30 years ago I was working for NatWest in Manchester and they were looking for someone to work in the inner city helping to catalyse business start up’s. There had been a period of national inner city riots at the time and many people from the inner city areas were red lined out of the traditional labour market. I got the job! One of the issues at the time was that the government was throwing money into job creation including business start up’s, but not enough was going into post start up support, such as mentoring and finding markets. I worked with the Enterprise Agencies, the Prince’s Trust (then known as the Prince’s Youth Business Trust) Local Authorities and Community Development Finance Institutions. Between us all we were able to find ways of providing post start up support. I did my bit!
In 1996 I moved on from NatWest and became head of The Prince’s Trust Business Programme in Greater Manchester. One of the key outputs for us was business survival. We were developing a cadre of business mentors, and were able to put quite a bit of resource into the development of our mentor network. We had great people working for us, and thanks to the work of our business mentors and our mentor managers, we substantially improved the survival rate for businesses we supported. I knew mentoring worked, although we did have a number of our start up’s who found it difficult to work with business mentors. Those businesses tended to be the ones which had nowhere to turn when they had problems. I used to talk to our mentors and they helped me to understand further the process of mentoring.
That was the very first business I mentored in 1986, Speed Couriers. Shaun and Quentin were partners in this start up. They had secured business premises in a very run down railway station at a rent of 50p per week (the building was dilapidated), and had a team of free lance motor bike riders on hand. I remember our first meeting in a pub round the corner from Old Trafford Station, and the pub people wouldn’t let me in as I did not have leather shoes on! The fax machine had just arrived on the market and we had long discussions on how it would impact on the courier business. Speed Couriers is still going today, the largest independent courier in Manchester. Shaun and Quentin have gone separate ways but are both in the courier business; Shaun still runs Speed Couriers.
That would be a restaurant that spent a considerable amount of borrowed money on refurbishment, only to find that they were refused a fire certificate. Bureaucracy came into play and nearly bankrupted the whole operation. Everyone involved in the business worked hard to overcome this obstacle.
I believe that is to listen carefully…..on both sides. As a mentor don’t dominate the dialogue. Keep it simple, and if as a mentor you are faced with an issue you do not feel able to deal with, say so – someone else will probably be able to deal with the issue rather than you.
Identify what skills you have to offer. They don’t have to be hard skills, as often it is the soft skills that are best in communication. Start with an open mind, and don’t nit pick the business plan!