Business Mentoring – the power of mentorship
Small business owner and mentor, Nan Berrett, shares her experience starting up a small business with the positive influences of her mentors.
When I started my business 11 years ago, I had no idea what to do. As a woman in my 60s, I lacked the confidence and knowledge to navigate the entrepreneurial world. However, my journey took a positive turn when I discovered the power of mentorship. In this blog post, I will share my personal experience and highlight the unique benefits of mentorship for women in their 50s and older who are starting a new business.
Finding Direction Through Mentorship
I had a vague idea of how businesses ran as I’d been involved with partners in opening and running an art gallery and a gift shop long ago; we had purchased a local health food store, also some years ago, and closed it after 12 months. I’d been involved in direct sales as side hustles back in the 70s but as far as a serious business went, with myself as the product, I had no clue how to proceed.
I’d fallen into my business by accident as I had no plans to work for myself. I was in my early 60s, not quite ready for retirement, but unsure of how my skills as a regional journalist would translate into freelance work.
And that’s where my first mentoring experience came in. Two things happened. I was encouraged to join the New Enterprise Incentive Scheme (now called Self Employment Assistance program) run by the Federal Government which aimed to get folks on Centrelink benefits into the workforce by developing their own enterprises, and I attended a business expo in Adelaide.
NEIS gave me access to a mentor whom I met with once a month. She encouraged me to develop my ideas and gave me confidence, as well as providing me with accountability – I had to check in with her every month during my year on the program and show the progress I had made and the actions I’d taken from the previous session.
At the business expo in Adelaide, I met several interesting people from a range of business support services, including a mentor from the Polaris Business Development Centre in Mawson Lakes – which helps startups grow and become more competitive.
Between the two mentoring experiences I gained confidence and knowledge and now I mentor business owners myself, sharing what I have learned on my business journey over more than a decade.
Empowering Older Women in Business
Mentoring is particularly important for older women in business because when we reach a ‘certain age’ we often lose any confidence we had in our abilities because, let’s face it, we live in a fast-moving world which celebrates youth more than the experience of age.
There are a huge number of younger women who start up new businesses and make them successful, but there is also a lot of support with networking and other female focused organisations available to support them. It may seem wrong, but I sometimes feel intimidated by these energetic, purposeful and highly motivated and confident women, so I think there is an opportunity to focus on older women who may be starting up something new without the benefits of growing up in a techie world and who might struggle with personal confidence, technology and yes, even energy.
Having a mentor to support you, provide suggestions and ideas, give you confidence and motivation and especially accountability to make sure you progress your business agenda can’t be overstated.
And just because I mentor others now doesn’t mean I don’t still work with mentors for myself. Mentoring can be a life-long experience – and there’s nothing wrong with that!
The challenges of being an older female entrepreneur
Older women may face a range of challenges when thinking about starting their own businesses:
1. Limited access to capital
Traditional financial institutes may be hesitant to invest in older entrepreneurs, so it could be hard to access startup funds. This can be particularly challenging to women who have taken a career break or who don’t have a lot of personal savings to draw upon.
How to combat this:
- Look at alternative funding options such as grants, angel investors, crowd funding, or microloans specifically targeted towards women entrepreneurs.
- Develop a comprehensive business plan that clearly shows the viability and potential profitability of your venture – this will increase your chances of securing traditional financing.
- Consider incubators or accelerators that offer financial support, mentorship, and networking opportunities for female entrepreneurs.
2. Perceived risk and bias
There may be a perception, however incorrect, that women in their 50s and older are less likely to take a risk or adapt to new technology and trends. Gender bias can also factor in the attitude of prospective investors or partners resulting in fewer opportunities or resources.
How to combat this:
- Showcase your industry knowledge, expertise, and adaptability to challenge preconceived notions about older entrepreneurs.
- Build a strong professional brand through online platforms, industry conferences, and speaking engagements to establish credibility and counter biases.
- Seek out organizations and networks that support women in business to tap into resources, mentorship, and potential partnerships.
3. Balancing family and business responsibilities
Many older women may still have family responsibilities, such as caring for children or other family members, volunteering commitments or managing households. Juggling these responsibilities while starting a new business can be overwhelming and will need careful time management and support systems.
How to combat this:
- Communicate openly with your family about your business goals and ask for their support in managing shared responsibilities around the home.
- Establish clear boundaries and routines to effectively manage time between family obligations and business commitments.
- Outsource or delegate certain tasks to lighten the workload and allow you to focus on critical business activities. This could include household cleaning, organising pre-made meals for certain days of the week, gardening help, etc.
4. Limited professional networks
Older women may have a narrower professional network compared to younger entrepreneurs who have had more time to build connections. Accessing mentors, industry experts, and potential business partners can be more challenging, making it crucial for women in this age group to actively seek out networking opportunities and mentorship.
How to combat this:
- Actively participate in industry events, conferences, and networking opportunities to expand your professional network.
- Seek out industry-specific associations and organizations that focus on supporting women entrepreneurs and facilitate networking events and mentorship programs.
- Leverage online platforms and social media to connect with industry experts, potential mentors, and peers.
5. Technological knowledge and proficiency
While advances in technology have completed transformed our business landscape, some older women may face a learning curve when it comes to adopting and leverage new technology. This can create a disadvantage in terms of efficiency, competitiveness and market reach and will need a proactive approach to gaining the necessary skills.
How to combat this:
- Invest time in learning and familiarising yourself with relevant technologies for your business.
- Take advantage of online courses, tutorials, and workshops to develop the necessary digital skills.
- Ask for help from younger family members or hire freelancers/consultants to support you in areas where you may lack technological proficiency.
6. Confidence and self-belief
You need a certain level of confidence when you start a new business. Older women may face self-doubt or societal expectations that they should be winding down their careers, rather than starting something new. Building your self-confidence and combating self-limiting beliefs is essential for success.
How to combat this:
- Surround yourself with a supportive network of mentors, coaches, and peers who can provide encouragement and guidance.
- Engage in personal development activities such as workshops, seminars, or therapy to build self-confidence and combat self-limiting beliefs.
- Celebrate your achievements and milestones along the entrepreneurial journey to reinforce your self-belief.
The lifelong benefits of mentorship
Remember, mentorship plays a crucial role in addressing these challenges. Find a mentor or coach who understands your unique circumstances and can provide guidance, support, and valuable insights to help you navigate the obstacles and succeed in your business endeavours and who aligns with your goals.
Mentoring is not limited to starting a business but can continue throughout your entrepreneurial journey and is important for both professional and personal growth.
Have a virtual coffee with me!
Mentorship is a powerful tool for empowering women in their 50s and older to succeed in business. By finding the right mentor, older women can gain guidance, support, and accountability, enabling them to overcome challenges and achieve their entrepreneurial goals. Whether you are starting a new business or navigating an existing one, mentorship continues to be a valuable resource for personal and professional growth. So, let's connect over a virtual coffee and explore how mentorship can help you create your best third life!
Nan Berrett creates visibility for small business as well as mentoring small business owners and startups to help them navigate the mountain of knowledge which seems to be part of our everyday life in a digital world. She is based in regional South Australia in the beautiful Clare Valley and is happy to travel to meet clients or chat over Zoom. Find out more or book some time to chat: www.wordsolutions.com.au