Peer Power

Mentor programs help entrepreneurs get by with a little help from their friends.
Magazine Contributor
8 min read

This story appears in the December 1996 issue of Business Start-Ups magazine. Subscribe »

Q: I have been in for myself for six years. When I moved recently from the area to Columbus, Ohio, I took the opportunity to rethink my , research my new market and revise my . I have a number of options I can pursue. I've heard there are mentoring programs for women business owners and think a would be of great help to me. Where do I go to find out more about these programs?

Laurel Wood

Columbus, Ohio

A: Nancy Smith, a small-business consultant in Chicago and the secretary/treasurer of the National Association of Women's Business Advocates (NAWBA), promotes economic development programs for small businesses, particularly for :

Mentoring programs are not new. Apprenticeships, internships and on-the-job training programs can all be looked at as different types of mentoring programs. Business organizations and chambers of commerce have long provided opportunities for their members to meet other members. But although these programs have existed for some time, the reality is that they have traditionally been geared toward men.

A mentor program benefits participants in several ways. Mentors can provide business advice, guidance and suggestions for improvement. They also act as sounding boards for business ideas and often become trusted advisors and friends. But by no means are the benefits one-sided; mentors find value in the relationship, too. In working through issues with their protégés, mentors often discover answers to their own business problems or find that conversations spark new business ideas. It's possible that a mentor and protégé will also go into business together.

Today, many mentoring programs target women entrepreneurs. Women business owners, 7 million strong, are starting businesses at twice the rate of men and will soon own more than 40 percent of all small businesses in the United States. Because this growth is so recent, many women's business organizations are still in the early stages of expanding their memberships.

In 1988, the 's Office of Women's Business Ownership (OWBO) started one of the first mentoring programs for women business owners, the Women's Network for Entrepre-neurial Training (WNET). WNET matches successful women who have been in business for three to five years with less experienced women business owners who are ready to expand.

Today, many variations of the WNET program exist (supported, though not necessarily sponsored, by the ). Some bring mentors and protégées together; others are monthly round-table meetings where participants discuss business issues, concerns and opportunities. To find out about the SBA-supported mentor program nearest you or to obtain information regarding OWBO resources and events, call your local SBA office and ask for the OWBO representative, access the SBA Web site at, or call the SBA Answer Desk at (800) 8-ASK-SBA.

Also consider contacting your state's women's business advocates. These advocates provide assistance and programs for women entrepreneurs in your state. The advocates work with one another, as well as with OWBO and national, state and local women's business organizations, to support the growth of women-owned businesses. Advocates also have information on mentoring and events of interest. In Ohio, your home state, the contact would be Melody Borchers, who works with the Women's Business Resource Program (800-848-1300). For additional information, call Kate Hoelscher, president of NAWBA, at (904) 444-2060, or log on to the NAWBA Web site at

If, after doing your research, you can't find a mentoring program in your area, consider starting your own. To do so, find out what women's business organizations exist in your community. Once you attend enough of their meetings, you'll have met and established relationships with other women entrepreneurs. From there, make a date to meet with these other women and see where the conversation leads. If all goes well, you'll be able to be an advisor, a role model, a protégée . . . or even a true friend.

Q: I am planning to desktop publish a book and market it from my home. I am uncertain which laws, regulations and taxes pertain to doing this. Can you help?

Timothy Kritcher


A: Marilyn Ross, vice president of About Books Inc. in Buena Vista, Colorado, has helped hundreds of authors and small presses sell millions of books over the last two decades:

When you publish a book, you have a totally unique product by virtue of the copyright assigned to you by the Library of Congress. (For detailed information about obtaining book-related copyrights, call the Library of Congress at 202-707-3000.) Many people make a lucrative living by producing and selling information from their homes. The following tips should guide you through the process.

1. Understand the secrets of success. In the business, there are two secrets of success. The first is to produce a printed work for a niche market. Rather than tackling a huge subject that might interest everyone, concentrate on a smaller target group you can find and reach.

Animals are a good example. Many people are animal lovers, but as a small publisher, you don't have the budget to find and woo them all. But dog lovers--now, that's a different story. You can romance them via magazines, kennels, breed associations and dog shows. You'll make more money if you aim to be a big fish in a little pond.

The second secret of success is to think "marketing" from the very beginning. Research your competition. Go to the library, and see what else is available on the topic you've chosen by looking in the Subject Guide to Books in Print (R.R. Bowker). Don't just check one local bookstore or library and assume they carry every book on the subject. After you've researched what else is out there, decide how you can "position" your book to be better, more complete and more timely than others on the subject.

2. Cover the business requirements. Going into business as a publisher is fairly easy since the industry is relatively regulation-free even regarding business start-ups--no licenses are required before an individual can set up shop as a publisher. However, you should check your local chamber of commerce to see what general business laws apply in your area. You could run into trouble if your city has strict zoning laws regulating homebased businesses; you'll also need a resale license so you can pay the appropriate state sales taxes.

Just as you have a Social Security number, books have individual International Standard Book Numbers (ISBN). To learn more about ISBN numbers, as well as how to acquire a Library of Congress Card Number, obtain the EAN book-scanning symbol bookstores require, and register your copyright, you might like to read my book The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing (Writer's Digest). You will learn how to design a reader-friendly book and find an appropriate printer. Locating a competent and cost-effective printer is crucial: If you pay too much to print your book, you'll end up overpricing it and consumers will balk.

3. Develop marketing savvy. Once you've written and published a book, others will perceive you as an expert on the subject, which opens the door to free publicity. Send press releases to magazines and newspapers; they could review your book, leading to additional publicity and sales.

To actually sell your book and bring it to consumers' attention, the traditional avenues are bookstores, wholesalers, distributors and libraries. The real money, though, is often made in other channels. If your book retails for more than $25, you may have an ideal direct-mail or catalog product (since it's costly to do direct mail, selling books for less than $25 may not be profitable). Specialty outlets are another good venue: Cookbooks sell in gourmet shops, gardening books in home improvement centers, parenting books in children's shops and so on. The markets are endless; you simply need to develop a sales relationship with the stores and organizations that reach your target customers.

Tbe Small Publishers Association of North America (SPAN) publishes an informative monthly newsletter, holds an annual conference, and offers other membership benefits to self-publishers and small presses. Call (719) 395-4790, or e-mail them at for more information.

Need advice from the pros? Our experts may be able to help. Fax us at (714) 755-4211, or e-mail us at with your Hotline questions.

Contact Sources

About Books Inc., P.O. Box 1500, Buena Vista, CO 81211, (800) 548-1876;

National Association of Women's Advocates, 100 W. Randolph, #3-400, , IL 60601, (312) 814-7176;

Nancy L. Smith, 1815 N. Bissell St., Chicago, IL 60614, (312) 944-5633.


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