Entrepreneurs and small business owners are fiercely individually minded. We must be. We broke the mold, started out on our own, and strive each day to make our businesses a success.
However, no matter how far you go it alone, there’s always room for a little help, advice, and support. It could be from a family member who’s run a business, a business peer, or from someone who doesn’t know you at all.
Unfortunately for many solopreneurs, swallowing our pride and asking for help isn’t always easy, but having an open mind to the input of others is key to success in any career. Knowing what other entrepreneurs are doing or have done and applying these ideas and lessons to your business is a great way to keep pace with explosive growth or even just guide you on specifics, such as navigating financial management principles.
If you’re not convinced, consider the following benefits of working with a mentor, plus some tips for finding one.
6 Things to Consider When Looking for a Small Business Mentor
Mentors Aren’t Strangers or Stuffy Men in Suits
When I started my business, I was a novice and focused 100% on serving customers and finding new ones. So much so that I wasn’t even aware of the mistakes and missteps I was making along the way. Fortunately, I connected with a fellow business owner in the same field, and over several cups of coffees, I gained invaluable insight into what I needed to fix and the pitfalls I needed to avoid. Similarly, over time, I’ve been able to advise others, not in any official capacity, but just being there for them over social media or email when they had a question.
Mentoring can be as informal as that, but it can be much more too, which leads to my next point.
Mentors Push You
We all need encouragement and quick nuggets of advice, but a small business mentor can also help you be what you need to be to succeed. This invariably means helping you get past your weaknesses. To do this, you may need to enter into a more formal mentoring relationship (more on that below)—and for good reason. As Benjamin Disraeli said, “the greatest good you can do for another is not just to share your riches but to reveal to him his own.”
Entrusting yourself to a small business mentor is very different from consulting a friend or peer every now and then—it’s a commitment from both sides to your success. A good mentor will see the talent and ability in you, be focused on your future and stretch your abilities—more than you can do on your own.
Mentors Get You Over Hurdles—Together!
It’s very easy to ease off on the brakes when confronted with obstacles in business. When you wear all the hats, finding the wherewithal to jump through hoops, especially when times are tough, is hard.
A mentor can provide you with the encouragement you need to get past these obstacles together. Sure, you can get advice and encouragement from friends and family, but only a mentor can provide that support in the context of the intricacies of your business and have the patience to rinse and repeat until you get to where you need to be.
Finding a Small Business Mentor
I’ve discussed the importance of peers and even friends and family, but there are many other avenues for finding a small business mentor. One source that I regularly encourage my peers to use is SCORE. Sponsored by the SBA, SCORE offers free mentoring and counseling to small business owners in-person and online. 53,377 new businesses were started in 2015 with the assistance of SCORE mentors. These volunteers include working and retired business owners, executives, and managers who’ve walked in your shoes. They offer advice on everything from business planning, financial management, marketing, growth, and more.
There are many ways to connect with a SCORE mentor. You can ask a question online. Connect in-person or use face-to-face technologies like Google Hangouts, FaceTime, and Skype. You can also find mentors via business incubator programs and associations in your community, via LinkedIn groups, your local chamber of commerce, and so on.
Before You Connect with a Small Business Mentor
Before you connect with a potential mentor be very clear on your goals. What role do you want the mentor to play? For example, do you want someone who can help with business operations or someone who can help you build your network? How frequently do you want to connect? Can they meet your availability demands? How do you prefer to communicate: in-person, by phone, online?
The Bottom Line
Always remember there is absolutely no reason to be alone in business. Whether you are getting started, looking to grow, or simply need a second pair of eyes and ears to advise, encourage, and support you, consider the benefits of a mentor.
And remember: “Mentoring is a brain to pick, an ear to listen, and a push in the right direction.” — John Crosby