As a small business owner, you already know it can be lonely at the top. Sure, you’re enjoying the many perks of entrepreneurship. And you get to call all the shots. But if you’re like most business owners, there’ll be times when you wish you had the ear—and the wisdom—of someone who’s experienced the same entrepreneurial growing pains you’re going through.

That’s where having a great business mentor can make all the difference. Eighty-six percent of CEOs surveyed in a Vistage study credit their mentors with playing a critical role in their career accomplishments. And a recent report by MentorcliQ found that 84% of Fortune 500 companies have mentoring programs. The report also found that, on average, Fortune 500 companies that offered mentoring programs saw better profits during the COVID pandemic.

What Is Business Mentorship?

A business mentor is an experienced entrepreneur who takes a more inexperienced business owner under their wing. The best business mentors are people who have been where you’re at right now. They’ve faced similar challenges, learned from their early mistakes, and want to give back to their community by mentoring others in the earlier stages of their business.

Your business mentor isn’t the same as a business coach. You hire a business coach, for a fee, to counsel you through specific problems and issues. A business mentorship, on the other hand, is more like a business friendship. It’s a relationship that develops through time. And it’s usually free, although there are organizations that offer business mentorship programs for a fee.

A business mentor’s responsibilities include providing you with objective feedback and encouragement. They can also help you expand your network and help you set realistic goals.

Benefits of Small Business Mentorship

Your business mentor has stood in your shoes on the entrepreneurial journey. And this means they can give you access to the business experience you don’t have yet. With a good business mentor, you can:

Get emotional support. As a small business owner, you’re the one making all the big decisions that will determine whether your business succeeds or fails. The pressure is significant, and it can sometimes be difficult to bear this burden alone.

Your mentor knows how this feels. And while they can’t take the burden off your shoulders, they’re uniquely positioned to understand exactly what you’re going through.

Obtain guidance and advice. You’re going to face challenges as your business grows, and these challenges often aren’t situations where you can simply Google your way to the right resolution.

But your business mentor has most likely faced similar issues during the growth of their own business. And they can share their experience with you, guide you toward a workable solution, and give you the straight-up advice you need.

Bounce off big ideas. Entrepreneurs tend to be creative, and this creativity usually means you’re never short of ideas. But it can be difficult to determine the true potential of an idea when you’re examining its pros and cons within the echo chamber of your own mind.

Your business mentor, however, isn’t as close to your idea as you are, and this gives them the distance to see and point out any potential flaws or impracticalities.

See a fresh perspective. When you’re running a business, there are often several potential solutions to a problem. The challenge is to choose the right solution for your circumstances.

Your business mentor will have gone through their own unique journey to get to where they are. And this means they can offer a perspective that’s different from your own. Looking at a situation through a different lens can open you up to insights you might not have reached on your own.

Expand your network. As your mentoring relationship develops, you’ll gain access to your mentor’s network—and chances are, because of their years in business, this network is populated by other experienced, senior business people.

By tapping into your mentor’s network, you’ll be able to connect with the people who can help your business grow into its next stage. Whether it’s funding, or tech help, or a deal maker, your relationship with your business mentor gives you the organic means to expand your network with the meaningful connections your business needs to succeed.

The Business Mentorship Relationship

What does a good mentorship relationship look like from the inside? While it might be tempting to treat your mentor like a ready-made solution to whatever business issue you’re facing, “relationship” is the key to having a successful business mentorship.

Effective business mentorship is a two-way street. It may not seem like it, but your mentor gets as much out of the relationship as you do. While you benefit from their years of experience and supportive ear, they benefit from the opportunity to experience new challenges through you and your business and to give back to the community.

Characteristics of effective mentors and mentees

Not just anyone will be a good mentor, though. An effective mentor has not only relevant industry expertise, but should want to share that expertise with you. And good mentors are also good listeners who treat the people they’re mentoring with respect.

In return, you want to embody the qualities of a good mentee to help you get the most out of the mentoring relationship. For example, in addition to taking charge of your own learning, a good mentee should also have realistic expectations about what they’ll get out of the relationship. And since your mentor is most likely volunteering their time to mentor you, it’s also important to be respectful of their time.

What a good business mentor relationship looks like

When you enter into a business mentorship, your goal is to build a long-term relationship that’s based on mutual trust and respect. It’s not a one-off thing; this means you and your mentor need to meet and connect on a consistent basis that works with both your schedules.

And your mentor is there to guide you and give you advice—not tell you what to do. Their goal isn’t to create a “mini business me” to follow in their footsteps. Entrepreneurship is all about learning by doing, and the key is to make your own, unique way forward, supported by your mentor’s guidance and wisdom.

How to Find a Business Mentor or Business Mentorship Program

So who are these experienced business owners willing to take the time to mentor others, and how do you go about finding them? Once you start looking, you’ll see that free business mentorship opportunities are everywhere.

Your networks. One of the best places to look for a business mentor is within your own networks. And while your professional network can be a great source of mentors, don’t forget your personal network of family and friends. Remember that it’s not about who you know: It’s all about who the people in your network know.

SCORE. SCORE is a nonprofit organization that’s partnered with the Small Business Administration to offer free business mentorship to small business owners. SCORE stands for the Service Corps of Retired Employees, and the SCORE business mentorship program maintains a large network of experienced business people who volunteer their time to act as business mentors.

SBA business mentorship. In addition to partnering with SCORE, the SBA also runs a mentorship program that’s geared toward government contractors. Eligible small businesses are partnered with experienced contractors who help them win government contracts.

Small business mentorship programs. Many organizations, such as universities and business centers, offer free business mentorship programs. From online business mentorships to local mentoring, business mentorship and entrepreneurial programs are everywhere. A quick Google search should pull up a variety of choices. Try using search terms such as “business mentorship programs near me” to see what’s available in your area.

Industry conferences. Industry conferences are often great places to meet experienced business people within your industry. You can often find these conferences through trade and business associations in your industry.

Local networking events. Networking events in your area are another great place to meet your next business mentor. From your local Chamber of Commerce to Meetup groups for entrepreneurs, you’ll find lots of opportunities to meet other business owners through these events.

The entrepreneurial road can be a bumpy one filled with numerous wins as well as corresponding risks. With a business mentor by your side, you’ll be able to tap into the support and guidance you need to grow your business to the next level.

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