So how do you beat the odds? Research shows there’s one factor that can predict the success of your small business: a guiding hand from an experienced mentor.
Business owners working with a mentor were twice as likely to survive past their first five years. All that extra guidance, coaching, and advice resulted in significantly better outcomes than solitary entrepreneurs.
What is a business mentor and how can they help?
Business mentors come in all shapes and sizes, but they all have two things in common: they have the business experience and skills you don’t, and they’re willing to share the benefit of that experience with you.
Whether you need a second opinion on an upcoming product launch or help understanding your small business financials, having access to a trusted advisor who’s been there before is invaluable. A good mentor has already navigated the challenges that come with entrepreneurship and can give you the guidance you need to grow your small business.
Where can you find a business mentor?
Unlike corporate environments where mentorship relationships often happen organically or are guided by HR policy, finding a mentor on your own can be trickier. If you’re not sure where to start, we have some ideas.
Look to your existing network
Start your search by reflecting on your career to date. Can you think of anyone that helped you succeed or gave you actionable advice that led to a positive outcome? Do you know someone who can connect you to a more senior business person in your industry? If no one comes to mind immediately, focus on building stronger relationships with the people in your orbit and the rest will follow.
It’s worth pointing out that your mentor doesn’t need to be one person. Mentors can be any age and work in any industry. If you’re able to build a network of people you can learn from, you’ll benefit from their combined experience and advice.
Find professional events in your field
Keep an eye on professional events, conferences, and meetups in your area or online. It can feel intimidating at first, but remember that these events are designed for networking, and handing out business cards is the norm. Joining a professional association in your field can help you learn more about your industry and seek out experienced business connections in a stress-free environment.
Send a virtual coffee invite
Due to the rise of COVID-19, finding a mentor without leaving your living room is fast becoming the new way to network. Places like LinkedIn, Micromentor, SCORE mentors, and other online business groups have made connecting with potential mentors easier than ever before.
Everyone on these platforms is here for the same thing, so this is a great option if you have trouble bringing up the subject of mentorship in other contexts. Asking someone to join you for a virtual coffee is a low-pressure way to get to know a potential mentor and see if you’re a match.
Look for mentors who understand your experiences
Women and minority entrepreneurs make up 59 percent of all business owners in the U.S. And yet, they continue to face biases when looking for access to capital, networks, and opportunities for building wealth in our existing financial systems.
Connecting with a mentor who deeply understands the obstacles faced by business owners with marginalized or underrepresented identities—and has the knowledge and business contacts to help overcome them—can help you navigate an uneven playing field and open doors to economic success.
If this is a factor for you, look for programs created specifically to support your identity. For example, the Small Business Administration operates a national network of Women’s Business Centers, as well as a program called 8(a) that provides mentorship to business owners who are socially and economically disadvantaged. Other possibilities include the Minority Business Development Agency or the Association of Women’s Business Centers.
Ask someone you admire (even if you don’t know them)
The best mentors are people you already gravitate toward. Think about a business owner you respect and admire. If you would love to get inside their brain and know how they approach their business, they could be the ideal mentor for you. Try sending them a personalized email that lays out the reasons you admire them professionally, why you’d like to meet them, and what you hope to gain from the relationship.
At worst you might not get a reply. But at best, you could find someone who understands your goals and has the knowledge and experience to transform your business. So why not give it a shot?
How do you know when you’ve found the right mentor?
Above all else, you and your mentor should be compatible. A study from the University of Toronto, found the most successful mentoring relationships were ones with shared values, a personal connection, and mutual respect. Your mentor should be the person who tells you what you need to hear about your business—not just what you want to hear.
Once you’ve identified a person who might be a good mentor, it’s important to make sure you’re both on the same page. You can get off to a strong start by setting expectations with your mentor, deciding on how much time you’re both willing to commit to the relationship, and discussing the role they’ll be playing in growing your business. If you’re both on the same page, you may have found the one.
Before sealing the deal, ask yourself these questions:
- Do I look up to this person?
- Am I able to work well with this person?
- Can this person guide me toward my professional goals?
- Is this person happy in their career?
How Bench can help
Your mentor will likely ask you about your small business revenue, expenses, and debts you’ve acquired to better understand the current state of your business. If you plan to discuss the financial details of your business with your mentor, make sure your books and finances are in order before you meet with them.
If gaining a better grasp on your business finances is what you want a mentor to help you with, you can certainly reach out to them for support.
If doing your bookkeeping isn’t your favorite task, it may be time to consider outsourcing. Bench does your bookkeeping for you and gives you organized and accurate financial statements each month. Our easy-to-use software and intuitive visual reports can help your mentor quickly spot areas for business improvement and growth—without having to wade through piles of messy documents and receipts.
We also take care of small business tax filing and provide unlimited, on-demand tax advisory. For no additional fee, you can speak with one of our in-house tax professionals all throughout the year. As a Bench client, you’ll have peace of mind your business is optimized to minimize your income tax and tax questions are never left unanswered. Learn more.