Finding a Mentor or Coach for Small Business Success

Running a small company today is more complicated than ever. The business world seems to change at the speed of light, new technology means every routine must adapt, and marketing strategies consistently incorporate a dozen types of digital and social media.

If you’re feeling a little inundated, it might actually be a relief to learn that one of the oldest and best tools to help your business improve is still around.

It’s mentoring.

Wait, you say; isn’t that something people in big corporations do?

Yes, they do. But so do small companies, non-profits, startups and brand new entrepreneurs. At its heart, mentoring is simply finding someone you can learn from, someone who’s been where you are and wants to help guide you through some of the same territory.

One of the most important pieces of advice I have for entrepreneurs is this: Get a mentor, said Forbes contributor Goncalo de Vasconcelos. The right mentor will have an exceedingly positive impact on both the private life of an entrepreneur and the performance of the business.

Imagine having someone in your corner who has more experience than you have, someone of whom you can ask advice, someone you trust no matter what’s going on because you know that person is on your side. A mentor takes you under his or her wing and helps with your growth and your business development. Mentors take personal pride in seeing you grow. They can help smooth out bumps along the way because they’ve already gone down the same road, and they are there to cheer you on when you’ve done something well. They can teach you management skills, introduce you to helpful people, steer you clear of making big budget or human resources mistakes, and generally build up your self-confidence all because they believe that you can do it, whatever it is.

Our earliest mentors tend to find us before we find them: a teacher who takes a special interest in us at school, for instance, or a boss who singles us out to teach us a new skill at work. But with business mentors, you most likely are the one looking.

How do you start?

There are a couple of different paths to take, depending on your needs.

Asking a businessperson to mentor you can be a bit tricky, since you are asking for an investment of their limited time. You could call to make an appointment, ask the person out for coffee, meet at a networking event or send a carefully crafted email explaining why you are approaching him or her. Many people will not turn down this first inquiry; some will be flattered to be asked, and interested in meeting you. Try to bring something to the table as well, even if that is your personal initiative and willingness to be flexible. Offer to help with something if possible to set up your relationship as a respectful give and take from the beginning.

You can look for people in the same industry who are further down the road than you are. Maybe they run a similar company, network in professional circles of your industry, or act as a consultant to other businesses. You want someone whose experience is compatible with your business; if you have five employees, you won’t relate to a mentor who works with 500. If you are a publishing company, you won’t thrive with a mentor who opened a string of bakeries.

Or you can seek out a mentor whose actual business is coaching people just like you. For a set monthly or annual fee, their job is to help you succeed, in whatever ways you need. Perhaps you are a newer or re-building business who needs to develop a brand and marketing plan. Maybe your website is great but you’re not sure about the role of SEO. You could be growing too fast, or not growing fast enough.

Approaching a person whose business is mentoring or coaching will be easy; they should be open, accessible and interested in you and what you need. In general, this kind of mentor can be more on-call to you when you need help or coaching than can a typical business mentor. Ask about their strengths and about examples of past mentorships that went well. Find out whether you can meet for a complimentary first session, what the fees are for the program, and how the relationship will work.

Mentoring is a brain to pick, an ear to listen, and a push in the right direction,
said early 20th century politician John C. Crosby. Your goal is to find someone who can be all three for you.