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5 Tips for Finding and Working with a Business Mentor

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5 Tips for Finding and Working with a Business Mentor

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: August 30, 2010 Updated: March 28, 2013

A mentor is someone who has been there before (think about entrepreneurs and TV personalities like Gordon Ramsay or Donald Trump). They are experienced, successful, and can provide advice and guidance' for no real personal gain.

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

1. Government-Sponsored Mentor Organizations

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

One organization in particular' 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.

Sponsored by the SBA, SCORE volunteers share their expertise through in-person and online counseling. Be prepared to deal with several experts if you need end-to-end business advice. SCORE specialists are just that, they often have a specific area of expertise (HR, business planning, etc.) and while your primary counselor will be your main point of contact, they can help identify and introduce you to other specialists.

Other government-sponsored sources of counseling and mentoring include, Small Business Development CentersWomen's Business Centers, Veterans Business Outreach Centers, U.S. Export Assistance Centers, and Minority Business Development Centers.

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 session' 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 rounded experience.

3. Mentoring for Anyone Interested in Selling to the U.S. Government

If your business plans to sell anything to the federal government, you'll know that this one can be a tough egg to crack. 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. Read more in this article: Mentor-Protege Program Offers Small Businesses Gov't Contracting Opportunities. SBA also offers a Mentor Protege Program for participants in the 8(a) Business Development Program.

4. Look to Your Network

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.

Whether you have admired a business owner from afar, or know someone in your previous employment that you respect and value for their business insight - you have nothing to lose in approaching and asking these individuals if they would consider being your mentor. In all likelihood, they will be flattered - but do your preparation and explain why you chose them, what your goals are, and what you hope to learn from them. If they agree, you can then discuss the time commitment.

5. Working with a Mentor

If you work with a mentoring organization, it's likely that they already have 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.

Be organized, prepared and consistent.

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.

You might also want to build in some more structured sessions that address different aspects of managing and growing a business such as business planning, managing employees, marketing best practices, how to conduct operational reviews, etc.

Always come prepared, take notes, own action items, and review progress against these in your next session.

Overall, be respectful of your mentor's time. Don't expect them to be hands-on in your business or fix what might be broken. 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 a mutually beneficial relationship after all.

Related Resources

About the Author:

Caron Beesley

Contributor

Caron Beesley is a small business owner, a writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron works with the SBA.gov team to promote essential government resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start-up, grow and succeed. Follow Caron on Twitter: @caronbeesley

Comments:

Caron, disabled Veterans interested in starting a new business should look at the Department of Veterans Affairs funded project called VetSEA (VetSuccess Self-Employment Accelerator). In addition to matching disabled Veterans with Mentors, the project also provides funding, business planning, and business coaching support. The program is in Beta now but will begin in April 2012. Disabled Veterans interested in signing up for support can go to www.vetsea.net.
mmhyre - apologies for the oversight! I've added info about SBDCs, a valuable resource in the community for small biz and entrepreneurs!
Caron, you neglected to mention and highlight SBA's largest and most valuable resources - Small Business Development Centers. The United States Congress established the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) program in 1980 as part of Chapter 21 of the Small Business Act. The national SBDC program is funded and under the general oversight of the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) . There is a Small Business Development Center Network in every state and in the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Pacific Islands (Guam) and American Samoa. SBDC business consultants bring real life business ownership experience with currency in professional expertise. There is no-cost for SBDC consulting services. I would encourage every existing business owner to check out this valuable resource. www.asbdc-us.org.
Excellent. Are there any groups out there that meet to offer support and advice/tossing ideas around for people looking to start a biz? I love this mentor idea and would love the camaraderie of fellow 'owners'.
It´s a great idea to find a mentor, thanks.
Caron, thanks for the useful information regarding finding and working w/ a business mentor. I have been researching materials for writing a business plan. Therefore, I could certainly use the expertise of a mentor. Alim
Absolutely Caron, at FastEasySuccess Marketing Firm we believe in receiving the right knowledge and then putting that powerful knowledge into action right away for clients. When one takes action immediately on the right knowledge...success comes faster and easier. ---This post was edited to remove a commercial link. Read our discussion policies for more Community best practices.
Thanks Caron, lots of very interesting information to cache
Thanks Caron, lots of very interesting information to cache
Thanks Caron.  I've started a professional association that mentors aspiring school administrators, but I hadn't thought of finding a business mentor until I read your article.

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