By Phil Smith, CEO, Cisco UK and Ireland

As an entrepreneur or small business owner, gaining pearls of wisdom from those around you can be invaluable to the success and development of your firm. While those around you, such as peers and partners, can often act as a good sounding board for ideas or problem solving, a mentor can add an extra dimension of knowledge. There are myriad benefits that can emerge from this professional relationship.

Benefits of a mentor scheme

No matter how much you know, it never hurts to learn something new; and that’s what a mentor can do for you. The right mentor can provide unbiased advice, guidance, business-know-how and even the odd introduction. This can be invaluable to both you as a leader and your organisation as a whole. Getting a mentor’s external perspective can also be a major factor in helping you think of new ideas about your business, to drive innovation, productivity and motivation. They can also serve as a great sounding board when there are important or difficult decisions to make

Looking for the right fit
Whichever path you choose, what’s important is to find someone who is the right fit for you personally. You will need to trust them, be prepared to take their advice and take any criticism in a positive way. Knowledge of your particular industry is certainly a plus, but remember that you’re not looking for a business partner, you’re looking for someone to inspire, educate and motivate you. It’s crucial that your mentor has enough time to support you, so it’s best to check in advance if they can realistically commit to the time needed

The channels available to you

If you want to find a mentor then explore the online networks or schemes provided by large organisations such as The Prince’s Trust and Shell LIVEwire. Other places to find a mentor are professional mentoring groups, business and industry associations, social networking sites or alumni groups. Keep in mind you can learn a lot from reading industry news and talking to your peers, this advice can often help overcome your challenges without the need for one-to-one mentoring

How to make the most of your time

It’s worth talking to your mentor in advance about how often you should you meet up and decide whether your relationship is formal or informal so you can plan accordingly. Discuss your expectations and concerns, identify your strengths and weaknesses, and set clear objectives. This will be a long term investment and it is up to you to make it work. If you are signing up to a large scheme then make sure the predefined aims fulfil your objectives.

As you can see you have nothing to lose and everything to gain by finding a good mentor. Following the steps covered above will mean you’re in a great position to establish a hugely rewarding partnership that brings with it a multitude of benefits for both you and your business. Just remember the old adage - two heads are always better than one!