An entrepreneur’s secret weapon? A mentor
By Tannette Johnson-Elie
Small business entrepreneurs can be lonely souls. Many immerse themselves in the day-to-day operations of their businesses and seldom look up to see they need help. No man is an island and it often takes a good support network to build a successful venture. This is where a mentor can make a difference.
A mentor is one of the most powerful weapons an entrepreneur can have. Mentors can show entrepreneurs the ropes of business ownership and teach them how to overcome the obstacles that can lead to failure. What’s more, a good mentor can provide valuable insight and direction and can be a sounding board for ideas.
There is good reason why entrepreneurs can benefit from mentoring. Data from the U.S. Small Business Administration show that while 70% of new firms will make it through their first two years; only about half will last five years; one-third will still be open after 10 years; and just one-quarter will make it through 15 years or more. One of the most common reasons for their failure: lack of business experience.
Consider Jerilyn Winstead, a gifted seamstress who is the founder and owner of Aquatails, a Colorado Springs-based business that manufactures and sell one-of-kind mermaid costumes, mermaid tails and accessories. Winstead launched her business in 2010 after years of sewing mermaid costumes for herself and her two daughters.
While she was a talented seamstress and designer, Winstead found she lacked the managerial skills to successfully grow her business. After six months in business, she decided to turn to a mentor. She found one online through a through a free, non-profit Internet-based mentoring program for small business entrepreneurs known as Micromentor.org.
Micromentor.org offers an online database that entrepreneurs can search and connect with experienced mentors. Think of it as a sort of a Match.com for entrepreneurs.
“Our mission is to help small businesses to grow faster, employ more people, and generate more revenue through mentorship,” says Samantha Albery, program manager for Micromentor.org. “We see a huge growth in revenue for entrepreneurs that are connected with mentors.”
With guidance from her mentor, Winstead now is expanding her business to host mermaid classes, parties, camps and live mermaid performances.
“My mentor sat down with me and my business partner and helped us to do long-term planning. He helped us to focus on four main areas of the business – business management, sales and marketing, cash flow and production,” she said.
In addition to online resources like Micromentor.org, many associations provide mentoring services for small businesses owners and entrepreneurs. SCORE, the Service Corps of Retired Executives, in partnership with the Small Business Administration, provides entrepreneurs with free and confidential business advice from retired executives. The service, one of the largest voluntary networks in the nation, serves 400,000 small business owners annually.
“Entrepreneurship is complex and challenging. You have to wear a lot of different hats,” said SCORE CEO Ken Yancey. “Often small business owners don’t have all the requisite skills required to run a business. This is a great time to bring in a mentor.”
If you’re an entrepreneur looking to build your business and need help from an experienced mentor, here are some tips for you to consider:
Know yourself and determine your needs, says Albery. “Entrepreneurs need to know what challenges they face, how those challenges are affecting their business and how can a mentor help,” she said.
Start with informal mentors – people who are within your existing network like former supervisors, relatives and friends. “This is a great place to start, but there’s a fine balance between asking a friend for feedback and having a formalized mentoring relationship.” Albery said.
Don’t overlook people in your community who may be able to provide the skills and business savvy you’re missing.
Set up regular meetings with your mentor and have an agenda. “You want to be prepared and you want to use the two most important words in the English language – ‘thank you,’” said SCORE’s Yancey.
Find someone who is a good listener and genuinely cares about your growth and development.
After all, running a small business can be a burdensome and lonely task. That’s why it’s important to have a mentor who has successfully run a business and has made some of the mistakes you hope to avoid.
“No one is superman,” said Albery, of Micromentor.org. “Everyone needs help and a mentor often is where you can find the help to succeed.”