There are any number of reasons why you, as a small business owner, might need professional advice. From facing a new phase of development or growth, to specific business challenges such as operating at a loss, it’s important to know where to go for advice.
For that reason, you should identify your best sources of mentors, advisors and guidance. That way you’ll always know where to turn when you have questions or when you’re being challenged. So what you need to do is take some time to decide exactly how a mentor could help your business and what attributes they should have. The better the brief, the better the match.
Your ideal business mentor
There are two main types of mentors – one that’s paid as a professional, and one that’s a fellow small business owner happy to share their experiences. It’s a good ideal to take advantage of both, if you can.
What you’re looking for in a mentor should include:
- Someone with industry experience. For obvious reasons, you’ll want to talk to someone who understands your industry and its dynamics.
- Someone who’s launched and grown a business themselves. It’s important that your mentor understands the challenges of starting and developing a business.
- Someone who’s done what you’re trying to do, such as increasing productivity, enhancing financial management, or driving sales forward.
How to find a mentor
Once you’ve refined a) your objectives for obtaining advice and b) what attributes your advisors and mentors should have, it’s time to start looking for them.
Your accountant – the ideal adviser
The best source of advice and guidance is, in most cases, your accountant. This is especially true if you’ve been with the same one for some time; you’ve developed a relationship with them, they know and understand your business and its history, and you trust them. Their combined financial and business knowledge, along with an innate understanding of your particular business, means that your business mentor accountant should be your go-to source for sound business advice.
Although you may be getting great advice from your accountant, it doesn’t hurt to talk to other people as well. Word-of-mouth is a good way to get sound advice, especially if you know other business owners who’ve benefitted from a particular form of guidance.
You can also:
- Make use of your business networks. What you’re looking to do here is develop and maintain an extensive network of business contacts by attending networking events, such as those organized by the US Chamber of Commerce.
- Get in contact with your regional development agency through the US Economic Development Administration (EDA)
- Join your industry’s business association. It’s a great way of meeting a mentor who has the exact experience and expertise you’re looking for. Look for those owners in larger, more successful businesses that may be open to giving you some friendly advice.
People you pay for advice are more likely to give you unbiased guidance. The Finding a Business Mentor section of the US Small Business Administration website is a great option.
Arrange to meet the mentors you’ve selected. Make sure that they’re open to giving advice if they’re not professional advisors. When you meet with them in person, ask yourself if they’re the sort who’ll give you a push when needed, and is not afraid to tell you harsh truths. What you don’t want is someone who’ll just pay you lip service.
Agree on the overall objectives of your mentoring relationship. Decide how often you’ll meet and how you’ll communicate between meetings.
It’s a smart idea to take time to build a strong relationship with your mentor. If your mentor gets to you know you and your business well, they’ll be able to give you advice that’s less generic and more tailored to your business’s specific requirements.
Relationships with mentors can sometimes fail. If the match isn’t right for whatever reason, end the agreement amicably and find another one. It’s common to talk to a number of people before you find someone with the right balance of experience and empathy.
Business mentoring can give you a fresh perspective on your own business. It can propel your business into profitable areas that you didn’t consider before. Take the first step towards finding a business mentor today – you and your business will benefit greatly in the future.