Business is for other people, right?
You need loads of knowledge about tax and payroll and invoicing and pitching for clients, when really, all you want to do is write, or plaster walls, or offer great therapy, or provide whichever brilliant service you know you are good at. The thought of making the huge leap from person-who-does-stuff to business owner seems just too terrifying. I know – I was there, floundering at the edges of an idea and not making it happen.
A familiar story?
My own story’s probably familiar to lots of women. I had been out of the world of work for a few years, raising a family, and had taken tentative steps back into the workplace with a part-time job that increased to full-time. Hurray – I was earning again, and feeling like an actual adult. And then someone offered me some freelance work. Gulp. Was I up to this? It meant uncertainty, and registering with HMRC and paying my own tax and business insurance and lots of other unknowns.
People, I did it. I said yes. And that same week, in a moment of beautiful serendipity, I saw an Instagram post about a new mentoring programme for women entrepreneurs. I applied there and then, and shortly afterwards I found out I’d been lucky enough to get a place on the first FreelanceHER 100 programme.
What do I expect as a Mentee?
I did not have a clue what to expect as a mentee. Would I be expected to know what I’m doing (because I really didn’t)? And would I be the only dithering person biting my nails and feeling like an imposter among a group of go-getting women who’d all got their acts together and were heading for their first million? It turns out that I was in good company. It was a group of go-getting women, at all stages of their business journey. But what we had in common was a feeling that we were out in this daunting business world alone. What most of us needed was a steer, a hand-hold, a sounding board, from those who’d been there ahead of us and knew how we were feeling.
So what does mentoring give you?
In addition to invaluable information on specifics like tax, marketing, sales and other business-y topics, there’s a more holistic support to help you drive towards your goals – or even to help you define those goals.
The benefits are numerous and compound and continue to accrue as the mentoring goes on, but here are my own top five benefits to being mentored:
- Confidence: it takes courage to start up a business, or to grow a small one into a bigger one. Embarking on that journey with someone alongside who can offer support, challenge your decisions, or point you in a direction you hadn’t thought of before, or who can simply listen to your worries and reassure you, makes the whole process much less terrifying and helps you know you’re on the right track.
- Knowledge: Google is your friend, for sure, and there are plentiful YouTube tutorials and great podcasts to help you find out business facts and know-how. But nothing beats learning from a fully-present person, face-to-face (or screen-to-screen if you happen to be in the middle of a pandemic) who can talk to you in real time about things you need to know right now, and can answer questions and give examples that are tailored to your own situation.
- Networks: do you need to find someone who knows how to market a tiny business? Be put in touch with someone else who has the same worry or issue as you, or is in the same industry? If you’re a solitary entrepreneur working all day from your kitchen table, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and cut adrift. A mentor is plugged in to the business world. It’s ten to one they’ll know just the person you need to talk to, or at the very least, know someone who’ll know someone.
- Mindset: you might think that all you need is some specific help with the logistics of tax or the finer points of email marketing, but with a mentor you get someone who’ll challenge you to think bigger, examine your attitudes towards money, consider how you manage your time and wellbeing, and look at the art of sales in a whole new way. This shift in mindset pays dividends (pun intended) in how you scale, scope and visualise your business.
- Challenge: Your comfort zone might feel like a safe place, but it’s a dangerous place for entrepreneurs. A mentor will prod you out of your comfort zone by asking you tough questions that you might be hiding from, or set you challenges you wouldn’t have dared to do otherwise: make a video of yourself talking straight to camera about your business? Tick. Learn to say no and set boundaries? Tick. Ask outright for more money if the scope of your project begins to creep? Tick. Try new things and experiment more? Tick, tick tick. And doing things that challenge us is ultimately how we grow as entrepreneurs, as businesses and as people.
Is starting a business a terrifying thing? It can be, but it’s also exciting and exhilarating and liberating.
A mentor helps you to channel your fear into a more productive energy that pushes you to try new things, in the knowledge that you’re not making this journey alone.