• Mentoring

Mentor Development: Early Warning Signs

Read a case study about the early warning signs mentors need to be alert of. Includes thought-provoking questions and best practice solutions.

Early Warning Signs – Case Overview

Cynthia has been a Futurpreneur mentor for many years and has enjoyed sharing in the successes of the entrepreneurs she has mentored. Today she feels like she is in over her head.

After being matched with Rashmi two months ago, Cynthia has been providing advice and suggestions to further develop the weak business plan for the new pet grooming business. When Cynthia learned last month that Rashmi was using her Futurpreneur financing for personal expenses, she became very concerned. Rashmi reluctantly agreed to include a quick financial review in the agenda of the upcoming meeting next week. Perhaps she will ask Rashmi to send her financial information each week until this crisis has passed.

Cynthia is beginning to prepare for the meeting and expects to hear that more of Rashmi’s financing has been spent on personal items. As a mentor, Cynthia knows the topic must be discussed but she’s concerned that Rashmi may get defensive, or worse, hostile when she brings up the subject

Cynthia is uncertain if she should include her concerns in her upcoming Quarterly Report to inform Futurpreneur of the problem – would this be a violation of what Rashmi told her in confidence?


  • Why is a business plan review for a newly matched entrepreneur important?
  • How do you think Rashmi will respond to being asked for weekly financials? What else could Cynthia do to support Rashmi in the next two months?
  • What can Cynthia do to prevent an emotional response from Rashmi that might derail her mentoring session?
  • What advice would you give Cynthia on balancing her wish to alert Futurpreneur that the loan may be at risk with her need to preserve the trust in her mentoring relationship?
  • What are other early warning signs that mentors like Cynthia need to be alert for? What are the key things to remember when facing an early warning sign?

Early Warning Signs – Best Practice Solutions

  • A business plan review is critical when a mentor is newly matched to an entrepreneur. Cynthia can learn about the business and the goals of the entrepreneur. It may also give her insights into Rashmi’s development needs depending on the quality or gaps in the business plan. All of these will indicate how Cynthia can add the most value in the mentoring discussions.
  • Rashmi will likely feel like she is being “managed” by her mentor after being asked for weekly financials. As this is NOT the role of the mentor, Cynthia should consider other ways to assist with this crisis. She could offer to have shorter but more frequent mentoring discussions, or perhaps help Rashmi break the financial plan into monthly cash flow items that Rashmi can easily track while she is managing the finances of the business. Ultimately, Rashmi must make all the business decisions.
  • Cynthia should focus on asking exploratory questions that help her understand how Rashmi’s actions fit within the context of the business plan. The questions must not convey a judgmental feel but rather focus on what has happened and how it will impact the business. This should ensure the conversation remains professional however Rashmi may still have an emotional response.
  • As a mentor, Cynthia should acknowledge any emotions as a sign of Rashmi’s dedication to making the business succeed and thank her for feeling comfortable in sharing her feelings (no matter what they are). This may take the conversation off topic for a time but is still valuable as it builds trust in the mentoring relationship.
  • Cynthia’s primary responsibility is to help Rashmi succeed. Cynthia should express her concerns in terms of wanting to help Rashmi and ask questions to generate a dialogue. Cynthia could suggest involving Futurpreneur for additional support or ideas and engage the Futurpreneur Canada Regional Director in an open discussion. This will preserve the trust in the mentoring relationship. If Rashmi continues to resist involving Futurpreneur, Cynthia should include the information in her upcoming Quarterly Report and has the option to request immediate support from Futurpreneur on her mentoring responsibilities.
  • Other early warning signs include:
    • A break-down in communication – the entrepreneur is difficult to reach or cancels meetings without rescheduling for more than 2 months.
    • Personal matters that impact the mentoring relationship or business – the individual may not feel comfortable discussing the details with the mentoring partner.
    • Conflict or hostility in mentoring discussions – this could be the result of style or personality differences. Rather than simply letting the mentoring relationship lapse, contact Futurpreneur and recommend a mentor re-match.
    • Serious problems with the business – Continue to mentor the entrepreneur through the business. If, despite your best efforts as a mentor, the business fails, we request that the mentor inform Futurpreneur as the entrepreneur may not notify us.
  • When faced with an early warning sign: ask questions to confirm, look for ways to help the entrepreneur, preserve your role as a trusted adviser and contact Futurpreneur if appropriate.

Early Warning Signs – Key Learning Points

  • Futurpreneur is part of your mentoring relationship. Futurpreneur’s role is to support the entrepreneur. Unlike the role of traditional lenders, Futurpreneur’s objective is always to assist the viability of the business and to work with entrepreneurs to provide support and suggestions even in difficult times. The mentor may need to encourage the entrepreneur to feel comfortable including Futurpreneur in working through crisis or challenges. Anytime you are feeling “in over your head”, consult with your local Futurpreneur contact to get some ideas and clarify your responsibilities.
  • The mentor role is to help the entrepreneur help themselves. As a mentor Cynthia must look for opportunities to provide advice and guidance. Her request for weekly financial reporting may cause Rashmi to view her behaviour as managing and not mentoring. Strive to have the entrepreneur take responsibility for the issue after it is raised in mentoring discussions by creating an action plan to resolve the problem.
  • Take Action. Helping Rashmi succeeds means identifying potential problems early and discussing them. Cynthia should ask Rashmi questions to understand the change from the business plan and help Rashmi explore the consequences of the actions. Delaying a difficult conversation until you ‘know’ there is a problem puts the business at great risk. Discuss the problem or issue in terms of how it impacts the future to avoid being perceived as simply criticizing.
  • Early Warning Signs come in many forms. Cynthia noticed the early warn sign in this case easily. Other warning signs may be more subtle but in general relate to actions taken by the entrepreneur that are outside the business plan and are likely to have a negative impact on the business. A lack of contact from the entrepreneur may be an early warning sign.

Generally, warning signals indicate larger problems such as low entrepreneur confidence, lack of progress to the business plan or serious financial difficulties. How the mentor responds to the early warning sign will often determine if the entrepreneur will feel comfortable disclosing the larger underlying issue.