But mentoring isn’t always formally defined as such. You’ve probably already been a mentor or mentee without realising it. If you’ve ever been a part of a conversation that results in a 'eureka' moment - where something that previously seemed a mystery or insurmountable suddenly becomes clear and achievable - or where you suddenly see new possibilities based on someone else's insight into your situation, then you’ve been on the receiving end of drive-by mentoring. It may never have been planned as a mentoring relationship, it may have just been a chat at the water cooler with a colleague or a friend of a friend at a social event.
I’ve received a lot of advice while growing KashFlow. It has come from others that have built successful technology businesses already. Often it happens as a result of meeting someone, telling them what you do and them saying 'we should meet for a coffee sometime'. The M-word is never used.
Recently, as a part of the Start Up Britain initiative I was asked if I’d be willing to pledge 20 hours of my time to formally mentor other start-ups. My first thought was that I wasn’t really experienced enough to be able to impart any useful advice to others just yet. But the more I thought about what I’ve learned over the years and the mistakes I’ve made, I wondered if there was any advice I’d give myself if I could go back in time five years. Anyone who has seen success in the business world even for a couple of years has tips, knowledge and advice that they can pass on to help others. Giving another businessman or woman advice can stop them making the same mistakes as you did.
So I agreed to mentor two tech start-ups and I’m really enjoying the process. We all tend to get very focused on our own professional stresses and strains, so being able to switch off from that for a couple of hours and discuss someone else's problems and possible solutions is actually quite refreshing. You see by helping others you also help yourself.
After giving one of my mentees a piece of advice and knowing immediately by their reaction that they weren’t going to follow up on it, I was reminded of advice I once gave to someone else who was starting to mentor Prince's Trust businesses: don’t be offended if your advice isn’t followed. Often the recipient will take on board what you have to say, consider it, and do something different. It doesn’t mean that your advice was disregarded or not of any value – it certainly would have helped with the decision making process.
You don't have to be a multi-millionaire super boss to be a mentor. If you are running a successful business and you have built up knowledge which has helped you along the way then you can help others on their journey - and then one day perhaps they will do the same.
Mentoring spreads confidence. It can help businesses flourish. And you can see the results of your work as others put your advice into practice. Believe me, there's not much better feeling than that.
Duane Jackson is the founder of accountancy software company Kashflow.