As a business owner, you want to use every advantage to help ensure success. One opportunity to consider is a business mentor. A business mentor is an entrepreneur with more experience than you and who’s there to help you achieve your goals. It’s someone with no stake in your company that you can trust to keep you moving ahead. Unlike business coaching, which usually is a limited engagement focused on specific business problems, with mentoring you can develop a relationship that lasts indefinitely and is personally and professionally rewarding to both parties.
Why You Should Seek Out a Business Mentor
1. Increase the Odds of Success
No one starts a business with the expectation of failure, but the reality is that about half of all new companies go under within five years according to the SBA. However, the chances of success are increased for owners who used a business mentor. The odds for surviving five years increased to 70%. In other words, the chances of remaining in business are greatly increased by bringing a business mentor into the picture. Why? The other reasons below will explain.
2. Gain Confidence
You may not be familiar with many of the tasks you need to do in running your company. Maybe sales and marketing are new activities and you don’t necessarily feel confident that you’re handling things in the best way possible. Maybe you need additional capital and don’t understand which funding option is best suited for your needs, or how to go about securing the money you need. Or maybe working with professionals, such as accountants, attorneys, and bankers is a new experience and you feel overwhelmed. A business mentor can be a sounding board against which to bounce off your ideas and get assurances that this way or that is a good option for your situation.
The mentor can also remind you of your abilities to deal with problems, professionals, and anything else that may come your way. And the mentor can tell you when you’re right which may not be easy to see in a particular situation. For example, you want to raise prices but fear that it will scare off customers. The mentor can help you evaluate this decision—to raise prices, when, and by how much—so you’re confident that you’re doing the right thing.
3. Network With Winners
A person who acts as a business mentor is someone who has already achieved success in business. This person knows other successful entrepreneurs. Through your mentor, you may find opportunities to connect with successful business owners. These business owners may be able to provide direct assistance to your company by recommending suppliers and other contractors, referring customers and clients, and helping you find investors if or when you want them. The business owners you meet through networking can also act as informal mentors, providing feedback on business matters you discuss with them.
4. Get Encouragement
Spouses, friends, co-workers, and other people you know may offer you encouragement to continue on your business journey. You need encouragement to keep you going during the long hours you put in, especially when things aren’t going as planned. A business mentor can offer you constructive encouragement, which is far more valuable than friendly words of support. Constructive encouragement includes detailing specific ways to move ahead. It reflects a dispassionate evaluation of the situation and steps you can take to remediate a problem. For example, say you have a difficult employee who does good work but is causing discontent in the workplace. What do you do? A mentor can appreciate your situation and encourage you to think through your approach to the situation. In other words, the mentor can help you step back, assess your options, and help you arrive at the best course of action.
5. Learn the Secrets of Success
Not everything you need to know about running a business can be found in a classroom, a book, a blog, or a webinar. You need to find out what other business owners have learned through their experiences that you won’t find on the Internet. A business mentor can share his or her personal successes and failures, so you can learn from them. With these “secrets” this person can save you from experiencing the same failures and can help you attain similar successes. A business mentor does not necessarily have to be in the same industry that you’re in to be of value. But having a mentor in the same industry offers an additional layer of insight into your situation.
6. It’s What Successful Business Owners Do
Ask just about any successful entrepreneur and you’ll find out that there is or was a business mentor in the picture. In fact, there are a number of peer groups, such as Vistage, that function as mentoring organizations. Owners meet on a regular basis to bring their company’s challenges before the group and receive guidance and direction so they can address their issues. According to Dun & Bradstreet data, Vistage member companies grew 2.2 times faster than average small and medium-sized U.S. businesses.
7. Remain Positive
In starting and running a business, there are days when things seem impossible. An order doesn’t ship on time, an employee makes a mistake that costs the company serious money, or a social media post disparages your brand. It’s easy for an owner to become discouraged or depressed. It’s important not to lose hope, and that’s where a business mentor comes in. You may be focused on the problem at hand, but the mentor sees the big picture and can help you see it too. Oprah Winfrey summed it up by saying “[a] mentor is someone who allows you to see the hope inside yourself.”
8. Be Accountable
A small business owner may have a business plan with goals for growing revenue, increasing the number of employees, and expanding into new product lines or locations. If the owner is smart, he or she will continually review these goals to see what’s working and what isn’t. But the owner usually doesn’t have to report to anyone. There’s no independent board of directors or a group of shareholders to which you have to explain everything you do. There’s no accountability. If an owner is wise, he or she will work with a business mentor to be accountable. This means confronting problems and taking responsibility for them. Being accountable also requires making decisions on how to address them. With a mentor, you can’t escape the unpleasantness and will have to face up to mistakes you make so that you can fix them. You’ll have to grow as a person to be big enough to shoulder the mistakes but able to put the past behind you so it doesn’t slow you down.
9. See What You Don’t See
You have a plan for your business and have thought about how to implement the plan. Unfortunately, you may not have thought about everything. There may be weaknesses, errors, or omissions from your plan that you just don’t see because you’re so close to it or because you have limited experience in certain matters. Here’s where a business mentor comes in. The mentor can take a fresh look and gain a different perspective on your plan so that together you can fix what’s broken or missing.
Also, you may be focused on day-to-day activities, keeping an eye on your bottom line, and trying your best to look ahead. But you may not have a clear vision of what the future can hold for you. You may not see in yourself and your company the possibilities that await you. A business mentor may help you see what lies ahead.
10. Give Back
Once you become a mentee (the person receiving the assistance of a mentor), you know better than anyone how important the relationship can be to a business’s success. Perhaps the best way to repay your mentor is to become a business mentor to someone else. As a seasoned business owner yourself, you will be able to share what you know with someone just starting out, and likely you’ll continue to learn from your new relationship.
The Many Ways of Mentorship
There are many ways to be mentored. It can be a one-way street where you receive free information from successful entrepreneurs through TED talks and YouTube videos. You’ll learn many things but won’t get the feedback you may need. You can have an informal mentoring arrangement with colleagues and other business owners you meet through chambers of commerce, trade and professional organizations, or networking groups. With this option, there’s only so much you can ask of another business owner, and perhaps only so much you want to share about what’s going on in your company. The best option is a structured business mentor arrangement available through local colleges and universities (search for business mentorship programs), mentoring organizations, and SCORE , the largest network of volunteer mentors providing online and face-to-face services for free. Whatever mentoring arrangement you select, you’re bound to find value and help you and your company grow.