While many IT executives take the plunge and start their own businesses, few of them survive beyond the first three years. Two key factors contribute to this phenomenon: firstly, entrepreneurs often do not focus on critical business issues, and secondly they feel isolated and alone.
Peer-to-peer mentoring is playing a significant role in helping entrepreneurs combat these issues. Not only can it result in business leads, it is very valuable to learn lessons from people who are in the same boat as you. A shared intention is far more powerful than quietly having an intention on the inside. Group energy increases an entrepreneur’s determination and enables him/her to achieve the goals they’ve set for themselves.
According to statistics supplied by PeerPower, an organisation that runs peer mentoring programmes, 95% of its participants report that they are more focused on key business activities as a result of the programme. 75% report an increase in contacts and referrals. 85% feel less isolated and 90 percent feel they learn from others.
According to Alan Maguire of PeerPower, the programme is particularly relevant for IT entrepreneurs. “In the IT space, technicians love to be technicians!” he says. “Many entrepreneurs are so busy doing the actual work that they neglect the strategic issues that will affect their business in the long term.”
Macguire’s sentiments are echoed by Ingrid Serritslev, an IT entrepreneur who participated in the programme for over two years. “As a tenant in the Bandwidth Barn, I was offered the opportunity to participate in the programme and jumped at it. “Soon after I started my business, I realised that I had the skills to do the work for my clients, but nothing had trained me to run a business.
“Peer mentoring was invaluable because it forced me to stop for a couple of hours a month, take a step back and look at what was happening in my business. The sessions gave me the tools to manage my business, and ensure its growth and success.”
Entrepreneurs at similar stages of business development form small groups, or Peer Advisory Boards as they are known. They meet twice a month for two hours in a facilitated process, and once a month all the Boards get together for a structured networking meeting.
A critical component of the programme is that the group holds each individual accountable for the goals he/she sets. If, for example, one group member commits to writing his/her marketing strategy within three months, the group follows up and checks that it is being done.
Feedback from the participants mirrors Maguire’s view. 80 percent say they have greater commitment and increased motivation. 85% report less procrastination and 75% report more determination. 70 percent also report a better work/life balance.
PeerPower and Serritslev’s business, Inky3D, have both been tenants at the Bandwidth Barn for some time. Mentoring and support are intrinsic to Bandwidth Barn’s offering which helps fledgling IT businesses find their feet.
“Being in the Bandwidth Barn gave me a network, mentoring, instant connectivity, access to receptionists, meeting rooms and all the things a business needs – even an office in the heart of Cape Town,” says Serritslev. “The Barn has given me the skills I need to start and manage a business, and these are a gift for life.”