Running a small business is challenging, regardless of your level of experience. If it's your first time building or managing a business, it's wise to find a business mentor.
Finding the right mentor takes time and energy. However, the ROI of a trusted advisor is enormous. It's one of the best decisions you can make for yourself and your business.
Table of Contents
- What Are Business Mentors?
- How Much Does a Business Mentor Cost?
- How to Find a Business Mentor
- Tips on Working with Business Mentors
What Are Business Mentors?
Business mentors are professionals who leverage their experience to help you (the mentee) navigate the complexities of managing a business. Entrepreneurs and small business leaders can meet with mentors on a one-off basis, or form long-lasting, structured relationships. Mentors can provide business advice in their specific area of expertise, or deliver general guidance.
Mentors can provide value in numerous ways, including:
- As a sounding board for tough decisions
- As a connector who can introduce you to other experts
- As a coach to develop your leadership skills
- As a teacher of new skills
How Much Does a Business Mentor Cost?
Fortunately, many individuals and organizations are happy to mentor for free. Most government sponsored mentors are a part of non-profit organizations that depend on volunteers. Other non-government organizations, like MicroMentor, are also non-profits that do not charge.
Other private organizations might charge a dollar amount or percent of your business in return for mentorship. If you pursue a paid mentorship, it's critical that you fully vet your mentor and their organization.
How to Find a Business Mentor
There are numerous ways to find a business mentor. If you're just starting out, it's best to pick a few of the options below to increase the chances that you land an outstanding mentor.
Government Sponsored Mentors
The federal government offers a number of services to support small businesses. The organizations below are great places to find a mentor. Many are operating virtually during the pandemic.
|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||Small Business Development Centers 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 provide 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||Veteran's Business Outreach Centers provide veterans with entrepreneurial development services such as business training, counseling and mentoring.|
|Minority Business Development Agency||Minority Business Development Agency advisors help minority business owners gain access to capital, contracts, market research and general business consulting.|
Mentors in Private Organizations
There are also several private organizations that match mentors and mentees. Each organization below has a slightly unique approach. These organizations can be for-profit or non-profit.
|MicroMentor||A program of Mercy Corps, MicroMentor enables the world's largest community of purpose-driven entrepreneurs and business mentors to create powerful connections, solve problems, and build successful businesses together. Since 2008, MicroMentor has facilitated more than 41,000 connections. The average pair meets one hour per week for three months.|
|Vistage||With 23,000 members, Vistage is the world’s largest executive coaching organization for small and midsize businesses. At the heart of Vistage's formula is confidential peer advisory groups and executive coaching sessions.|
|BetterUp||BetterUp is a professional coaching organization that works with businesses to create high-performance cultures. BetterUp is typically paid for by organizations, and is more focused on Fortune 1000 enterprises than SMBs.|
|Techstars||Techstars is a startup accelerator that was founded in 2006. Techstars' mission is to make innovation accessible to everyone, everywhere. They do this by connecting startups, investors, corporations, and cities to create a more sustainable and inclusive world. Techstars invests $20,000 into each company that participates in its program in return of a 6% equity stake.|
Networking events are another good place to find business mentors. Depending on your industry and where you live, there are likely multiple networking events that you can attend each month. There's no guarantee that you'll find a mentor right away, but you're almost certain to make new connections that can strengthen your business at each networking event.
Your Personal Network
Your personal network is probably the best place to begin your search for a mentor. Consider various groups that you are currently or were previously a part of:
- Previous bosses
- Friends of friends
- Religious organizations
- Community organizations
Tips on Working with Business Mentors
Once you've found a business mentor, you want to be sure that the relationship starts off well. Here are a handful of tips that you can follow to make the most of the mentor relationship.
- Look for entrepreneurs running adjacent businesses: Finding a mentor that has successfully built a business similar to, but different than yours is ideal. They'll have plenty of wisdom and industry-specific advice, and there will be no concern of direct competition. In addition, you'll be able to share valuable industry insights with your mentor.
- Know what you want: Before meeting potential mentors, it's best to spend time thinking about what you hope to get out of the partnership. Is there a specific skill you would like to learn? Or a specific challenge you need to overcome? Knowing what you're looking for is the best way to ensure the mentorship is successful.
- Define the mentorship: Before getting started, it's important that the mentorship relationship is explicitly acknowledged. You want to be sure that your new mentor understands that you're expecting a more formal, lasting partnership.
- Align on expectations: Another key is to align on expectations. Make sure that your mentor understands the specific benefits that you hope to gain from the relationship, and how much time you expect for him or her to invest.
- Hold yourself accountable: In addition to providing advice, mentors can also create value by making you more accountable. A good mentor can help you prioritize your work, and hold you accountable to strong outcomes.