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Holly’s top five mentoring tips

by Holly

I wish the number one question I got asked around twenty times a week was, “Would it be possible for me to give you a million pounds please?” That way, I could fill my home with handmade zebras AND save small businesses while I’m at it. 

Sadly, it isn’t. What I tend to get asked a lot about is mentorship and there’s a very good reason for that. 

When somebody has been around the business block a few times and has been fortunate enough to enjoy some success, we often turn to them to tell us the secret formula. 

It is an honour to be in this position and if I could physically mentor all the founders who asked, I absolutely would. However, aside from the small issue of time, I honestly don’t think that’s the answer. Sadly, there is no silver bullet. We are all different. We are all on different journeys. Plus with every year that passes, things change. 

What I do think is important is the person-to-person, human interaction that mentorship brings. It’s not full of rules or business lessons. It’s two people connecting which is why we are so desperate for it and it can really help us.

According to career development company Halo, 89% of mentees go on to mentor someone themselves and also help contribute to a culture of learning. In traditional workplaces, mentees are five times more likely to be promoted. It was also discovered that mentoring programmes increased minority representation in management from 9% to 24%, and 84% of CEOs said mentors had helped them avoid costly mistakes¹. Seeking guidance makes sense — but there are a few important points to consider first…

There is no silver bullet. We are all different. We are all on different journeys. Plus with every year that passes, things change.

1. Think about why you want a mentor

Let’s start with the most important thing. Before you approach anyone, think about why you want a mentor. What are you hoping to get out of it? 

Bear in mind, they are not going to come along, wave a magic wand and make all the challenges disappear and all your business dreams come true. Even though I’m known as the Fairy Godmother of Small Business, for example, and have publicly committed to supporting this community until I’m 90, I have never walked in anyone else’s shoes. What’s worked for me might not work for you. 

Plus, I’m a person not a superhero! You need to be realistic about what you want or expect from your mentor. No one can do your homework for you and you shouldn’t want them to as it won’t get you where you need to go. Nobody can walk the path designed for your feet alone. It’s unique to us all so we must trust in the process.

2. Break your needs up into areas of growth

It’s highly unlikely you’ll find one person to solve all your business quandaries in one go. When you think about it, there are lots of different elements you’ll need help with. In fact, I’ve found that there are usually four key areas for this:

  1. Practical advice
  2. Industry opinion
  3. Personal growth 
  4. Emotional support

Now that’s a lot for one person to be an expert in, right? Isn’t it better to get four people who can give you some exceptional advice in their particular area rather than one person who can give you some basic advice about a lot?

What I do think is important is the person-to-person, human interaction that mentorship brings. It’s not full of rules or business lessons. It’s two people connecting.

3. Find the right match for you to help you grow

In my experience, people often go straight for the big industry names, thinking that they will be the best people to help. But does that make sense? If someone’s been in the industry for 40 years, can they even remember what it’s like to not have all the knowledge and experience they’ve got? Might it not instead be better to find someone who’s a few years ahead of you on their journey so that they’re much better placed to help and know more about the current context? Or someone specific to your field maybe? A person who can understand how you truly feel about something, not just what you might practically need to do? 

I have a strong belief that the universe provides. It will send you the person or people you need to help you on your journey, even if it’s not necessarily who you hoped for or expected.

4. Use your time wisely and plan ahead

Be clear on the length of time you will be meeting for and when your session should start and finish. Plan it carefully. If you end up going off-road that’s ok but have yourself a plan. It’s also important to respect the person’s time. If they’re meeting you at 1pm, be on time and get to the point. 

Psst. If you’re enjoying this article, you might also like ‘Secrets from a serial entrepreneur’ with Marcia Kilgore, founder of Beauty Pie…

Also think about how many sessions you think you’ll need. Is it one a month, once every two months or just as a one-off? Be clear about this upfront so your mentor knows what they are committing to and so that you’re not expecting more than they can give. 

Write everything down when you come out of your meetings and form an action plan off the back of it. Trust your gut too. Only you know what is right for you. They can give you ideas or guidance but what you choose to do with that is up to you

5. Look for questions not answers

After my podcast episode with Dame Stephanie Shirley, I was lucky enough to be able to arrange half an hour with her — without a doubt one of the wisest people I have ever had the good fortune of meeting. I’d done my homework and gone in with a clear direction, but what actually happened was that she asked me four questions that absolutely blew my brains out. It made me feel scared, stupid and excited all at the same time — which in hindsight, was exactly what I needed to make progress. They have been embedded in my thoughts ever since and I’m extremely grateful for her decades of expertise.

A final thought though is that it doesn’t always have to be someone who has been in the game for many years who makes a good mentor. We can all learn from each other. I love the idea of ‘reverse mentoring’, where people form professional friendships, regardless of their seniority, to swap skills and knowledge. So I’d encourage all small businesses to think who you can buddy up with and learn from. If knowledge is power, let’s make ourselves invincible.

Check out all the SME: SOS sessions we held on Instagram LIVE in case these might help you, or try my Conversations of Inspiration podcast for golden insight from some of the best entrepreneurs in the business — and remember, I will always be here with my pom-poms at the ready as your virtual cheerleader. The future is yours for the taking.


  1. Halo’s mentoring month article

Products featured:

  1. Fucking Great Mentor Mug, by TheProfanityShop
  2. Personalised stacker ring, by Posh Totty Designs
  3. Bloom plant pot, by Curly Kale Design
  4. Custom portrait, by Rosie Johnson Illustrates


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