Finding a mentor for your small business - WDAM - TV 7 - News, Weather and Sports

Finding a mentor for your small business

Updated: Feb 14, 2011 03:36 PM EST
A mentor is experienced, successful and willing to provide advice and guidance. (©iStockphoto.com/Jacob Wackerhausen) A mentor is experienced, successful and willing to provide advice and guidance. (©iStockphoto.com/Jacob Wackerhausen)
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Provided by SBA.gov

Once you're ready to start a business, you'll have many important decisions to make. This is especially true in the first months of opening your business. You might worry that you'll have to make every decision on your own. Ultimately, you are responsible for the decisions you make, but you can always consult others to get guidance. A mentor could be an invaluable resource to you.

A mentor is someone who has been down the same path you're taking. A mentor is experienced, successful and willing to provide advice and guidance -- for no real personal gain.

But how do you find a mentor? Here are some steps for finding and working with a mentor for your new small business venture.

Steps for Finding and Working with a Mentor

1. Government-Sponsored Mentor Organizations

You might be surprised, but the government offers a great deal of free resources and services to support small business owners, both online and locally.

The following are some organizations you can reach out to:

  • SCORE: Provides free and confidential counseling, mentoring and advice to small business owners nationwide via its network of more than 12,400 retired business executives, leaders and volunteers. SCORE is sponsored by SBA and has volunteers share their expertise through in-person and online counseling.

  • Small Business Development Centers: Provides management assistance to current and prospective small business owners.

  • Women's Business Centers: Provides 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, the Minority Business Development Agency was created specifically to foster the establishment and growth of minority-owned businesses in America, with more than 40 centers nationwide.

2. Trade Associations

Many trade associations operate mentor/protégé programs that provide guidance to help you build your business. These mentoring programs are often conducted through a combination of formal one-on-one mentoring sessions and group networking and discussion opportunities with fellow protégés. Business owners might be connected with several different mentors over a period of several months to gain a more holistic experience.

Most industries are represented by trade associations, as are genders, ethnic groups and business types. If you need help finding a trade association, consult any Internet search engine.

3. Mentoring for Government Contractors

If your business plans to sell anything to the federal government, you know that it can be tough to get started. The good news is that the General Services Administration (GSA) offers a Mentor/Protégé Program that is specifically designed to encourage prime contractors to help small businesses be more successful in government contracting and enhance their ability to perform successfully on government contracts and subcontracts.

4. Look to Your Network

Who do you know? Is there a previous boss who was very inspiring to you or a friend who is a business owner? Ask that person to be your mentor or share his or her successes and struggles. You have nothing to lose. Just be prepared to share with them why you chose them in particular, your goals and what you are looking for from them.

One of the best ways to find a mentor who knows your industry, your community and comes with a great referral is to use your network.

5. Working with a Mentor

If you decide to work with a mentoring organization, ensure there is a formal mentor/protégé structure in place.

If you are working with an individual you will need to work together to establish a mutually beneficial structured relationship.

The following are some tips to remember about mentoring:

  • Be organized, prepared and consistent. No one wants to waste their time. Time is precious.

  • Plan your mentoring sessions in advance. These could be as simple as having a one-on-one consultation or lunch meeting once a month to discuss where you are against your business goals, how best to tackle business obstacles, getting advice on business processes or regulatory requirements that you don't understand, and so on.

  • Casual one-on-one sessions are good, but also have more structured sessions that address different aspects of starting, running, managing and growing your business. See 20 Questions for Starting Your Business, 5 Steps to Registering Your Business, and Forecasting for Growth for some ideas.

  • Take notes, own action items and review progress against these in your next session.

  • Be respectful of your mentor's time. Use their insight and apply as you best see fit.

  • And last but not least, be thankful and communicative about the value they bring. This is about being in a mutually beneficial relationship, after all.

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