Mentorship: A rewarding two-way relationship

1st September 2021 | 4 min read

For Andy Swann, entrepreneur, author of The Human Workplace and host of The Lifework Podcast, the benefits of mentoring a small business or emerging entrepreneur, such as those joining LABS through the collaboration with Camden Council this September, are numerous.

As a mentor you are provided with “a chance to be involved in something fresh and new, while adding value through your experience and perspective,” Andy explains. “Validating thinking and taking a strategic perspective from the outside is a far less pressurised scenario and it’s really rewarding to offer someone support, whilst having the excitement of seeing that support turn into growth”.

Whilst the mentee has “the opportunity to gain expertise and insight into a world where the mentor has experience,” he adds. “There’s also the benefit of having perspective from someone who doesn’t have skin in the game and can be far more objective.”

Additionally, mentorship can also provide the mentee with access to their mentor’s network, which Andy points out, can often open up huge opportunities for conversations, collaborations and new clients.

“Just having someone to turn to is very powerful too, being an entrepreneur or small business owner can be a really lonely experience, fraught with challenges to overcome. Having someone to bounce thoughts off in these cases is massive,” he says.

Andy adds that “with everything we’ve learned about the world, work, workplaces and business over the last couple of years, it’s time to separate the idea of transaction and look at the human aspects of the mentor-mentee relationship, which are really rewarding on both sides, on a personal level”.

The purpose of mentoring

Overall, with mentoring, the aim is to provide support, advice and guidance to help another progress.

It’s a sounding board and a challenge that helps someone connect what their heart and head are saying, making better decisions and knowing that there is someone there to discuss obstacles with on a non-judgemental basis” Andy says.

“As an entrepreneur or business owner, it’s a real boost to share things with someone who isn’t as emotionally invested as you, who can guide you with a clear head.”

How to become a mentor

“With multiple informal and formal routes to mentoring the opportunity to be a mentor could easily arise from a conversation with someone in your network, or an introduction where the synergy is obvious, and one party approaches the other,” Andy says.

For example, LABS networking opportunities for people to meet and share are always being created, be it through the design of the spaces or the organised events. LABS is also happy to put willing mentors in touch with those that are open to some support, such as the emerging entrepreneurs from our Camden Council collaboration.

Andy adds that you may just have “friends, colleagues or associates who need a little bit of support, and you end up bouncing ideas off each other regularly, whether over a coffee or just by keeping a chat window open on a daily basis”.

There are also various mentor matching organisations, commercially and for government-funded opportunities for limited introduction mentoring that could lead to a relationship. In addition, to help provide mentorship within an organisation there is a piece of software, The Mentor Method, which can be used by companies to match well-suited mentors and mentees internally and to track those relationships.  

Key principles and steps of mentoring

“Objectivity is absolutely paramount as is being able to listen, absorb, then ask useful questions that can challenge and get to the root of a problem,” Andy says.

“I once tried working with a mentor. In our first meeting I explained that I wanted to increase the revenue in a 15-year-old business by 400% that year. The mentor looked me in the eye, shook my hand and said ‘congratulations’. There was no question of why or how I was going to do this and as a result, nothing really drove me forward.

“More recently, my accountant has become my go-to mentor as part of our working relationship – he’s always there to question and make me really think about what I’m doing as an entrepreneur so that I don’t rush in.”

To ensure your mentoring is effective and successful, Andy adds, that it mainly depends on the ability to build a relationship and “whether you want to actively go out and seek opportunities, or they happen synergistically. Mentoring is great when it works, but if the relationship is wrong, it can fail badly”.

“Although a major part of mentoring is to challenge, there needs to be a shared understanding, or it will just become a fruitless series of disagreements.”

It’s also good to be clear on expectations from the outset, but without over-formalising the agreement, Andy says.

“Consider the opportunities, test the relationships, let them develop. Don’t commit on either side to anything major or long-term until you know it’s a great match.

“It’s important to remember too that relationships aren’t always forever, so the mentor/ mentee you need or can help today, won’t necessarily be the same five years down the line – and that’s fine!”

To find out more about mentoring opportunities at LABS, contact us at [email protected]