While there are many paid and free tools available for new business owners, mentors are an often-overlooked resource. In a recent survey, more than half of all women business owners reported not having a mentor, but 67 percent of those women admitted that it was because they had never sought one out. However, the advantages of having a mentor are huge for business owners, both new and established. The Small Business Association (SBA) reports that more than 50 percent of all new businesses without an established advisor will fail within the first five years, while 70 percent of new businesses with owners that have a mentor succeed.
Clearly bottom line results are a major reason to explore seeking out a business mentor/protégé relationship, but it is certainly not the only one. For women especially, having a mentor can make the process of starting and maintaining a successful business infinitely easier. As the fastest-growing sector of the U.S. economy, women-owned businesses are growing at one-and-a-half times the rate of small businesses in general. Businesses run by women have increased 67 percent since 1997, and 75 percent of woman business owners attribute their success to a mentoring relationship.
What does a mentor do?
A successful mentor advises their mentee on how to better run their business by giving them information learned from experience. Mentors can help new business owners create a vision, set realistic goals and provide feedback and support. The most successful business mentors are able to help their protégés align their personal and professional goals, hold them accountable for that goal completion, and remind them of the successes they have achieved along the way.
Mentors provide insights on better business practices and employee management, and give valuable feedback for problem-solving and overcoming obstacles. Many mentored entrepreneurs report that their relationship with their mentor has decreased their feelings of isolation, and helped them to gain professional confidence.
What to look for in a mentor
Creating a successful mentor/mentee relationship can take some time – as with any relationship, some matches are better than others. The ideal mentor for a business owner is someone that the person admires, and who has experience in the field that the business owner is seeking additional resources in.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that a tax preparation business owner would need to find another entrepreneur who has the same business, although others in the same industry are a great place to seek mentoring relationships. If a business owner is seeking insight on how to better market their business, choosing someone with a proven track record in marketing would be a great place to start. For many people, having more than one mentor may provide the wider breadth of support the business owner is seeking.
How to find a mentor
There is no lack of mentors for women who are willing to seek one out – according to a study by McGrath, et, al in 2010, both men and women are helped by mentoring relationships, but women found it easier than men to find mentors. In fact, knowing that one could benefit from a business mentoring relationship is one of the primary indicators that the relationship will be a success, and add value to the entrepreneur’s business.
Here are some resources to help business owners to find a mentor suitable for their needs:
SCORE provides free, confidential one-on-one and group mentoring services for small businesses through local business executives, volunteers and other leaders. This non-profit is a government-sponsored organization specifically designed to help foster economic growth by providing entrepreneurs with mentors to boost their chances of success.
The Association of Women’s Business Centers is able to provide resources and mentors geared specifically toward the needs of women entrepreneurs through their network of 100 education centers nationwide.
Administered by the SBA, Small Business Development Centers provide management assistance and guidance, financial counseling and marketing advice, primarily through government programs that provide resources through local colleges and universities.
Trade Associations provide resources, mentors and a network of support based on characteristics that all the members have in common, such as ethnic background, gender, or industry. There are associations for nearly everything – the SBA and Association of Women’s Business Centers are both examples. Finding an association for any specific industry or group is as easy as searching for “association” and the industry, gender or ethnic group name, or this list of trade associations is a good place to start.
Networking events are another way to meet potential mentors; there are also specific mentoring events and organizations that seek to pair industry leaders with protégés that could use their expertise. For example, bizjournals.com offers an annual “Mentoring Monday” event every May in 43 different cities to give women one-on-one time with a mentor in a related industry. Additionally, many associations, chambers of commerce and even local service groups provide opportunities for meeting potential mentors.
For business owners seeking a mentor, there are many options for finding the perfect person to provide feedback and support. This valuable resource can provide the support that both male and female entrepreneurs need to take the next step toward their business’ success.