Starting and growing a business is hard work that takes persistence, dedication and resilience. Without the right support structures in place, it’s easy to give up on your dream of running your own business.
Whether you're just thinking about leaving your corporate job to strike out on your own or getting your business off the ground, a small business mentor can provide the motivation you need to stick with it when the going gets tough.
Because a mentor is someone who’s already been where you are, they can help you avoid making the same mistakes they made and navigate the challenges that will inevitably arise in your business.
We spoke with four small business owners about the importance of mentorship and ways a mentor can help you grow your business. Here’s what they had to say.
Working with a small business mentor saves you time
Trying to build your business without a mentor is a lot like trying to reinvent the wheel — unnecessary and time-consuming.
Because a mentor has already been where you are, they have a lot of the answers you need to achieve your goals faster.
"[Mentors] make sure you don't make the mistakes they made along the journey," says Mike Howard, owner, Jetsetter Charter Jet Service.
"One conversation with a mentor can save you so much time," says Nia Lewis, founder of The Solopreneur Hustle, a company that helps women of color grow their businesses.
After spending a year-and-a-half trying to build a podcast audience, a mentor told her there was a better, faster way to do it. "That one conversation changed everything for me and saved me so much time," she said. Today, her business is growing faster than she ever imagined.
Jordan Fulmer, owner of Momentum Property Solutions, a real estate investment company in Alabama, agrees that working with a mentor can fast-track your success. But he stresses that you still have to do the work.
"Owning a business is hard. A lot of times, people think that just having a mentor is like this magic pill. It absolutely helps. But you still have to work at it and follow what they're teaching you and push through tough times," he says.
Mentors support you on your journey
When you’re an employee, you're often surrounded by people who can support you as you work together to achieve a common goal. You have co-workers you can bounce ideas off of, peers to go out to lunch with and a boss to provide words of encouragement when you need them.
But the entrepreneurial experience can be a long and lonely road.
"There weren't many people I could talk to who could relate to what I was experiencing," Lewis says of her early days as an entrepreneur." The support of a mentor who could connect me to other people who were like me has been a really important part of my experience."
Mentors hold you accountable
Not having a boss looking over your shoulder asking when that report will be ready can be a relief.
But not having someone to answer to can also be one of the biggest challenges of being your own boss, according to Tracy Olsen, founder of Protect Your Tail, a company that makes sun-protective clothing.
"Most people thrive on having goals and achieving them. [A mentor] helps you break down the goals into measurable events and [determine] what your timeline is," she says.
Knowing you have to report back to your mentor about whether you’ve achieved your goals can help you stay on track.
Mentors motivate you
Owning a business won't always be smooth sailing. You'll encounter challenges and obstacles along the way. There may even be times when you want to give up. A small business mentor can help you stay motivated even when you want to walk away.
"They point out your incremental successes as you're working toward your ultimate goal," Olsen says.
"When you've made that commitment to have a mentor, and they're rooting for you, it kind of helps you push through those obstacles," Fulmer says.
Mentors help you solve problems
Ideally, a mentor is someone who's built a business that's similar to yours, understands the challenges you're likely to face and can help you navigate them.
Problems that may stop you in your tracks, such as how to get your product developed, the best way to scale your business or how to invest, are easy for a mentor to solve.
Olsen says that working with a mentor during the first three years you’re in business is particularly critical. When she decided to launch her business, she was accepted into a business incubator that connected her with a mentor, whom she credits with providing the tools she needed to succeed.
"I like to compare it to Shark Tank in the sense that my business mentor was the equivalent of the panel in Shark Tank."
Fulmer says his mentor helps him with everything from developing investment and lead generation strategies to making changes to his website.
"In a real estate business, marketing and lead generation are everything. Sourcing deals is the toughest thing right now because it's a heavy seller's market," he says.
He relies on his mentor to help him come up with different ways to find deals. When leads come in, they discuss how much he should pay for a property and whether to fix it up and sell it or keep it as a rental.
How to find a mentor
Some entrepreneurs find mentors through personal connections. Others find them by joining paid programs or hiring them directly. If you're wondering how you can find a mentor to help you grow your business, here are some ideas to get you started.
- SCORE. SCORE is a Small Business Administration (SBA) resource partner with chapters in many cities across the country. They can help match you with someone in their mentorship network who's doing what you want to do.
- Small Business Development Center (SBDC). If you don't have a big budget, the SBDC in your area can be a great starting point. It’s a government-funded program, and many cities have them.
- Venture capital groups. Instead of asking for money, reach out to VC groups and ask what business mentors they recommend.
- Networking events. Be intentional about the conversations you have when attending networking events. Don't be afraid to explain the challenges you're having and ask if they know anyone who can help. "You'll be surprised at how people in the entrepreneur space are willing to help," Lewis said.
- Social media. If you know of someone you think would make a good mentor, reach out to them on social media. Make it clear that you understand what they're doing, tell them your story and ask if they'd be willing to mentor you.
- Books. If you want to learn from someone you can't get access to, check out the books they've written. According to Howard, you'll get a lot of the same information from their books that you'd get from meeting with them one-on-one.
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