If asked, most successful small business owners would agree that when they started out, they were at the bottom of a very steep learning curve. Many of them, if they had to do it all again, would do some things differently but at the same time, they appreciate the lessons they learnt through experience.

However, in many cases, the lessons learnt were expensive and involved losses the business otherwise may not have incurred. Unfortunately, many start-up businesses still follow the same learning curve and for some of them, the losses mean they do not survive. Would the results have been different if these businesses had been part of a mentoring program designed specifically for them?

Business mentoring programs are offered to existing clients by accounting companies to help them build better businesses through a long-term collaboration rather than just as a problem-solving measure. There are many benefits for the clients, but the greatest is to have access to someone in the role of an unbiased sounding board and who is unafraid to challenge thinking and decisions.

To have access to such a program would be invaluable for a start-up business and, like every good idea it should begin with a plan. The first part of the plan is to meet with the client to establish conventional agreements such as professional costs, frequency of consultations, service expectations and reporting methods.

The second part of the plan should be to check that basic management tools such as accounting records are in place. This ensures that the fledgling business is starting on solid foundations. Other tools such as marketing plans, cash flow projections and others may not yet be available but should be mentioned in the planning process to be followed up later.

Planning should continue along these lines while being flexible enough to be tailored specifically to different types of business, rather than being a rigid template. The plan should also have enough structure for timelines and targets to be established.

Once the plan is finalised and agreed by the client, the next step is to designate a qualified mentor who will provide support, guidance, objective feedback and further expertise when required. This is an important role, as the success of the program depends on the professional relationship between this mentor and the business owner. Trust and confidentiality are paramount here.

This structured approach to the initial planning process would also be useful for business owners who want to set up their own self-managed superannuation funds (SMSFs). This is a complex process set down by the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) with an annual reporting and auditing regime with financial penalties for breaches of the regulatory system.

For new business owners trying to get their product to the market, this would be an unnecessary distraction. However, companies such as SMSF Assure are specialists at managing the administration aspects of SMSFs for their clients. They ensure that all administration requirements are in place, leaving the business owners to work on establishing successful enterprises.

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