A business mentor should be an investment, not an overhead

It was influential investor Benjamin Graham, mentor of American business magnate Warren Buffett, who said in the short term, the stock market was a “voting machine” but in the long term it was a “weighing machine”.

The same principle applies when engaging a coach or mentor to help with a business. We may hire a coach or mentor because we like them or trust them – in other words, we “vote for them” – but the benefits of having one won’t be assessed until down the track when we “weigh” the results.

People often get confused about the terms “coach”, “mentor” and “consultant”. In the UK, executive coaches are often described as business coaches.

For the sake of clarity, we will define a business coach as somebody who helps a business owner develop their answers from inside, i.e. they draw out the answers from a client or they may impart specific skills, just as a sports coach would. A consultant is somebody who actually does the work for the client for a fee.

A mentor is somebody who provides advice based on their experiences from a professional, industry or situational background, e.g. taking a company public or dealing with a growth plan. Sometimes, they will not answer all your questions, but they will question all your answers.

What could you learn from a mentor?

Warren Buffett took a job with little salary with Benjamin Graham. He did this because he wanted to learn from Graham and was prepared to pay the price of a lower salary. He recognised that for the industry he wanted to work in (investments), Graham was the best mentor he could find.

To ensure the cost of a mentor is an investment and not an overhead, you need to establish what the return on investment is expected to be before the relationship commences. It could be increased sales, increased profits, reduced staff turnover or even more time off for the business owner. Whatever the outcome you want, the return on investment should be at least three times the mentor’s fee.

What challenges or opportunities do you face? How much time and frustration could you save by hiring an experienced business mentor to help you work through your issues?

I help small business owners get clarity on the way forward. Contact me at bryan@bryanworn.com.

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