By Amy Ramage, Founder, MD and Creative Director, Célibataire
The term mentor first appeared in Homer’s The Odyssey, when Odysseus set sail for Troy, leaving his estate to be overseen and cared for by his friend, Mentor. Although the term has evolved to mean something different in today’s business world, the sentiment remains. A mentor is there to provide time and attention, and subtle guidance. A component that I believe is essential to any business of any size, whether female-owned or not. After all, guidance and, in some senses, ‘a sanity check’ can be the missing piece in the puzzle for not only growth but also survival.
Entrepreneurship can be challenging for anyone. From the outset, the journey is littered with uncertainty, and imposter syndrome can easily take centre stage. For me, this was partly attributed to a lack of female visibility and representation across every industry and sector in business. It would be fair to say there’s been a lot of work ensuring that we have more female role models in business – but we could do better.
For businesses to flourish, seeking support from an expert who has sat where you now sit and experienced the array of volatile emotions that come with running a business is essential. I have a business coach, and their guidance has been invaluable in providing an outside perspective and someone to turn to for support and advice when needed. Moreover, it’s been a powerful tool for accountability. In the never-ending to-do list of running a business, it’s easy to let your personal growth and/ or goals take a backseat.
And vice versa, as well as the obvious benefit of supporting another, being a mentor has a powerful impact on your personal growth. It’s absolutely a two-way street. Mentoring helps to develop self-knowledge, perspective, compassion and courage – establishing how much you know and where your own gaps are. This enables you to become a better leader in your own right.
Despite the benefits of mentoring being evident and the opportunity to be mentored being ripe, there are still too many business owners who do not have a mentor. According to Enterprise Nations, a staggering 5.5 million SMEs are yet to participate in mentoring – with 63% of women confirming that they have never had a formal mentor. What’s more, only 9% of female respondents stated ‘they didn’t have much left to learn’ as a reason for not seeking a mentor. The figure for male respondents was 17%.
In some cases, this can be down to fear or hesitancy in sharing information about your business. For many business owners – specifically females I know – there’s a worry that people will judge or criticise what you are doing. For some, they’ve had or know a contemporary who has had a poor experience with a mentor – perhaps not had the support or results they were expecting.
For me, mentoring programmes should demonstrate practical results. However, it should be said that how you approach coaching others is wholly personal. Everyone – and the methods they will benefit under – is different, but I prefer a more informal, relationship-led approach. Challenging people is the only way to see what they are capable of. And the best mentor / support you can have – in my experience – is someone that is there to cheer you on and share in the ups and downs along the way.
No one’s business journey is perfect. But often, we need a ‘reality check’ to reaffirm this and a guiding hand to help get us back on the path towards business fulfilment and success. It’s fair to say that social media is partly to blame – LinkedIn and Instagram often project only one highly-glamorised side of the business founder’s tale. The struggles of what’s been fought along the way should be celebrated, too. Hardships, mistakes and failures are where lessons can be learned. Inspiration often comes from knowing that there is always light at the end of the tunnel on those darker days.
There’s a commonly used phrase that I love – and was adopted by the AllBright – ‘We Rise by Lifting Others’. Supporting and championing fellow entrepreneurs – including being a mentor – enables the foundations to be laid for beneficial support systems that enrich all those they touch. It’s proven that mentorship can bring incredible business transformation.
As we enter 2023, I’m hoping the optimistic figures from Enterprise Nation that 82% are considering being mentored and 83% of becoming a mentor themselves over the next five years, come true. This significant behaviour shift will dismantle the self-perceptions currently preventing some business owners from seeking support.
I’m also a huge champion of female business owners being open and proactive when it comes to mentoring. After all, according to the Boston Consulting Group, ‘if women and men participated equally as entrepreneurs, global GDP could rise by approximately 3% to 6%, boosting the global economy by $2.5 trillion to $5 trillion’. Mentoring will not only help us guide the next generation of better business owners, but it will unlock invaluable GDP growth!