What do Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, and Oprah Winfrey have in common? They all consider their mentor to play a significant role in their success. In fact, of self-made millionaires who had mentors, 93% attributed most of their wealth to having been mentored, according to Tom Corley, author of “Rich Habits: The Daily Success Habits of Wealthy Individuals.” That’s a pretty impressive statistic, and one that undoubtedly supports the notion that a mentorship can play a significant role in the success of a business.
By definition, a mentor is an “experienced and trusted advisor”—a guru, if you will. They’re more experienced, wiser, and have worked through the complexities of your industry in such a way that they’ve become wildly successful. As mentors, these sage individuals can guide you through various stages of your business development, using the lessons they’ve learned to help steer you in the right direction.
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A good small business mentor can offer you more than passing advice. They can provide you with a different perspective and help you network with the main players in your field, prospective partners, or even potential customers in your target market.
Beyond that, mentorship can be a huge boon as you work toward developing the skills you’ll need to start and maintain your business. Not sure how to get your business started? A survey by the UPS store found that 82% of small business owners who worked with a mentor throughout the startup process felt that a mentor was helpful, and one-third of those who didn’t have one to help said they wished they did.
Of course, small business mentors and mentorships don’t need to end once the business is up and running, nor should they. In a 2015 Harvard Business Review survey of CEOs with formal mentoring arrangements, 84% of those polled felt the relationship helped them become more proficient as CEO, and 71% of believed that company improvements were attributed to the mentorship relationship.
So where does one find a mentor? Aside from your own network of professionals, there are a few key places you can look, which we’ll get to shortly. But if you’re looking for guidance and assistance, one of the best places you can go to is your local Small Business Development Center (SBDC).
Turning a Hobby Into a Business
Shiloh Richner loved to paint and refinish old furniture, and over time it became apparent that her hobby could become much more. As a first-time business owner, Richner contacted her local SBDC to help her get started.
Much like others who have turned to a Small Business Development Center, Richner found the staff of the University of Scranton SBDC chapter to be quite helpful. In 2015, she opened From Drab to Fab, in Mayfield, Pa., and she is quick to speak highly of the SBDC’s role in her new business.
“They were very helpful when it came to setting up my grand opening,” Richner says, crediting her local SBDC with helping her determine when to do her grand opening and how to promote her business using tools like social media. Members of the SBDC were even there to assist in organizing her official ribbon-cutting ceremony, taking photos and sending out a press release to help spread the word.
“I appreciate everything that they do for me and know that they are always there if I ever have any questions,” says Richner, when asked about her experience with her local SBDC, a sentiment that echoes the experiences of many others who have utilized their services.
To help her get her business of the ground, the University of Scranton SBDC assisted Richner in everything from determining when to do her grand opening and how to promote it, to organizing and being present for the official ribbon- cutting ceremony, taking photos and sending out a press release.
Small Business Development Centers offer aspiring and existing business owners with a variety of resources, including free consulting and training services—usually for a nominal price—to help with writing business plans, accessing capital, marketing, technology development, international trade, and regulatory compliance. With nearly 1,000 service sites operating across the U.S., they are accessible to everyone.
Other Small Business Mentorship Resources
Aside from turning to an SBDC to find free mentorship and other valuable, low-cost resources, there are a number of other sources you might want to consider to locate a free small business mentor.
SCORE is a “nonprofit association dedicated to helping small businesses get off the ground, grow, and achieve their goals through education and mentorship.” Similar to SBDCs, they offer free access to mentors who specialize in 62 industries, confidential mentoring through email or in person; business tools, tips, templates, and low-cost workshops.
Veterans’ Business Outreach Center
Funding by the Small Business Administration, VBOC helps to “create, develop, and retain veteran owned small business enterprises.” They offer mentorship in variety of areas, including government contracting, startup basics, franchising, legal matters related to small businesses, and operational guidance.
Women’s Business Outreach Center
With the goal of “educating and empowering underserved women entrepreneurs,” WBC offers one-on-one counseling, financing resources, and business training to women who are or want to become small business owners. Women who qualify for their services can expect insight and assistance in everything from startup grants and legal/regulatory procedures, to market business and marketing development plans.
Regardless of where you are in your entrepreneurial journey, the one thing you should take away from this is the significant, positive impact a mentorship can have on your business aspirations. Whether you reach out to someone already in your professional network, or you check out one of the free mentorship resources available to you, it’s definitely worth checking out a small business mentor and Small Business Development Center.
Nav recently launched the Nav Small Business Advisor Program to support these advisors and consultants with tools and training they can use as they work with entrepreneurs. We’re proud to partner with them to help small businesses succeed.