Q&A: Carl Hopkins: Business guru and mentoring ambassador, Carl Hopkins talks all about the challenges of running a business, and how to find a good mentor.
Why do you think having a mentor is so important for a business owner?
It can be true that it’s lonely at the top, so to have someone from outside of your own business and its day-to-day pressures can be a fantastic way to regain perspective, develop new solutions to existing problems and be inspired by new ideas.
What do you think the most common challenges are for small businesses and how can a mentor help?
Other than never having enough money or there being too little work (or too much work), a recurring theme I see is that business owners, and key people within their teams, spend their time doing the wrong things. Or people take over roles that are not utilising their strengths and talents. A great salesman may not be a great MD and a great MD may not have the best ideas. A mentor can help you keep focus; focussing on the strengths of your people, your product, your service and the direction of your business.
How should an entrepreneur go about finding and choosing the right mentor?
Talk to lots of people. Talk to professional advisors: they are usually well connected. Read the business press and see who impresses you with their experience, their comments and their achievements. Approach individuals directly and simply ask if they would be interested. So many business people want to help smaller businesses but perhaps they don’t have the time to look but are happy to be approached and flattered to be asked.
What makes a good mentor?
Empathy, patience and support are to key to being a good mentor. You have to listen a lot, have the ability to question and a desire to get to the nub of the issues without trying to prove yourself smarter than the business owner. You need to demonstrate that you are on their team and that you will give your time, experience and even contacts to help develop that person and their business.
What makes a bad mentor?
Someone who puts their own ideas, goals and even ego before that of the individual and business they are trying to help... that and large fees.
What did you learn from your own mentor(s) and how did it help?
I learnt so many things from my boss who was my mentor that I wouldn’t know where to begin listing them. When faced with issues or problems I would always listen to their opinion but make my own decisions, because I was the guy who had to live with the outcome . . . good or bad. I also learnt to “email invoices but post cheques - second class!”
What’s the one thing you know now that you wish you had known when you started out in business?
I would like to say “how hard it would be”, but had I known, I might not have done it. Also, everything costs twice as much as you think and takes twice as long. And sadly not everyone is going to be as passionate about your business idea as you are.
Why did you decide to get into mentoring yourself?
I didn’t. People simply approached me and talked about their business and I listened. I then passed on my opinion and thoughts or drew parallels with my own experience. From there, these chats became more structured and diarised, and before you know it you are a “mentor”.
What do you enjoy most about it?
I love hearing people’s ideas for their new business, venture, product or service development. I am bowled over by people’s enthusiasm, hard work and success. I have great admiration for their resilience and resourcefulness. And if I can in some way help accelerate their success, enjoy the journey more or avoid failures, then that is a good way to invest my time.
What’s the most important piece of advice you’ve given to someone starting out in business?
Surround yourself with people smarter than you.