Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have a critical role to play in the broader business community and the economies they operate in.
In the US, there are more than 30 million small firms, employing nearly 60 million people. EU countries were home to approximately 25 million SMEs in 2018, the vast majority of which employed fewer than nine people.
These enterprises are essential to provide jobs and generate economic value, but running an SME and guiding it to success is by no means easy, especially during times of adversity. A McKinsey study highlighted the degree to which smaller firms in France, Germany, Spain, Italy and the UK were affected by COVID-19, with more than half of those surveyed worrying they might not be trading in a year's time.
If you're looking for guidance to get your business through a challenging period, or you just want to be sure you're seizing every opportunity and reaching your full potential, one option you could consider is working with a mentor.
But how can you be sure of finding the right mentor for you, and what benefits can you expect to gain from taking this approach?
Finding your mentor
It's important to start the process of searching for a mentor with a clear focus on your most pressing needs and what you're hoping to achieve from the process.
This is likely to be informed by the position you're currently in, the challenges you're facing and the goals you want to reach in the near future. You might be looking for someone who can offer practical advice on cutting costs or raising efficiency without affecting productivity, or who can steer your efforts to drive sales and bring in more revenue. Or you might just be looking for general guidance on various aspects of running a business and all that entails.
Considering these factors will help you create a clear picture of the sort of mentor you're looking for and where to begin your search.
You should also think about the type of person you want to work with. As well as professional background and industry expertise, give some thought to relevant personality traits and characteristics. Would you be better-suited to a frank and forthright mentor or someone who takes a more subtle approach?
When the time comes to start your search for a mentor in earnest, you could start small by putting the word out to your network of friends, family and colleagues. If you want to cast a wider net, organizations like America's Small Business Development Center or the UK's Association of Business Mentors might be able to point you in the right direction.
The benefits of business mentoring
What sort of advantages can you expect to gain from mentoring?
1. A new perspective
It's not unusual for the manager of an SME to wear many hats. You might find yourself taking on the responsibilities of finance manager, HR director, sales leader and various other roles, all in one day. In these circumstances, it's easy to become so consumed by the everyday demands and pressures of running your company that you lose sight of the bigger picture.
One of the biggest advantages of having a business mentor is that they can give you an outsider's perspective. Someone who isn't closely involved and heavily invested in the day-to-day intricacies of your enterprise could be in the best position to point out where you're going wrong or where you have opportunities to make positive changes.
2. A sounding board
As well as being hectic and exhausting, running a business can often feel lonely, since you're the one who has to make the big decisions and the buck always stops with you.
Your employees might expect you to have all the answers, but you probably have plenty of questions of your own. Having an experienced mentor to ask for advice and bounce ideas off can be invaluable in your most demanding moments.
3. Access to a broader network
An experienced business mentor could be your route into an extensive network of new contacts who could provide all sorts of benefits and opportunities for your company. You might be able to connect with talented young workers who’re interested in pursuing careers in your sector, or representatives of other businesses that could become suppliers or customers.
Feeling like you're 'on your own' in the challenging world of SME management can limit your confidence, especially if the business is struggling or some of your latest decisions haven't yielded the best results.
A good business mentor will be able to give you a boost when you need it the most and support you in your mission to make the right calls for your company.