How to become a business mentor

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Mike Foster takes a look at the changing role of accountants and bookkeepers and the move into business mentoring.

Mark Lee’s recent article opened with the statement: “It has become increasingly common for accountants to describe themselves as ‘accountants and business advisers’. However, he added: “I have heard many tales of ‘accountants and business advisers’ who still limit their work and advice to the traditional areas”.

This fuelled my thoughts about how my role as a mentor can be integrated into any accountancy or bookkeeping practice. This could be an additional ‘value added’ service that fits perfectly with the value pricing models rather than our traditional hourly rate calculations. So is mentoring an opportunity for practice owners who are looking for an innovative way to extend their offering and potential income?

Mentoring is ‘value added’ as it is likely to save your clients many hours of worry and procrastination, help them maximise their time, and save money, simply by you sharing proven strategies and your experience to help them avoid the common pitfalls or mistakes quite often made by others.

The role of a mentor is a perfect fit for accountants and bookkeepers as quite often a mentoring relationship, much like traditional accountancy relationships, is considered longer than a coaching relationship or consultancy assignment. In addition, we are in the ideal position of working with a variety of clients and therefore have a number of experiences and case studies to share. 

There is much discussion about what is mentoring compared to coaching: A business adviser or consultant? A mentor is somewhere between a coach and a business adviser. A mentor helps you develop with a combination of effective questions and guidance, whereas the role of a coach is more focused on developing the solution from within. An adviser or consultant is usually recruited to add a specific area of expertise and in most cases usually takes the directional lead.

The term ‘mentor’ has previously been commonly used in the workplace by companies whereby a senior colleague may mentor a junior person as part of their personal development and growth within the organisation.

Perhaps the best definition is that mentoring is a professional relationship in which an experienced person (the mentor) assists another (the mentoree) in developing specific strategies, skills and knowledge by sharing their own experience in a thought-provoking manner to enhance the person’s professional and personal growth.

A mentor is well described by Virgin Startup as 'The role is about guidance and helping your entrepreneur to achieve their goals and realise their potential. You’ll help them understand problems, identify solutions and implement their plans.'

Again accountants and bookkeepers are ideally placed to share their experience, knowledge and expertise to resolve the frustration often experienced by business owners when they may not actually know the answer themselves and need the guidance of their trusted adviser to fuel their ideas and motivation.

From a practical perspective you can look to offer a mentoring service that covers all the areas of running a business. Steve Pipe and AVN have captured this concept with their PMI model and tools. Another consideration is to focus on a specific area where you can be seen to stand out from the crowd. This may be helping your clients know their real numbers, consider the growth drivers in their business, systemisation or operational excellence. For example, I have recently seen a mentor focused on the food industry looking at the benefits of recipe management.  

The other consideration is who are you offering such a service to. Will you mentor any of your clients, a select few or will you again specialise and look to focus on a niche sector? Offering your service to chosen vertical markets in which you have your expertise will ensure you add value, but also help you work with your ideal clients, concentrate your marketing efforts, better understand the needs and how you can help, identify product or service gaps and easily adapt as you know your environment.

Mike Foster is founder and director of The Entrepreneurs Mentor.

About Mike Foster

foster

Mike is an experienced collaborative business leader and trusted new business development specialist. He is passionate about entrepreneurship, the marketing function and supporting other business owners with mentoring, training and business development activities.

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By KWest
07th Jun 2015 15:01

First forecast the result.

Clients usually have a pretty good idea of what future sales, overheads and margins are likely to be plus a wish list for investment. In our experience he first step for constructively advising clients comes from turning those into accurate forecasts for profits, liquidity and cash flows (using figurewizard) to either validate or change the plans. Even if clients do this themselves it is our input as to whether or not the forecast balance sheet or operating cash flow statements can deliver what they ir targets which is important to them. - This is what we're good at: We leave product sales and marketing to the client who is usually the expert for that.

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09th Jun 2015 13:44

First Forecast the result

Not sure I agree with you KWest.  What you describe is process and there is plenty of software out there to crunch the numbers for us - this is becoming increasingly commoditised.  I think SMEs (and I assume this is who we are referring to) generally need challenging around their sales planning - do they truly understand what their sales and profit 'drivers' are?  Where does their offering sit in the marketplace? What segments do they supply to? Do they only view sales as a 'one line'  in their financials?  Our skills as advisors (rather than mere bean counters) should be employed with bringing intellectual rigour in questioning their assumptions, which may be flawed.  I come from marketing and accounting disciplines (mongrel or cross-breed - take your pick!) and for me we should always start with the marketing questions around the 4 Ps.

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09th Jun 2015 14:02

There is some thing in this

I believe there is a quiet under current of change in the Accounting profession, the question is who steers, encourages, shapes change, who are the  trailblazers, does that make us sheep like followers. 

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