10/06/2015

By Ruth Topham, associate director and mentor, KPMG Enterprise Consulting


How does it all start?

It starts with a spark of inspiration.

You see a gap in the market, an unmet need, a social problem that could be addressed with thought, innovation and hard work.

Done right, it could really make a difference. Done fast, it could steal a march on potential competitors. Done in a controlled manner, and you’re in it for the long haul.

So what comes next?

Doubt, that’s what. Yes, maybe not for everyone, but for many. They may not be exactly these doubts or quite in this order, but still they come:

• “There’s a reason why no-one has managed to do this.”
• “I’ll never find the money to really get it going.”
• “I don’t have all the skills to do this.”
• “I’m just not sure I have it in me.”
• “How will I pay my bills and get this off the ground?”

The idea is still there, but it doesn’t feel quite like ‘the one’ anymore. You stop scribbling notes about it and cast your mind to other things. For some, this happens in minutes or hours. For others, days.

If your first instinct was that your idea might really have legs, then there is a good chance that you are right. Of course, this doesn’t guarantee success, not by a long way. But doing nothing definitely guarantees failure.

So, what do you do?

Tell someone.

You might be thinking, “But they’ll steal my idea!”.

Of course, don’t just tell anyone.

Find someone you trust, someone who will get your concepts, and just as importantly, somebody who can deliver honest feedback constructively. Tell them how you think your product will work, how you think you might go to market, how you plan to make money, maybe even how you plan to change the world.

Find a mentor and then tell them your doubts too.

A great mentor will be able to help you work through your doubts. It will lead to refining your idea, it may even lead to killing your idea (hopefully for a better one), but whatever you do, find a great mentor and use them to help you give it due thought and attention.

Being an entrepreneur and business owner can be lonely. A mentor provides you with that sounding board to ensure you focus your energy where it counts and you make those big decisions with a clear head.

Having a mentor also means you’re making an instant commitment - a commitment to follow your idea through and give it the thought it deserves. An instant commitment to believe in yourself.

What does a great mentor look like?

Getting a great mentor is critical. You’d never pick a mediocre teacher for your children, so nurture yourself and your idea with the same care.

Clearly someone who has worked with new business ideas before is essential. Someone in your industry can also help but in my opinion that credential is a “nice to have” depending on how specialist the industry is. You’ve already come up with the idea, there’s a good chance you know a large proportion of what you need to know in the industry anyway.

Most importantly a great mentor will not give you the answers.

Yes, you heard me right. A great mentor will not do the work for you. A great mentor will help you to find your own answers.

They will have the ability to put themselves in your shoes, to see the passion in your eyes, and the inspiration in your idea. And they will have the restraint and thought process to see several steps ahead and to help you to do the same. They will commit themselves to you and ride the rollercoaster with you, but they’ll have their eyes open on the scary parts.

But it’s not all about the mentor.

Being a great mentee – it’s all about you

Actually this whole business starts and ends with you, at least for now. Having a great mentor is only half the battle, you have to be a great mentee too.

You can be a great mentee by:

• Being open to advice and feedback and making sure you act on it
• Making the most of your time with your mentor by coming prepared with questions, thoughts and ideas to discuss
• Keeping in touch with your mentor, letting them know how things are going, even if you don’t need them at that exact time – this makes it easier for the mentor to help you when you do need it by being up to speed, but also helps to develop your relationship

A great mentor and a great mentee make for a fantastic relationship that is positive, energising and productive – one that will guide you through your start-up journey.

What are you waiting for?

There are plenty of places to look for a mentor, KPMG has a successful mentoring programme and you can also try asking your industry association, or your local Business Growth Hub or Chamber of Commerce as good places to start.

I will leave you with one of my favourite quotes:

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has," said the cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead.

So, get out there and change the world.