What do Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg have in common? In addition to being phenomenally successful tech entrepreneurs, they all relied on mentors to help grow their companies.

As a small business owner, it's tempting to believe that you don't have time for mentoring because you're too busy building your business. But that's short-sighted thinking. In reality, a mentor is a critical ingredient in business growth and the time you invest now can pay big dividends when you exit the company.

Mentors drive business growth

I routinely encounter small business leaders who think mentoring is only useful for young entrepreneurs and fledgling business owners. Although a mentor can be extremely valuable for first-time owners, there is evidence that the mentoring process serves a much bigger purpose: business growth.

In a recent study of its user base, the online mentoring platform, MicroMentor, found that mentored businesses increased their company revenue by 83 percent compared to just 16 percent revenue growth reported by non-mentored businesses. Furthermore, mentored businesses reported an 83 percent survival rate compared to a 74 percent survival rate for non-mentored small businesses.

At BizBuySell.com, I have a front row seat to the business-for-sale marketplace, and this year we've seen a record number of small businesses change hands. I'm encouraged by the number of first-time buyers and veterans acquiring companies. However, I also know that some of these new owners will struggle to achieve significant growth because growing a business is never easy, even in a strong economy.

Mentoring gives your small business an edge. Obviously, the presence of an engaged mentor doesn't guarantee growth. But it's much more difficult to grow your company without a seasoned, well-connected mentor by your side.

How a mentor can help grow your small business

A good mentor is an encourager who is passionate about your success. Your mentor won't tell you what to do. Instead, he or she will actively listen to your ideas and work with you to make those ideas a reality. In many instances, the realization of those ideas will increase revenue and ultimately make the company more valuable to acquirers.

Over the years, I've learned that no two mentoring processes are the same. Small business owners usually develop personal relationships with their mentors, and those relationships evolve over time. Yet from the outset, the relationship you establish with your mentor needs to align with your business goals and the outcomes you hope to achieve from the mentoring process.

After you find the mentor that's right for you, there are several things you can expect to receive from the mentoring relationship:

Advice. Many small business owners find it helpful to recruit a mentor from within their industries. Although it's probably not a good idea for your mentor to be a direct competitor, a mentor from outside your geographic territory or market niche can help navigate industry-specific challenges and offer advice about strategies that they have used to achieve growth in the industry.  Advice from mentors based on years of experience may help you avoid some of the mistakes they have already made.

Perspective. Whether you admit it or not, your emotional attachment to the business can cloud your judgment. Your mentor isn't personally invested in the business - they're  invested in you. Your mentor brings an outside perspective that can identify your blind spots and help you make decisions that generate business growth.   

Networking. Most mentors are happy to make their networks available to the people they mentor. Depending on the situation, your mentor may be able to facilitate connections with partners, vendors or even prospective customers - another reason why it's helpful to recruit a mentor with experience in your industry.  

Accountability. A good mentor asks hard questions and holds you accountable for following through on actions that will grow the business. To make the most of the mentoring relationship, look for a mentor who will challenge your decision-making rather than someone who simply agrees with everything you say.

Understanding. Small business ownership can be a lonely career choice and many owners lack someone they can confide in when the going gets tough. Your mentor can provide a listening ear because they've walked in your shoes and can offer insights that senior employees or family members can't.   

Finding a small business mentor is easier than it seems. In association with the Small Business Administration (SBA), SCORE offers an easy-to-use online tool for finding a mentor in your industry or geographic area. Female small business owners can also locate a mentor through a national network of Women's Business Centers (WBCs) that provide female business owners with the tools they need to succeed.

Trade and industry associations can also be a valuable resource for locating a mentor capable of helping you achieve your business goals. If you're interested in recruiting a local mentor, consider checking in with the Small Business Development Center or Chamber of Commerce in your area.

On the whole, small business owners are a unique breed of individuals who want to mentor and give back to the business community. Someday, you may be asked to mentor another small business owner and when that day arrives, be generous with your time and remember how important your mentor was in helping grow your business.