In the first months of opening your business, you’ll need to make many important decisions. But you don’t have to make every decision on your own. Ultimately, you’re responsible for you business, but you can always consult a mentor for advice.
What is a mentor?
A mentor is someone who has been down the same path you're taking. He or she 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.
- Government-Sponsored Mentor Organizations
The government offers a great deal of free resources and services to support small business owners, both online and in person:
- SCORE Mentors: Sponsored by SBA, SCORE provides free and confidential counseling, mentoring and advice to small business owners nationwide via a network of business executives, leaders and volunteers. You can connect with a SCORE volunteer through in-person and/or online counseling.
- Small Business Development Centers: SBDCs provide management assistance to current and prospective small business owners. SBDC services include financial counseling, marketing advice and management guidance. Some SBDCs provide specialized assistance with information technology, exporting or manufacturing. SBDCs are partnerships primarily between the government and colleges, administered by SBA.
- Women’s Business Centers: WBCs provides business training and counseling with the unique needs of women entrepreneurs in mind. WBCs are a national network of nearly 100 educational centers designed to support women who want to start and grow small businesses.
- Veteran’s Business Outreach Centers: VBOCs provide veterans with entrepreneurial development services such as business training, counseling and mentoring.
- Minority Business Development Agency: MBDA advisors help minority business owners gain access to capital, contracts, market research and general business consulting.
- Additional federal counseling programs can be found on Business.USA.gov.
- Trade Associations
Many trade associations operate mentor-protégé programs that provide guidance to help you build a business. These mentoring programs are often conducted through a combination of formal one-on-one mentoring sessions and group networking with fellow protégés. Business owners might be connected with multiple mentors for 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 your local SBA district office.
- Mentoring for Government Contractors
If your business plans to sell products and services to the federal government, you may need specialized mentorship. The General Services Administration (GSA) offers a Mentor-Protégé Program that is specifically designed to encourage prime contractors to help small businesses participate in government contracting. The SBA also has a Mentor-Protégé Program for small businesses.
- Look to Your Network
Who do you know? Do you have a previous boss who inspired you or a friend who is a successful business owner? Ask that person to be your mentor, and learn from his or her advice and best practices. Just be prepared to share with them why you chose them in particular, your goals and what you are looking for from them.
- 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 work with an individual, you’ll need to establish a mutually beneficial, structured relationship. Remember these tips about mentoring:
- Be organized, prepared and consistent. Make sure you are respectful of your mentor’s time.
- Do not expect your mentor to run your business for you or make decisions for you. You should have realistic expectations about what a mentor can provide you.
- Plan your mentoring sessions in advance. These could be as simple as having a one-on-one meeting once a month to discuss business goals, obstacles and regulatory requirements that you don’t understand.
- Take notes, create action items and be prepared to review progress during your next session.
- Thank your mentor for his or her time and assistance with your business decision-making skills.