Starting a small business is challenging, and inevitably there comes a point where some expert advice would greatly alleviate some of your stress. That’s where a business mentor can help. “Mentors are valuable because there is really no reason not to learn from the experience of others,” says Bob Godlasky, a SCORE mentor with the Orange County, California, chapter. “There’s value in getting the observation skills of nonfamily, non-friend points of view. It’s amazing what we can’t see until someone with no particular bias reviews the same picture or the same data.”
Indeed, the things you can learn from a mentor are endless. Most of the time, especially when you’re starting out, you don’t know what you don’t know. A mentor with experience in your industry can be invaluable when you are faced with challenges you’ve never faced before. Plus, knowing someone has your best interests at heart (and isn’t just trying to sell you something), the mentoring relationship might be the most beneficial one in your entrepreneurial career.
How can a mentor help your startup?
Builds confidence: The right mentor believes in your idea and your goals. A mentor who knows you are passionate can keep you inspired and headed in the right direction even when you hit obstacles.
Gives focus: Many entrepreneurs are great idea people, but lack organizational skills. If you’re stalling on your startup until you get everything perfect, a mentor can give you the push you need to get you from the “notes on a legal pad” stage to reality. If you’ve got so many things on your to-do list that you’re spinning like a hamster in a wheel, a mentor can help you prioritize and plan your day-to-day action steps.
Speaks the truth: Sadly, your friends and family usually won’t be honest with you about flaws they see in your business concept for fear of hurting your feelings or dampening your enthusiasm. That kind of unconditional support is great, but sometimes you also need to hear the cold, hard truth so you don’t start down the wrong path or waste your efforts. A good mentor will be honest and give you tough love when it’s warranted.
Where can you find the right mentor for your startup? Try these resources:
- SCORE: The SCORE Association “Counselors to America’s Small Business” is a nonprofit association comprised of over 13,000 volunteer business counselors throughout the U.S. Not only is it staffed with experts in all industries, SCORE’s volunteer mentors offer free one-on-one counseling sessions online or in person.
- Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs) are another great source of free or low-cost help and advice for small business owners.
- The Office of Women’s Business Ownership offers business training, counseling and other resources to help women start and grow successful businesses.
- Minority Business Development Centers, part of the U.S. Department of Commerce, offer free help to minority-owned businesses nationwide.
- Your trade or professional association: Many trade and professional associations operate mentoring programs for business owners. Some offer formal one-on-one mentoring sessions as well as group networking opportunities.
Once you have found a mentor, how can you make the most of the relationship?
- Connect with your mentor regularly. Depending on how busy you and your mentor are and how challenging your startup is, the ideal schedule could be monthly, biweekly or even more frequently if you’re in a real spot and need more advice and support than usual.
- Respect the mentor’s time. The mentor is doing you a service by being there for you, so value their effort by always being on time for appointments. Respond to emails and voicemails promptly; don’t reschedule at the last minute.
- Ask lots of questions. Don’t be afraid to open up to your mentor and to ask what might seem like “stupid questions.” That’s what your mentor is there for—to help you learn.
- Don’t limit yourself to only one mentor. A mentor can be anyone you feel you can learn from and who has time to spend with you on a regular basis helping you improve your business. Attend every local business event and make connections online.