RiverTribe’s Business Columnist Norman Jackson

writes about the importance of mentoring in business development.


It was 30 years ago that I set up in business in Richmond and looking back I relied on Mark Twain’s two ingredients for business success – namely ignorance and confidence. I made many mistakes, was not particularly focused and in retrospect I was lucky to have survived.

At that time, I had never heard of the word “Mentor” – and I’m sure if I had had one, my decision-making would have been far better and I would have avoided getting involved in some rather dubious business transactions.

Having now worked with over 1,000 SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises), I realise how much good business advice can be given in a short period of time – and when asked what single thing would help a Business Owner, I say “Get a Mentor!”.

Not that I can be bracketed with such a top businessman – but Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman of Alphabet Inc., the holding company for Google, when asked a similar question, replied straightaway “Get a Coach!”

The real test of any Business Plan is to show it to a colleague, a critical friend or mentor because by doing so, your thought process will be challenged and it will give you additional ideas.

For example, take the London Underground Map – 350 stations, easy to read, easy to use – a classical design. But back in the 1930s, the map was like spaghetti – it was a mess. Then along came Harry Beck, who was an Electrical Engineer with the Underground.

He said, “Do not bother with the geographical accuracy – just draw like us electrical engineers – horizontals and verticals” – the rest is history.   

Thanks to Electrical Engineer Harry Beck a much clearer graphic map was created.

Another example is Robert Burns’ poem “To a Louse”. Here he describes a good-looking lady named Jenny, who was walking down the aisle at church – she was beautifully dressed and on her head, she had a lovely hat.

She thought everyone was looking at her because she was so beautiful – but they were all looking at her because on her hat was the most “ginormous” parasite – a Louse.

This inspired Burns to write the lines (translated into the vernacular): “Please Lord give us the gift to see ourselves as others see us”.

By talking with a good mentor, it is highly likely your strategic thinking will get even better – and of course, a problem shared is a problem halved.  

If you are interested in being a mentor or having a mentor, do consider either the Richmond Chamber of Commerce (for the last four years, I have facilitated group mentoring sessions) or The Association of Business Mentors, an independent, not-for-profit professional body with global Head Quarters in East Sheen. Their purpose is to inspire and champion excellence in Business Mentoring.

And finally, it is interesting to note that a recent survey found that 68% of SME owners know that they should have a mentor – but only 28% have one.

So, we can conclude that 72% of SME owners are missing out – are you one of them?

Onwards & Upwards and Whatever It Takes.


Norman Jackson is Richmond based and a Partner in JFP Strategic Planning, a Director of Sunningdale Corporate Finance and a Director of London Scottish. He also chairs the Advisory Board of the Scottish Business Network and facilitates Group Mentoring sessions for the Richmond Chamber of Commerce.