By: Eli Raber
It is a proven fact that small business owners who are actively involved with a mentor are more likely to succeed. In fact, 70 percent of small businesses that receive mentoring survive more than five years, double the survival rate of non-mentored businesses.
Our friends at BusinessAdvising.org have identified some tips a business owner can follow to have a successful mentoring partnership:
1. Meet With Your Mentor
The simplest way to have a successful advising engagement with a mentor is – to meet with your mentor. It sounds obvious but many small business owners sign up for mentorship programs with the best intentions, and then don’t actually follow through beyond one or two meetings. And it’s understandable: there are real business challenges that get in the way (training new hires, inventory, vendor issues, and more) — but the people that make meeting with their mentor a priority do better.
Pro tip: We recommend a standing appointment. For example, every second Wednesday of the month from 3–4 pm. That way your meetings are calendared, it becomes part of both of your routines, and you can plan around it. You can schedule ad-hoc meetings as needed too, but once you have a standing meeting scheduled – keep the appointment.
2. Drive The Relationship
You only get what you put in. As the mentee in the advising relationship it is up to you to set appointments, create the agenda, and send meeting notes. While that might sound like a lot of work, recognize your mentor is likely a volunteer working with you by choice in a sea of options. Make it easy on your advisor and they’ll reward you with their knowledge, insight, and access to their networks.
Pro tip: Have a standard agenda where every meeting you follow the same outline: What have I worked on since we last met, what I plan to have accomplished by the next time we meet, areas where I have challenges.
3. Provide Updates
Whether your mentor is a volunteer, or an in-house counselor, provide them with updates. This positive feedback loop will help keep up their motivation and interest. Let them know how their insights positively impacted your business – everyone likes results. Plus, it will help them give you better advice as the mentoring progresses.
Pro tip: When you have implemented or tried one of their suggestions, send them a quick email and let them know how it went. By communicating with them like this you’ll see their commitment to you skyrocket.
4. Geography Does Not Matter
Find a mentor that has the skill-set you are looking for regardless of geography. At BusinessAdvising.org we match mentees and mentors across the country. With today’s free video chat tools like Google Hangouts and Skype, old-fashioned phone calls and emails, geography is less of a constraint.
For example, we paired Accion borrower Vernita Johnson, of DLV Printing Service in Chicago, with Ian Bomberg, a volunteer mentor based in New York City. They worked together successfully for five-months and made great strides with the financial management of Vernita’s business. All while working remotely and only meeting once in person.
Pro tip: Find a mentor with the skills you need to improve your business. Focus on their professional skill area and don’t get hung up on industry-specific experience. Most skills are transferable across industries, and geography is no longer a barrier to finding the support you need to reach your goals.
If you follow these four basic tips your advising partnership will be well positioned for success!
Eli Raber is Associate Director of Pacific Community Ventures’ BusinessAdvising.org program. Eli connects entrepreneurs with volunteer advisors and the valuable resources they need to run and grow their businesses successfully. You can sign up to be a mentee or mentor at BusinessAdvising.org.
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