No matter what type of business you run, having a “mentor” to help guide you can increase your odds of success. Having a wise, loyal adviser – especially one who’s “been-there, done-that” – is like money in the bank.
Mentors can’t make decisions for you. That’s your job. But their expertise can be invaluable as a sounding board or reality check. Mentors aren’t in it for the money. Generally they work with business owners for free, for the satisfaction of helping out.
So how do you find such a person? Here are some places and organizations that help match mentors with business owners or startup entrepreneurs:
SCORE (www.score.org) is probably the best-known organization providing free (and confidential) mentoring to small-business owners via its national network of some 13,000 retired business executives, leaders and volunteers. SCORE’s volunteer mentors share their expertise through both in-person and online counseling (via email).
Small-business development centers are another great source of free or low-cost help and advice for current and would-be business owners of all types in all locations. There are more than 1,200 SBDC locations nationwide.
Women’s business centers offer business training, counseling and other resources to help women start and grow successful businesses.
Minority Business Development Centers, part of the U.S. Department of Commerce, offer free help to minority-owned businesses through about 40 centers nationwide.
EBusinessNow.org is a specialized SCORE program that helps business owners use Web-based technologies to grow their businesses. An experienced SCORE technology mentor available through this program can provide personalized advice – for free.
Here are some tips for getting the most out of a mentoring relationship:
Plan your mentoring sessions in advance. These could be as simple as having a one-on-one consultation or lunch meeting once a month to discuss where you are against your business goals, how best to tackle business obstacles, getting advice on business processes or regulatory requirements that you don’t understand, and so on.
Casual one-on-one sessions are good, but also have more structured sessions that address different aspects of starting, running, managing and growing your business. A good starting point is for you to prepare a detailed agenda of items to discuss at each meeting.
Take notes, take charge of your “action items” and review progress against these in your next session. •