs.

You might also like…

Get business support right to your inbox

Subscribe to our newsletter to receive business tips, learn about new funding programmes, join upcoming events, take e-learning courses, and more.