Vanessa Philips’ belief that people should feel empowered to do more for their own businesses pushed her to get involved with horsesmouth.co.uk, an online mentoring service. A life-long entrepreneur and founder of OutSec Ltd., a successful online transcription company, Vanessa has dabbled in everything from publishing to sandwich selling – though marketing, technology and website development are her stated areas of expertise.
“When I started up my own company and did it myself I was constantly frustrated at being told ‘well you’ll need to get help here’. The insinuation was ‘you won’t be able to do it yourself’. So I went into mentoring partly because of a frustration with some of the advice I received.”
Currently Vanessa mentors five people in the start-up phases of their own businesses. She says that online mentoring shouldn’t necessarily replace professional business advice, but it has an important place. She explains: “It’s just putting people in touch who have had business experience. But with professional business mentoring, often it’s with those who haven’t done it practically themselves: it’s textbook speak, whereas ours is probably more practical or more realistic.”
As her business experience lies in the area of online technology, the companies Vanessa has helped have been predominantly internet-based: “They want to improve their profile and their hit rating and I help them to understand how they can increase their hits and be Google-rated just by playing around with the text on their website, for instance.”
A lot of her advice revolves around PR and marketing too: roles Vanessa believes generally don’t need to be outsourced. Correspondence between mentor and mentee is email based, and much of the time she finds the same questions come up, so she now supplies frequently asked question fact-sheets to interested parties.
Mentoring can be as much about fostering a type of attitude as providing practical tips though – particularly with female entrepreneurs, who in Vanessa’s opinion often lack confidence.
Vanessa approaches mentoring as a hugely responsible job, and says it’s important to realise that people may well act on the advice.
“I act as a sounding board, offering people advice based on the learning curve I went through: you have to remember that mentoring is not coaching! Mentoring is about giving ideas.”