Where to Turn When You Need a Mentor, and Why That Person Can Be Key to Your Success
The path to success is a road full of twists and turns for most entrepreneurs. While there are endless sources for business advice in the digital age, entrepreneurs can gain tremendous value from the advice and business guidance of a mentor.
A mentor can be crucial in the very early days of a business when a company is trying to establish itself. Studies conducted by the Small Firms Economic Development Initiative found that 70 percent of small businesses surveyed that had received mentorship from experienced business owners survived their first five years, compared to 35 percent of small businesses that hadn't been advised by an industry mentor.
The findings revealed that only 22 percent of SMBs surveyed had had a mentor when they started their business. Yet, of the entrepreneurs who did have a mentor, 92 percent said that move was “vital” to the success of their business. For those who didn’t have a mentor or advisor, 89 percent wished that they had and said it would have benefited them.
As adults, we may forget how influential a mentor can be. I liken mentors to coaches, a relationship to which many of us can relate to. In high school, for example, I coached a middle-school softball team and helped take its members to the state championship for the first time in their school’s history. It was a striking moment for me. I was not the best softball player, but I could apply my knowledge, energy and encouragement to truly connect with the younger players and help them create drive, purpose and focus to go further.
Supporting younger generations rang true as well among the small business owners we surveyed. Our study showed that nearly 60 percent of those small business owners mentored younger entrepreneurs themselves.
Mentor opportunities can also be greatly beneficial to a company’s staff. A study by Sun Microsystems compared the career progress of 1,000 employees over five years and found that mentors and mentees were 20 percent more likely to get a raise -- and 25 percent of mentees actually did get one. What’s more, employees who were mentored were promoted five times more often than those who weren’t.
However, mentors aren’t beneficial only for employees. They also help the health and success of a business overall. In fact, businesses that received mentoring reported a revenue increase averaging $47,000 -- or 106 percent -- whereas those without mentoring increased their revenue by an average of $6,600, or 14 percent.
So, how do you find a mentor?
You don't necessarily have to pay for a professional to mentor you. In fact, the first place to look is among peers within your own industry. Turn to a colleague who can help you stay focused and guide you with passion toward your goals. Often, you just need an objective ear.
If you are thinking about taking things a step further and finding a professional coach or advisor, there are several avenues to pursue one:
1. Business organizations such as Vistage, SCORE and your local chamber of commerce are good places to start.
2. Other avenues such as networking groups and startup incubators can also be effective at finding you an experienced business person willing to develop a coaching relationship.
3. Social media is another obvious approach in a search. Let the organic magic of LinkedIn, Twitter and other platforms work to your advantage in finding the perfect match.
Know, too, that mentoring need not be one-sided. Mentoring relationships have a beneficial effect for the mentor, too. In the same study by Sun Microsystems, 28 percent of mentors received a raise and were six times more likely to have been promoted. Mentors often learn from their mentees, who bring new perspectives and fresh ideas that can benefit their own companies and lives. After all, the lessons to be learned are never-ending. Mentor relationships are rewarding for all involved.
While mentorship is far from being a new practice, its use is seeing an uptick in the small business community. A mentor’s advice is often objective, well-seasoned and based on tried-and-tested business methodologies and practices. A mentor is someone you can consult any time you have a question on topics ranging from funding to marketing to advice on when hire your first employee.
Mentors expand your viewpoint, helping you see multiple perspectives to solve problems. And, from my experience, they give you the ability to collaborate and workshop ideas with a trusted source. Above all, they provide the encouragement to keep going, and remind you that hard work pays off. Support systems are necessary in all aspects of life; the business world is certainly no exception.