The Mentor Madness

Today, I read something that made me weep. Well, actually, it made me angry, so damn angry.

In a advert for new ‘business mentors’ for a local enterprise board in Cork, it was highlighted as part of the application process that any applicants must have their own professional indemnity insurance, absolutely damning proof that it’s the belief of these boards that professional ‘consulants’ not actual experienced entrepreneurs are the sort of people who should make up these mentor panels.

This is absolutely everything that is wrong about Ireland’s approach to developing entrepreneurism summed up in one.

One of the biggest reputational challenges for Ireland as we seek to promote it as a great place to start a business is to combat the sickening development of an ‘entrepreneurism industry’ – businesses and consultants who, despite having little to no practical experience themselves, believe that they understand the challenges and difficulties of running a business enough to be able to steer a less experienced individual in the right direction.

My own profession, marketing, are the worst offenders of all in this space. Individuals with little practical industry experience, who’ve often never marketed or promoted their own products, and who’ve often just done a college course, or worse still just learned from a book, or online, preaching to others about how to market products without ever having been in the trenches themselves. The dangers that they can do to a fledgling business are astronomical.

Surely the sort of experience that the individuals approaching these boards are looking for is practical, feet on the ground, in the trenches, experience from experienced entrepreneurs, not paid consultants who’ve never had to deal with the pressures of real budgets, real numbers, real problems. Entrepreneurism is gut-wrenchingly hard and to get proper advice you need to get it from someone who’s actually felt it.

This isn’t consultant bashing – there are some individuals out there who are so connected to a wide variety of businesses and entrepreneurs that they genuinely do understand the challenges, but they’re hard to find and frankly they’re pretty busy individuals already.  That a governement body, by default, is looking primarilly for consultants, instead of entrepreneurs willing to share their experience is what makes me sad. Its a easier route for them, a cop out and its what’s keeping these bodies from having true connections and true relationships with their local entrepreneurial ecosystems.

That all being said, if you’re someone who’s been looking for a business mentor, keep a few things in mind.

  1. A mentor who hasn’t been on the actual journey you’re own is little use to you. It’s like learning to drive a formula one car from a cyclist.
  2. Age doesn’t equal experience. Everything is business has changed in the last ten years – how you sell, how you produce, how you make profits. Don’t assume that age equals relevant experience!
  3. Experienced entrepreneurs understand change and how it affects business and make adjustments, look for mentors with a successful track record in several endeavours, not just one.
  4. Mentors are just guidance, the best ones have more questions, than answers. The very best ones will frequently disagree with you, just to see if you can change their minds.
  5. Usually, real entrepreneurial mentors don’t care about the money, for them it’s about helping someone avoid the pitfalls and potholes that they drove into – its therapy and repaying karma as much as anything.

If you’re finding in hard to find someone like this or need a sounding board for ideas, drop me a line at dc@builtincork.com and I’ll do my best to find you a like mind to talk to. If you’re someone willing to help out any entrepreneurs looking for some advice over coffee, drop me a line as well.

Update: A few people pointing out that the insurance issue is just a standard requirement for tendering for government work. My answer to that would be the same – why are enterprise boards taking the easy approach by outsourcing this critical function and one of the most vital parts of what they do. 

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I've spent a lot of time starting, scaling and building businesses. Now I'm helping others start and scale theirs through REPUBLIC OF WORK and BUILTINCORK.

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