Over the past 3 months I have met many Financial Controllers & Accountants (both being Heads of Finance) who are keen to grow the small business they work for. However, a large proportion of these professionals, lack the experience and confidence to lead the transition of the business finance function to a one suitable for a larger business. This is perfectly understandable, but what is frustrating to me is that every Financial Controller & Accountant I spoke to, who had this lack of confidence, had no support mechanism in place. Furthermore, they had not considered the benefits of being mentored by a professional who has significant experience in growing SMEs – in many instances the difference between mentoring and training was simply misunderstood.

Most of the professionals I’ve met are technically more than capable of leading the growth of the business they work for (i.e. they need little training) – they simply lack the experience and confidence. Unfortunately, the lack of a support mechanism, can lead to one (or both) of following outcomes:

Both of these outcomes are detrimental to the development of the Financial Controller/ Accountant as the development of their career in line with business growth is generally overlooked at this stage. This often leads to the Financial Controller/ Accountant leaving the business or their career development being stifled.

This cycle needs to be broken to enable businesses, Financial Controllers and Accountants to grow to their potential – together. A proper Financial Mentoring Program, carried out by a person experienced at working in and growing small businesses, is one way to do this.

In my view it is essential that Finance Professionals and Small Business Owners are educated as to the benefits of a PROPER financial mentoring program.

How should a Financial Mentoring Program Work in a Small Business?

The relationship between mentor and mentee is pivotal to the success of a mentoring program. The program must be focused on both the professional and personal development of the mentee, with an emphasis on enabling and empowering the mentee to take charge of their development and their environment.

Good mentors are excellent “listeners” and act as a “sounding board” for the mentee. They also tap into and describe examples from their own experience in working in and growing small businesses which enables the mentoring process to:

No two mentoring programs are the same but successful programs generally include the following stages:

Getting to know each other     

A mentoring program cannot proceed without this step as it is fundamental in determining whether the mentor and mentee can build a relationship of trust. This stage is generally an initial meeting where each party explains why they wanted to be a mentor or mentee and what they “broadly” hope to achieve from the process. It helps them get to know each other and build trust which is essential to the mentoring relationship and success of the program.

The confidential nature of the program is also highlighted and agreed during this step – it is essential that the discussions within the program remain confidential between the mentor and mentee – the mentor does NOT report back to the MD or business owner.

Establishing a framework

In this stage the mentor works with the mentee to identify the purpose of the mentoring relationship and create a structure in which the relationship can thrive. Various targets and tasks may be set covering an issue(s) which the mentee wants to address – or a more holistic approach may be adopted. It should take no more than a couple of meetings to establish the mentoring framework.

Enablement

This stage is designed to enable the mentee to realise their potential.

Depending on the Framework agreement it will comprise of face to face meetings and “on demand” support designed to give the mentee the confidence to develop into their role and chosen career path.

During this stage both mentor and mentee will review and adjust as necessary in order to maximise the benefit of the program to the mentee.

Closure

Ultimately all mentoring relationships should come to an end as a successful program will have given the mentee the confidence and ability to thrive in their role. Mentors are not “hangers on”.

The closure stage will include a final review of the enablement stage and potentially touch on how the mentee will take their careers forwards.

A successful Financial Mentoring program following the above guidelines will generally take 3 to 4 months, consist of face to face meetings and the mentor ensuring they are available for support when required. As such, most successful Finance Mentors will mentor no more than 2 mentees at a time due to time and dedication required to deliver a successful program.

Final Word

Mentoring is a valuable tool which is overlooked in the development of Finance Professionals – especially in small businesses. This is disappointing as the power of Mentoring can be used to simultaneously develop careers, facilitate business growth and reduce the financial risks which business growth ultimately brings. On a more positive note, the UK government recognises the benefit of mentoring and provides significant funding towards many programs.

Mark Marsh ACA

Mark Marsh has over 25 years of experience working in SMEs. During this time Mark has had the privilege of developing a number of finance professionals who have gone on to greater things. If you would like more information on how Mark can help you please contact us