A solid mentor can be a game changer for a small business. Like individuals, businesses need support, encouragement, and community — all things an inspiring mentor can provide.
Mentors are trusted counselors and guides. They can help you navigate business challenges big and small, develop and hone your skills as an entrepreneur, and connect you with other valuable resources within their own professional network. A survey by The UPS Store revealed that 70 percent of small businesses with mentors survive more than five years. That's double the survival rate of unmentored businesses.
You might be thinking you don't have time to look for a mentor because you're busy running a business. Where do you find a mentor you can trust? How do you reach out? What does successful collaboration look like? It may seem daunting, but finding the right mentor for your business (and getting the most out of the relationship) isn’t as hard as you might think.
Finding the right person
First, identify your short- and long-term business goals. Would you like help solving a pressing issue, like what system you should use to manage inventory day to day? Do you want to bounce big-picture ideas off of someone, like if you should sell your goods and services online, and if so, how do you create your own website? Ask yourself what success looks like in this relationship. It may even help to list the qualities you're looking for in a mentor. Decide what you need, then start looking!
There are tons of online mentoring resources. SCORE, for example, is a nonprofit that provides free business advice and counseling, webinars, and local workshops, all online (or in person at one of its local chapters). MicroMentor is a free social network that gives entrepreneurs and volunteer business mentors the chance to engage in conversation. The U.S. Small Business Administration has a list of online and in-person resources.
Maybe you already have someone in mind — your local cafe owner has an indescribable business savvy that you'd like to understand, or it's finally time to pick your aunt's brain about how she runs her restaurant. Dorie Clark, in her post 4 Unexpected People You Need on Your Mentor Team, offers ideas about finding a mentor in surprising places.
Whatever you decide, remember there are no rules and many options for mentorship. You can sign up with an online mentoring org, set up a structured relationship with one person, or meet up with other local business owners over coffee to exchange ideas and experiences. Keep in mind: you might need to ask around. The first person on your list may not be available.
Get to work
The hard part — finding someone and setting up time to meet — is over. Now comes the fun. Here are some tips for communicating with your mentor:
Get to know each other at the beginning. Talk about your career background, personal interests, and things that motivate you. Ask them about themselves to break the ice.
Outline what you hope to gain from talking with them. What are the business objectives you’d like to achieve?
If you'd like to check in frequently, set up a meeting schedule.
Tell them about any challenges you're having with your business, and ask for their recommendations.
Ask specific questions: What would you do if you were me? Have you handled a similar situation in the past?
Walk away from these meetings with action items. What's your next step? What tasks do you need to complete before your next meeting? Use accountability as motivation.
You may want to check in on how the relationship is going and reevaluate mutual expectations. There's always the possibility that it's not a match, and that's okay!
Ask if there's anyone they'd recommend you talk to or connect with. Are there other resources they think you should take advantage of? This is a good question to ask after you've established a solid rapport.
Be open to receiving feedback and take responsibility for your own professional growth.
Think about how you can help them. A good mentoring relationship should challenge you both personally and professionally.
Say thank you and express your gratitude for their time.
Whether you need support taking your business to the next level or you'd like to chat about something more specific like marketing email or organizing your back office, a mentor can give you the boost you need. Take a note from some successful mentor/mentee duos: Kevin Systrom of Instagram asked Adam D'Angelo of Quora for guidance. Oprah was mentored by Maya Angelou. Warren Buffett found Benjamin Graham's advice valuable, and Luke Skywalker learned about the Force and much more from Obi-Wan Ben Kenobi. The knowledge and guidance to grow your business is out there — all you have to do is reach out.