Purpose – This paper examines the way social class influences the relationship between business mentors and small business owner-managers. Design/methodology/approach – The paper is based on the author's experience of mentoring businesses with The Prince's Trust. Three businesses were selected as cases. The methodological approach involved participant-observation over an extended period of time. These observations were supplemented by semi-structured interviews. Findings – The paper focuses on Bourdieu's concepts of habitus and cultural capital as key influences on the values and dispositions of owner-managers. The working class owner-managers in this study lacked a future orientation and as a result “lived for today”. They also had a fatalistic attitude to life arising from both their experience and an understanding of their “position” in society. Low aspiration levels were also evident in the way the owner-managers in this study viewed ambition as “pretentious” and “getting above oneself”. In addition, they resisted the idea of being “rational” and preferred to utilise informal or “hot” information. Practical implications – This paper concludes that professionals should resist adopting a “deficit model” that automatically assumes the values of the mentor are superior to those of the owner-manager. In order to avoid this it is suggested that professionals should adopt a reflexive approach in their relationships with clients. Originality/value – It could be argued that other factors besides social class will influence the owner-manager/business mentor relationship and the way these businesses are run. However, a focus on social class was felt to be appropriate because of its neglect in small business research.