“Common experience is that entrepreneurs look for their car keys under the lamp post even though they know the keys aren't there. Mainly because this is the only place they can look.”
- Market Research tends to be by far the dominant concern. Most entrepreneurs just do not understand the need.
- There is a Big Gap between an idea and taking it to market. Areas like Competition, Pricing, Resources, etc. tend to stand out.
- There is a common tendency to use cost + profit % pricing model. This tends not to deliver. The businesses misses out on the opportunity because the pricing hasn't been thought through well.
- Budgeting your own time – Work/ Life balance and Client Acquisition v. Servicing current clients.
- Management Information Ignorance. Areas like Intelligence, costs of employing people, proper budgeting, etc. For example, accounts tend to be filed away without being processed. This is one reason why a lot of Entrepreneurs tend to run out of money.
Mike generated Training Workshops to support Entrepreneurs. These Workshops also provided:
- Networking opportunities,
- Helped to highlight key topics of focus,
- Provided a space for knowledge sharing,
- They helped to educate the entrepreneurs on what areas of support were available, and
- Gave them the confidence to ask for help.
In terms of time of the day after some experimenting Tuesdays between 4-6pm or 6-8pm with some light food worked quite well. They were 2 hours long - broken into a 45 min for the talk and 1 hour 15 min for the interaction. Over time the workshops became information based social networking events for local entrepreneurs.
The Topics covered were -
- Business Risks and Resilience
- Time Management
- Strategies for Growth
- Supply Chain especially how to lower costs
- Effective Selling Techniques
- Managing People Better
Building his level of Mastery as a Business Mentor.
Mike’s first few projects were a learning experience. He improved his skills as a Business Mentor by a mix of Training ( not very good ). Exchanging views with other business mentors. And, involving clients in the knowledge sharing during workshops.
Empirical Analysis Matches Experience.
Mike felt his marketing background didn't dictate his support and focus on the marketing of his clients. It was more the needs of the clients. One of their dominant concerns tended to be marketing related and he just happened to have a marketing background.
- Mentoring is supporting the client find their own answers
- Coaching is good for keeping the clients focused but limited in its value to the Entrepreneur
- Mentoring is more powerful because it supports the client in build their own capacity
- Mentors do not give instruction
- Mentoring is fulfilling because you actually support the client grow
External Business Mentor v. Internal Manager within a Corporation?
- Mentors need to have good listening skills
- Mentors need to be able to analyse things very quickly
- Mentors need to look out for what is missing
- Managers operate in an environment where routines are the norm
Key areas for other Business Mentors to focus on -
- Probe hard on the motivation to do the business in the first place. Here the focus is on why they are doing what they are,
- Marketing – Very Important Area. This includes routes to market, pricing, etc. Most Entrepreneurs tend to ignore this area.
- Numbers – Budgeting/ Cash Flows/ Liabilities/ etc. Basically, making sure they are on top of the numbers.
Key Areas for Entrepreneurs to focus on -
- Entrepreneurs should use a focus group of other entrepreneurs to play with their ideas. This will give them a trusted environment. Here they can discuss what they are trying to achieve and learn from each others experience. It also gives them the opportunity to breakdown the product/ service and put it back together.
- Systemising the Business. For Instance, a business owner at one of the Business Resilience workshops highlighted his experience. He was a farmer and his crops failed. Yet, he managed to survive because he had managed to build a solid business around the product.
- Gives individuals the opportunity to earn a living in regions where employment opportunities are low for middle aged professionals
- Allows the individual to make greater use of the tacit knowledge base built up during working for other companies
- Encourages the individual to learn new skills and expertise which make them more well rounded
Other Thoughts -
Locally focused mentoring activity that allows local businesses to benefit from local knowledge are valuable. The relationship tends to be more meaningful. National Schemes tend to be too bureaucratic and impersonal.
Mike read English Literature at Cambridge University and wanted to become a Teacher. Yet, he found himself in a corporation soon after graduating. His corporate experience was mainly in Aerospace and the Defence Sector. Here he rose to become Director of Marketing for Westland Helicopters. He gained an MBA along the way.
In 2008 when he turned 53 decided the corporate environment was no longer the place for him. Along the way he gained experience of working with Internal Entrepreneurship Programmes. Here he worked with corporate spin offs. He also supported New Talent via the Internal Fast Track Programme. This programme supported high calibre staff to realise their ambition within the company.
His early commercial experience was in the dying days of Franco Spain. Here there was high degree of uncertainty. A high level of political instability. And, a general uncertain environment. The events of 2008 reminded him of this period.
Mike’s first experience of Business Mentoring was via Dormen Dorest. This was a Local Authority funded programme to support local SME’s. It was a voluntary mentoring position. He then moved to North Devon a year later. Here he supported local businesses via Business Buddies - an EU funded Voluntary Mentoring project. The second project supported about 100 companies over 3 years with 25 – 30 Business Mentors. This was all delivered outside any nation support at the national level. The focus here was on companies in their 2nd to 5ft year of starting up. This meant the kinds of concerns were more focused on scaling up as opposed to surviving.
In the future Mike will be giving post mentoring support. He is also seeking new opportunities to assist local businesses.