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Being a self-starter means taking a giant leap out on your own, so it pays to surround yourself with people who can give you guidance and support. Your issues are often their issues. But finding a mentor isn’t always easy, especially for first-timers. Luckily, there are a range of organisations across Australia available to help.
Finding a master matters
When we got in touch with renowned UK dairy farmer and cheesemaker Jonny Crickmore, to let him know that he was the small business hero Kel Grey wanted to meet, Jonny was more than happy to oblige.
That’s because of the importance he places on mentors in small business – which is something he has very much in common with us here at RedZed.
“I just don’t think you should be worried or scared about going to anybody anywhere in the world and asking them, ‘Can I come and see you?’,” he told Kel during his visit to Fen Farm in Beccles, England.
“Because you’d be surprised, they’ll probably all say yes.”
The importance of this opportunity wasn’t lost on Kel for a minute, either. Because the lack of a mentor early on in his small business journey stung bad. The bank had given him just 18 months to shape up or sell off the family farm in Kiama, NSW, his father had handed down to him.
“We rushed through business plans and grabbed money and started manufacturing to increase sales and get moving. That hurt our business, because we made mistakes along the way,” he remembers.
“It would be nice to have some sort of resource just for small business owners, to cover all those little basics that you don’t think about when you’re so focused on producing your own product – and then getting it to the consumer.”
Passing on hard-earned wisdom
Having a mentor in business or life isn’t a new concept – Socrates mentored Plato, Ray Charles mentored Quincy Jones, Warren Buffett mentored Bill Gates – but as more and more of us take big steps into small business, mentors are more important than ever.
Luckily for those like Kel, and for anyone reading this article in need of some guidance, mentors like Jonny around the world are very willing to share lessons learnt through their own journeys towards small business success.
For them, it’s a change to pass on hard-earned knowledge and expertise to new entrepreneurs.
“Yeah, I think having the chance to mentor Kel, and teach him a bit of what we do, is good for me too. You need to learn to be a teacher as well, don’t you? You can’t be a good teacher without doing lots of teaching,” says Jonny Crickmore.
And you get to have YOUR questions answered, and have space and time to chat through YOUR small business concerns. Rather than just reading advice that might not be totally relevant to what you do, and doesn’t take your specific circumstances into consideration.
“It’s like going to business school, right? It’s good having a coach.” says Jonny.
“You need that person loitering away from the running of the business – off to one side where they don’t see all of the day-to-day stuff – just to come in every so often and give you advice.”
If you’re thinking about finding and engaging a mentor of your own, it’s worth reflecting on Kel stepping out of his comfort zone, and taking advantage of the benefits of learning from someone with the experience he was missing.
“It was a little nerve wracking, but incredibly exciting. Especially to talk one-on-one with Jonny about the true issues of small business and running farms, because his issues are my issues,” he says.
“And we’re going to do it really well because we’ve seen it done well. The big difference is that I’m going to go home with a lot of confidence.”
So, where do you start?
Some small business owners naturally find a mentor. Others need to go looking. You might find someone through LinkedIn, or your personal or professional contacts. And if you need support, there are a range of state government organisations around Australia that are ready to help you find the right mentor:
- Queensland: Business Queensland has a suite of mentoring programs available for small owners and self-starters.
- New South Wales: The WorkCover Mentor Program pairs small business owners with mentoring services and offers a $500 rebate to help them develop workplace health and safety.
- Victoria: The Small Business Mentoring Service provides owners and operators with mentors from a range of industries.
- South Australia: The Business advice services website provides helpful links to mentor support services.
- ACT: Canberra BusinessPoint offers mentoring programs and one-on-one consultations with experts for small business owners.
- Northern Territory: The NT government links small business owners with Small Business Champions who offer support and advice.
- Tasmania: The Tasmanian Government offers two free services aimed at linking small business owners with mentors.
- Western Australia: The Small Business Development Corporation provides a range of information about business incubation, mentoring, networking and support.