Finding a business mentor can be crucial to jump-starting your new biz with experience and motivational support
I highlighted last week the top reasons why new businesses fail and some tips for making your dreams a success. Right there at the top of the list was lack of experience.
The easy answer is to work in your industry long enough that you know it inside and out before starting a new company.
But small business dreams won’t always wait for the ‘easy’ answer.
Sometimes, that great product or business idea just won’t wait. You need to get it to the market before anyone else.
When that happens, finding a business mentor can not only help you understand the finer points of launching a new enterprise but give you the motivational support to push through the hurdles.
What is a Business Mentor?
The best business mentors have been where you are and have been successful in business ideas similar to yours. That means people with experience in starting a business and experience in your particular industry.
After all, you wouldn’t ask a doctor for tips on how to launch an ecommerce store…and I hope you wouldn’t ask a tech expert how to do your own appendectomy.
Beyond the technical qualifications, a good business mentor is also willing to provide you the advice and guidance you need for little or no personal gain.
How to Find a Business Mentor
Finding a business mentor that is willing to help you out of the kindness of their own heart is the tricky part. Fortunately, there are a few places you can look.
- Government-Sponsored Mentor Organizations
I’ve highlighted five websites for finding business mentors through government programs but there are quite a few others. The ones run by the Small Business Administration (SBA) and local business development centers are best.
- SCORE Mentors: This is an SBA program to provide free and confidential business counseling, mentoring and advice to small business owners. It’s a nationwide network and you can connect in-person or online.
- Small Business Development Centers: SBDCs are generally associated with local and state economic development offices to provide management guidance to new entrepreneurs. SBDC services include financial counseling, managerial guidance and marketing advice along with general business mentoring. Some Small Business Development Centers offer specific advice in targeted industries like manufacturing or technology.
- Women’s Business Centers: WBCs are also generally associated with local government business development offices and provide business training and counseling for women entrepreneurs. The national network of almost 100 business development centers is mandated to support women who want to start and grow small businesses.
- Veteran’s Business Outreach Centers: VBOCs provide veterans with entrepreneurial development services such as business training, counseling and mentoring.
- Minority Business Development Agency: MBDA business mentors help minority entrepreneurs gain access to capital, market research and general business training.
- Trade Associations
The government sponsored business mentoring programs are an easy option because the organizations are mandated to provide support and help new business owners. I’ve found the best business mentors come from trade associations and local business groups.
Finding a business mentor from an association or local industry club will take longer because you’ll need to get to know the members in the group but these are driven business leaders with a lot to teach you. Many trade associations operate mentor programs that will help you connect with someone in the group.
Mentoring programs are generally a combination of one-on-one coaching sessions and group networking with other new business owners. You might even get connected with several business owners to help with different aspects of your new business.
If your local trade association doesn’t run a mentor program, make sure to attend group meetings and talk to as many people as possible. Get to know people and let them know you are looking for advice on how to grow your small business idea.
- Mentoring for Government Contractors
The General Services Administration (GSA) operates a business mentor program for businesses that sell products and services to the federal government. The program is specifically designed to encourage other contractors to help new entrepreneurs with government contracting.
- Look to Your Network for Business Mentors
If you’ve worked in the industry for a while, you may know someone that is willing to help you with advice. Is there someone at your company or within the industry to whom you’ve always looked up to or respected?
Most likely, you know other small business owners as well. Even if they run businesses outside your industry, they may be able to offer guidance on how to get your new business off the ground.
This kind of business mentoring goes both ways so be prepared to share with them anything you find that works to make your business a success.
Working with a Business Mentor
Most formal business mentoring programs and organizations will have their own system and guidance on how to best use the program. If you’re working with an individual that has never mentored someone, you may have to work through the process as you go. Follow these ideas to establish a structured relationship that helps you both.
- Be organized, prepared and consistent. Respect your business mentor’s time by being on-time and prepared for meetings.
- Don’t expect your mentor to run your business for you. Look for a few business mentoring case studies and understand what a mentor can help with.
- Don’t blame your mentor for poor business performance. You are ultimately responsible for how your business does.
- Plan your mentoring sessions in advance. This can be as simple as a five-minute brainstorm about what you want to cover in the next meeting but will help you both prepare better and get the most out of your sessions.
- Take notes, create action items and be prepared to review progress during your next session.
- Periodically review what you’ve covered in mentoring sessions, how it has translated to success or failure and what you can learn from it.
- Thank your mentor for his or her time and assistance with your business decision-making skills.
Finding a business mentor can be one of the best things you do for your small business. Whether you have years of experience or are just getting started, a business mentor can help with guidance as well as motivating you to keep going. Being your own boss can be a lonely sky to fly and having a co-pilot can make all the difference.