Dinah Tobias is a business owner and marketing specialist. She’s been a volunteer mentor on our Enterprise programme for the past six years. She shares her view on working with the next generation of entrepreneurs.

Dinah Tobias, Volunteer Business Mentor

I first got involved with the work of The Prince’s Trust when I chose the charity as our nominated fundraising recipient, and it just followed naturally that I started to do more hands-on work with The Trust.

I've always had great mentors around me as I’ve developed my own businesses, and I felt that my natural coaching style was a great fit with the work of the Enterprise programme.

Being true to your values and nurturing business relationships are the bedrock of sustaining a successful business. 

When you build a house, the foundations have to be solid before even thinking about wall colours and window dressings. The same is true of launching a business and a brand.

Ensuring you put in place a clear set of brand values and culture for working with customers, partners and employees is key. This is the essence of what I try to convey to our young entrepreneurs.

As a volunteer mentor and trainer for the past six years, I have had the privilege of working with groups of young people, focusing on sales, marketing and networking skills.  It is pivotal to success that our young people identify the essence of who they are and what makes them tick and translate this into the way they run their business. For young people who often have very difficult backgrounds and are insecure in themselves, this can be a tough but rewarding process.  

One person I mentored was keen to put British craft at the heart of her knitwear business but felt that as she was only just starting out, suppliers would not take her seriously or give her the best terms for supply of her raw materials.  We looked at what she had accomplished up until this point in demonstrating her textile expertise and some of her soft skills such as tenaciousness, reliability and friendliness and worked out how to ensure that all her communications gave this confidence to future suppliers.  She sent them an online portfolio link of her work to encourage them to let her have samples for free.  We also worked on putting together documents that demonstrated she could pay her suppliers on time.

So many of us hate networking or don’t have a strategy for it.  In business, we have a strategy for everything else so why not for building business relationships?  It’s all about playing the long game and providing mutual support.

Many of the young people The Trust works with struggle to succeed at school and work because they simply haven’t got the support networks that more privileged young people enjoy. The Trust’s 40th Anniversary report identifies the ‘social bank of mum and dad’ – those connections and opportunities open to young people with strong family support networks. Starting a business can be a great alternative for young people who don’t get on with traditional education and employment options. Anyone, regardless of where they come from, can develop a strong network in business.

I stress in my training sessions, the most powerful aspect is to create rapport, go beyond the mundane chit-chat at business events, and always follow-up.  I encourage people to learn as much about the people they encounter in business as possible and store this information away so that they can better support their network in the future through spontaneous and mutually beneficial introductions, ideas, and collaborations.  In time, these business contacts will build up a positive picture of our young entrepreneurs and feel confident to recommend them to other business contacts in their own network. 

Mahatma Gandhi (and apparently Stevie Wonder) said “If you don’t ask, you don’t get”.  This is a motto by which I live.  Learning to ask in business is crucial both for researching ideas, asking for advice from mentors and those who’ve already done something similar and, of course, closing a sale.

As humans, we are especially bad at asking for what we want and need. The young people I mentor have often struggled at school or in the workplace. Sometimes, their confidence is at rock bottom. But by teaching them to be bold and ask for what they want, we can help them thrive.