As a small business owner, have you worked with a mentor? If not, Mentoring Month, held annually in January, is a great time to explore this opportunity that can help strengthen your business.
An entrepreneur can turn to a mentor with questions and get valuable advice tailored to an industry or specific situation.
According to a 2014 survey by The UPS Store, 70% of small businesses that receive mentoring survive more than five years – DOUBLE the survival rate of non-mentored businesses.
Mentoring relationships can form organically but often the business owner needs to be proactive. Here are reasons to find a mentor and how you can connect with one who is a good fit for you and your business.
Why Business Owners Need a Mentor
- Expert Advice – Ideally, your mentor will be “from the trenches”, a professional who has established and run a successful business (or multiple businesses). Benefit from their experiences – both good and bad – to avoid mistakes and follow a proven path.
- A Fresh Perspective – It’s hard to step back and take an objective look at a business when you are on the front lines. Being involved heavily in the day-to-day can warp your perspective of how to reach goals – and even what goals you need to set. A mentor takes a look at the big picture and can help you focus your energies efficiently.
- Networking – A good mentor can assist you as you form valuable relationships with vendors, investors, the local community and customers. For example, SmartBiz customer earthdog, a Nashville based company that produces hand-made accessories for pets, caught a big break when starting out. “We put the collars we made on foster dogs that went back to the humane society for adoption,” the founder says. “A woman there took notice and asked if we wanted to sell them.” That woman happened to be the owner of Nashville’s first dog boutique. “Before too long, she told us about a pet industry trade show in Chicago and asked if we wanted to go.” They garnered attention from across the US.
- Guidance – Facing a big decision or a business-relation problem? A good mentor can offer direction and give suggestions. Entrepreneurs are frequently a “jack of all trades” but not everyone has experience in all areas needed to run a business.
How to Find a Small Business Mentor
Sites like Meetup.com are an effective way to network. Find the right fit by exploring local small business groups. Go to happy hour events, networking events and speaking panels that relate to your business.
Industry Conferences – The thought of paying for and attending a conference might not be appealing. However, the right type of conference can be a great place to look for a mentor. Be sure to attend special breakout sessions and keynote speeches. Bring old-fashioned business cards and offer to connect on LinkedIn with those who might be a fit.
Your Alma Mater – If your university has a business college, they might have an entrepreneurship center or mentor program. The alumni network could also be a resource as well as your former teachers or professors.
Join a Professional Association – Visit careeronestop.com to locate national professional associations by occupation or industry served. Associations can help you find professional development opportunities, keep current on changes in your industry and locate a mentor.
If you need more convincing about the benefits of working with a mentor, check out this article from Forbes: Why Every Entrepreneur Needs a Mentor. Once you’ve decided on a mentor, the New York Times has a good list of how to best work together here: How to Work With a Mentor.
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