Friday, 27 July 2012

Mentors or Advisors?

Some while ago the Government decided that there was no longer a need for the physical entity called Business Link. As they had already spent £34million on its website they said that was enough information. They were persuaded that occasionally people starting a business would want to talk to someone so they added in a call-centre facility as well.

As it happened the British Banking Association had also persuaded them that they could provide 30,000 Business Mentors who would all work for free and therefore why would new and developing business have any need to go to an Enterprise Agency for help? Obviously this was seen as a great way of saving money by the new Government who had begun to realise that providing support for the new growth businesses that the economy needed was going to cost money they could ill afford.

Naturally, they could trust the banking profession to deliver on a promise, and they look as if they will have done so; the Mentorsme website shows an increasing number of mentoring organisations as well as individuals available. Whether all of them are free is a bit questionable.

My argument is not with the numbers or the cost, or how that relates to the initial promises made, but to the actual concept.

In my time helping small businesses I have acted as Consultant, as a Business Advisor and as a Mentor and I am qualified in all three areas so you could assume I know the difference. Unfortunately those organising help for small businesses do not, particularly the difference between an Advisor and a Mentor.

You can illustrate the difference by asking a question. Someone is starting a small business and goes to someone for help. They first ask “ How do I register as self-employed?” The Business Advisor says “You need to register with HMRC for two reasons, because you need to pay class 2 National Insurance and you need to register for Self Assessment Taxation. There is a form you need to download and complete on the HMRC website so go to…” – you get the picture.

The Mentor, in answer to that question, should say “Well, what do you think?”

This is a simplified situation but, I believe, illustrates the misunderstanding between the two roles. The Business Advisor is there to provide answers, the Mentor is there to provide guidance. We should not confuse the two.


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