By Isabel du Toit
Is E-mentorship the way forward?
South Africa has one of the lowest SME survival rates in the world. This is largely attributed to lack of funding and access to finance, as well as poor management skills (GEM, 2001-2010). One possible solution to reverse this dangerous trend is business mentorship, which has proven to be a viable solution to SME sustainability. However, there are some major limitations – most notably, poor access to mentorship and even poorer access to quality mentors, who are usually expensive.
So now what…
Let’s bring on e-mentoring. In other words, the sharing of valuable entrepreneurial knowledge and support from mentor to mentee – ONLINE.
Now you are probably thinking, how could this work? But hear me out -there are some really great benefits to making use of an online business mentorship platform:
If you have access to internet, you have access to online mentorship, and great online mentorship at that. Some e-mentoring platforms such as Mentor Hotline are even mobile compatible, meaning small business owners can access mentorship from anywhere, at any time using their cell-phones – expert advice at your fingertips!
Keeping things online means that travel costs are gone and consultation fees are cut right down; this keeps the costs to the mentee minimal. In fact Mara Mentor is Free (yes you heard right!) – although they do use volunteer mentors, so I cannot vouch for the quality.
- Generalist and Specialist Mentors
Online platforms have the ability to provide you with access to both Generalist and Specialist Mentors. Generalist mentors can provide advice on a broad range of business related topics, whilst specialist mentors answer more complex and specific industry/topic related questions. Online mentoring means that you are not limited to either generalist or specialist mentors, questions will be answered and advice given by the person best qualified to do so.
- Quality Advice
The quality of mentor advice given via an online platform can be monitored by other mentors; they can either build on the advice given, or provide another view entirely. This means that the advice is reliable and you get access to different viewpoints.
- Access to useful Resources and Tools
Useful tools are available online, but it is not common to find a vast library of useful articles, tools and templates in one place. The top online mentoring platforms offer resources on a vast range of topics; from Finance and HR to Marketing and Events, as well as tools and templates for use within your business.
- Very Specific Advice
If you are looking for very specific advice, rather than the General Mentorship such as that offered by Mara Mentor and Mentor Hotline, then platforms such as Legalwise would be best suited to you. As specialists in their respective fields, these specialist sites are able to give more detailed advice on very specific business issues.
- Personal consultations
Some sites offer personal consultations, surprising I know! Most online platforms limit their services to Email correspondence or discussions via the platform itself, but personal consultation (whether face-to-face or via Skype) can add that edge to mentorship, allowing for better advice as the mentor gains a sound understanding of the company’s ins and outs. Mentor Hotline for example includes personal consultation as a part of their service to their Gold and Diamond level Members.
What’s the Catch?
There is really only one catch, you need to have access to the internet, otherwise e-mentoring becomes pretty useless (actually entirely useless). However, with an estimated 20 million smart phone users in South Africa, and growing at a rate of 32% per annum, this should not be a reason to hold us back (BusinessTech, 2013).
So if someone asked me if E-mentoring is the way forward for South African SMEs, my answer is yes, unequivocally yes!