What do Richard Branson, Sheryl Sandberg, and Steve Jobs all have in common? Aside from being among the most recognizable names in business, they also all harnessed the power of business mentors to shape their success.
Studies show that while 93% of small businesses recognize the importance of business mentors, only a small proportion actually take advantage of them. The fact is, for everything you need to learn, there’s somebody that already knows it. To avoid constantly re-inventing the wheel, find a business mentor who exhibits the best characteristics of an entrepreneur, and is willing to share their hard-earned knowledge and shorten your journey to success. Here are our top tips for identifying and harnessing the power of a business mentor.
Check out Your Local Small Business Administration
Small Business Development Centers provide counseling and answer questions on developing your small business. They offer advice in many areas that small business owners struggle with, like marketing, finance and management.
If you are a woman, veteran or minority business owner, the SBA has mentoring programs just for you. Women’s Business Centers, Veterans’ Business Outreach Centers and the Minority Business Development Agency provide mentoring and consulting services that are specific to these business owners. These environments are ripe for the pickings when it comes to finding a business mentor. Strike up a conversation, get contact information and check back often for advice.
Tap Your Network
Perhaps this seems obvious, but you can find some hidden gems just by taking a thoughtful analysis of your network. For example, fellow alumni are usually excited to help each other out when it comes to mentorship. You might consider using your LinkedIn network to identify owners of successful businesses that are more advanced than yours and reach out for advice.
The important thing is to look for experienced businesspeople who are in complementary, not competing, businesses to yours. An ideal target is someone who has a similar customer base to yours, but not one who sells a similar product or service.
Don’t Let Location Get in the Way
Keep in mind that your business mentor does not need to live geographically close to you. If your mentor lives on the west coast and you’re on the east coast, set up some times when you can have a phone conversation to get things started. Always come prepared with a thoughtfully considered list of questions and always thank them for sharing their time.
Pay it Forward
If you’re already an expert , don’t forget to pay it forward. Sharing your skills and expertise with another entrepreneur not only feels good, but it can also help you expand your network, build clout, and maybe even learn something new.
Identifying a mentor (of any sort) is not always easy. It takes a great deal of courage to ask someone for help, but it’s almost always worth it. Be on the lookout for trustworthy, impartial mentors who understand your industry and customer-base. Follow our tips and you may just find an opportunity to learn from the best.