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People often ask what motivates the veteran businessmen and entrepreneurs who join the Go Negosyo entrepreneur mentoring sessions? What inspires them to come and spend their day coaching beginning and aspiring entrepreneurs?
Surely it can’t be easy. Mentors have to take time off from their busy schedules to make the trip to a busy mall, and devote hours listening to other people’s problems. Then there’s also the risk of catching COVID, especially for some of our senior-citizen mentors.
And yet, every time we hold our mobile mentoring event, 3M on Wheels (which used to be called Mentor Me on Wheels) we see the same mentors coming back and giving of their time to teach and advise strangers.
I, too, find myself drawn to mentoring. There is a definite psychic reward to the act of sharing and teaching. For veteran entrepreneurs and businessmen, these mentoring sessions are an immersion. Mentoring gives that satisfaction of helping others, it is a way of paying forward, and its benefits accrue to both parties.
During our last 3M on Wheels held at Ayala Malls Feliz in Pasig City, I had the opportunity to mentor several entrepreneurs, all of them having already started their small business. Always, we come back to the three M’s that form the pillar of our advocacy at Go Negosyo: mentorship, money and markets. These three elements are key to successful entrepreneurship. Give entrepreneurs access to these three, and they have a better chance of succeeding.
Since we resumed our in-person mentoring sessions following two years of pandemic restrictions, I found that the small entrepreneurs still have the same concerns, like how to grow their business. The pandemic, however, brought with it other problems. Small businesses are sensitive to disruptions in their cash flow, so the lockdowns triggered a halt in their sales, affecting their ability to pay back debts and stopping the essential flow of cash that keeps their business going.
On the other side of the coin, the pandemic gave rise to a lot of opportunities. I met one enterprising young man who thought of putting up a cloud kitchen and looping in the students at his school to become his ‘franchisees’ in a small burger operation. He had a lot of takers because the kids were staying at home and many found the opportunity to make money a more productive use of their free time.
Sometimes the mentoring sessions also bring to light the systemic problems we have in our country. As in the case of the owner of a rabbit farm, who found that he couldn’t scale up because there are no meat processing facilities specific to rabbit meat. He believes in the potential of his product, but because the industry has yet to reach maturity, he now finds himself at the exciting, but very difficult, position of being at the frontier of the business.
In such cases, the established networks and years of experience of the mentors come in handy. They know the regulatory bodies that help people like the rabbit farmer. From their own networks, they know of private companies who may be open to exploring or are looking to explore new products, such as rabbit meat.
But sometimes, small entrepreneurs just need reassurance. One of my mentees was considering giving up his business because of the rising costs of materials. Having access to market information and forecasts, I assured him that this will not likely be a permanent situation and prices will be more manageable come year-end. This is the kind of conversation mentees need.
And then there are the small entrepreneurs that amaze us with their resourcefulness. I was fortunate to mentor a young housewife from Baesa who makes ice candy and, with the help of her husband, sells them to a network of sari-sari stores in her neighborhood on a consignment basis. She found ways to create ice candy with two flavors, and improvised on recipes that improve the stability and taste of her products. She also capitalized on the fact that her husband used to deliver ice cream, and thus already had an existing network of stores that had the equipment to store their product. All she needed to expand was another freezer that could be her ‘patigasan’ or where the ice candy could set while her existing freezer could then serve as storage. Doing so would allow her to produce and store more product.
I found out that she regularly goes to our mentoring events. I was impressed by her drive to grow her business, and was awed by how much the addition of one simple kitchen equipment could potentially make all the difference. Who was I to deny her this chance, so I decided to give her a Condura freezer.
But it will surprise many that this kind of giving happens all the time with entrepreneurs. One mentee, who sells her ukay (thrift shop) clothes online, gets rid of her inventory by reselling them, often at a loss, to a third-tier market: itinerant vendors selling the used clothes on carts. What is remarkable is she calls them ‘panimula’ bundles, panimula translates to ‘a fresh start’, which I suppose is how she sees the used clothing: starting capital for someone else’s business.
Mentoring feels almost like being in a church confessional or a psychiatrist’s chair, where people share their deepest fears, their mistakes, their aspirations. Talking to aspiring entrepreneurs, catching a glimpse of their journey, reminds veteran businessmen such as myself of our own experiences in entrepreneurship and how we benefited from the mentoring of others.
It must be what is meant by that popular line from a poem by T.S. Eliot: of arriving where we first started, and knowing the place for the first time.