Starting a small business is hard. Keeping that business going is even harder. It can feel like an endless wave of decision-making, strategizing, and to-do lists that only seem to get longer. Fortunately, you’re probably not the first person to start the kind of business that you’re running. And even if you are, you certainly aren’t the first person to call themselves “entrepreneur” and dive into the start-up deep-end. That means you don’t have to go in it alone. There are people you can turn to for advice, support, or even just a kindred spirit to talk to. These people are called mentors.
The idea of a mentor is certainly not a new one (Socrates and Plato come to mind), nor is it exclusive to the world of small business. Yet, many entrepreneurs don’t think to look around or ask for help when they need it. Maybe they don’t think they need the help, or that nobody will really get what they are going through. Maybe they are overly precious about protecting their business plan. Maybe they simply don’t realize that help is readily available. Whatever the reason, a mentor can be an enormous asset for a small business owner, and those who fail to seek one are missing out on a great opportunity to give their business the best chance to succeed.
Mentors Are Experts
Most mentors, certainly the best ones, are going to be experts in something. One great way to go is to try and find a mentor who is an expert in your field. But even if your mentor is in a totally different business, they may be experts in starting similar kinds of businesses, or dealing with similar customers. Whatever their expertise, chances are it can be of great value to you. The benefit of your mentor’s experience can help you plan and make better decisions for your business on a strategic level, but also on a logistical level. It’s great if they can help you with the complicated stuff, but they’ll almost certainly be able to help you with the logistical questions like what paperwork you need to file with your local government, how you should structure your company, how to find office space, and so on. Think of a mentor’s experience like your road map. You may not take exactly the same path they did, but you’ll at least have your bearings.
Mentors Are An Outside Perspective
You likely spend a lot of time thinking about your business, what it’s future is, what your goals are, and how you plan on accomplishing those goals. That’s a good thing. But sometimes you can think about these things so much, and you are so close to it, that you can lose perspective and doubt yourself. Mentors can be a great perspective check. They provide a grounded, outsider point-of-view and the ability to look at your business with fresh eyes. Mentors can be a great sounding board for bouncing ideas off of, brainstorming, and raising questions or issues you may not have thought of on your own.
Mentors Have Networks
Businesses are about people. The longer you are in business, the more people you’ll deal with and the more relationships you will form. Fortunately, another thing that usually comes along with a mentor’s experience is their vast network of people and organizations that they may have worked with over time. So not only will you have the benefit of your own network to draw from, you’ll potentially have your mentor’s network at hand as well. This could provide you with an in at a prestigious university that you may want to hire from. Or it might open up a vendor relationship that wouldn’t otherwise be available to you. Anytime that you need to find a new person to work with, having your mentor as a go-to for personal recommendations can save you time, money, and a lot of headaches.
Mentors Have Methods
No matter how unique your business is, you are bound to run into problems that your mentor has seen before, or be faced with similar organizational and structural challenges. Your mentor can be a great resource for coming up with strategies and methods to try to tackle those challenges efficiently and effectively, even if the specifics are unique to your company or industry. Just because you want to be an innovative company, that doesn’t mean you have to be constantly re-inventing the wheel.
Mentors Have Skills
Your mentor’s experience isn’t just limited to “been there, done that.” They will probably have a whole set of skills that come along with that experience too. For instance, maybe your mentor has spent a significant amount of time in marketing, or sales, or logistics. When you are running a small business, you frequently have to wear many hats and perform many roles, but you don’t necessarily have the skills required to do all of those roles effectively. Your mentor can help you fill in those gaps by bolstering your knowledge of the skills that you may lack, but they may have. This can also go two ways, as you may be able to help your mentor with skills that you uniquely possess and they don’t have.
You’ve probably heard that statistic that most small businesses fail within their first five years. Well, small businesses that are being mentored have a vastly higher success rate, with 70% of them lasting five years and beyond. Not only that, but businesses with mentors also reported revenue increasing at a much higher rate (as much as seven or eight times higher) than non-mentored businesses over a similar timeframe.
Mentors can be found in a variety of places. From government-sponsored organizations like the Small Business Administration or a non-profit like SCORE, to university alumni associations, to former colleagues or supervisors, investors, consultants, professional business coaches, and so on. The important thing is to find somebody who can serve this role, because it make a huge different in whether or not your business succeeds or fails.
Consult with 10twelve today if your a small business and need help finding a mentor.