How can a mentor support professional development for tradespeople?

A carpenter discussing business in his workshop with his mentor.

Running a business as a tradesperson isn’t easy. As well as having to master the skills of your particular trade, you also have the challenges that come with being your own boss. Particularly if you’ve just set up a company or you don’t have much experience as an entrepreneur, this can be daunting.

Dealing with everything from making sure you have suitable business insurance in place, to accessing the finance you need, to marketing your company, it may feel overwhelming at times. However, it’s important to realise that you don’t have to go through it alone. There are support networks out there that can help, including mentors that can assist your business and further your professional development.
In this post, we outline what mentors are, how they may be able to help you and where you can find them.

What is business coaching and mentoring?

Business coaching and mentoring can provide you with a valuable source of guidance and support. These terms are often used interchangeably, but in fact there are important differences between them. Business coaching is very task-driven and it tends to focus on helping people reach specific goals, whereas mentoring is centred on sharing knowledge and experience. For example, while a business coach might provide you with a step-by-step plan to achieve a particular target, a mentor is there to offer general advice and guidance that draws on their own personal experiences in business.
It's useful to be aware of this distinction because there may be times when your business can benefit from one type of support in particular.

What is a business mentor?

A mentor is typically an experienced businessperson. It can also be someone with expertise in a specific aspect of business, such as marketing or finance. These people put themselves forward to help entrepreneurs who are less experienced, knowledgeable and confident. They give advice and feedback based on their personal insights, and can act as a sounding board, listening to your ideas and concerns.
Mentoring can be either formal or informal. Formal mentoring is set up through official channels and it might be part of a structured business support programme. In contrast, informal mentoring happens when experts connect with entrepreneurs through business networks, friendship groups, word of mouth recommendations and so on.

How can a business mentor help you?

Being in contact with a mentor may help you in various ways. Below are just some of the benefits you might experience as a result of these relationships.

Business advice based on experience

There are few things more valuable in business than experience - and this is what makes mentors so valuable to the entrepreneurs they advise. These people have had time to learn from their own mistakes, meaning they’re ideally placed to help prevent you from making those same errors of judgement. They know what it takes to succeed, and what can get in the way of success.

A different perspective

Because you’re so involved in the day-to-day running of your business, and you’re no doubt emotionally invested in it too, it can be difficult to analyse it objectively. One of the major benefits of mentors is that they can provide an impartial view. They may be able to see strengths and weaknesses in your company that you’re blind to.
They can also bring a fresh perspective and new ideas that you would never think of yourself.

Emotional support and motivation

Mentors won’t provide the level of emotional support a  counselling service can, but their support can help to boost your confidence and motivation. Being a self-employed tradesperson can sometimes be an isolating experience. You might face periods of financial uncertainty or encounter challenges you don’t feel equipped to deal with. All of this can take its toll on your morale.
A mentor is there to listen to your concerns, confidentially. Simply being able to speak to someone who understands what you’re going through will help ensure you don’t feel like you’re dealing with your struggles alone. Mentors can also share their own experiences of failure and success, and help to give you a more positive mindset.

Access to useful business contacts

Networking is crucial for building your customer and supplier base, and ultimately for growing and strengthening your company. Because of their considerable experience, mentors tend to have extensive networks themselves - and they may be able to introduce you to their professional connections.
These experts may also be able to offer advice on how to leverage networks to your advantage, and point you to networking opportunities in your industry.

Expert training

While you’re no doubt an expert in your trade, there may be aspects of running a business that you’re less knowledgeable about. Although mentors aren’t there to train you, they can highlight areas where they think you may benefit from professional development. They might also have recommendations for courses or qualifications that could help you. In this way, they can play an important role in your progression as a business owner.

How to find a business mentor

There are various ways to find business mentors. If you want to go down an informal route, you can simply approach local business leaders you admire or attend industry events that give you a chance to reach out to experts.
Alternatively, you can use official mentoring platforms. For example, a government-recommended website that can connect you with free and paid-for mentors in your area is mentorsme. This is an online gateway designed for small and medium-sized enterprises that are looking for mentors. Another option is to visit the Association of Business Mentors website. It allows you to search for mentors with specialisms that suit your needs.

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