As an entrepreneur or small-business owner, you may be inclined to take on all challenges, obstacles, and complications that prevent your business from succeeding. A need for independence and a strong sense of self-confidence are both driving forces of entrepreneurship, as well as potential impediments that can lead to a new business's downfall.
The truth is, while more than half of the small businesses surveyed in Wasp Barcode's "State of Small Business" report expected revenue growth in 2015, it's likely that 30 percent of all new businesses won't survive past 24 months--and that number rises to 50 percent after five years. Early convictions of assured success often fade, unfortunately, in the face of reality.
Thankfully, there is an underutilized resource out there for small-business owners: working with a mentor. Not only is there a correlation between mentorship and success but the ancillary benefits of having someone to lean on professionally are equally compelling. Why do we believe having a mentor is so crucial?
The numbers support it. The success rate of mentored small businesses compared to those without a mentor is stunning: 70 percent of mentored businesses survive more than five years, double the rate for non-mentored small businesses over that same period. There are few things in the business world that can double your chance of success, but having someone knowledgeable you can turn to for advice is one of them. The same study, conducted by UPS, showed that 88 percent of business owners say having a mentor to lean on is "invaluable."
A mentor will help you find weaknesses in your business model. As an entrepreneur, it's easy to become overly attached to a business plan or to have tunnel vision as to the best way to achieve your goals. A mentor can help you look past your original scope and see the weaknesses in your model. As Bonnie Reiss writes:
"We tend to defend our beliefs aggressively, selectively choosing the data that reinforce what we think and explaining away, or outright ignoring, the data that do not. Smart people change their minds when presented with new facts; only the obstinate cling to opinions in the face of contrary evidence. The women you seek out as mentors may challenge you. They may force you to reexamine your worldview."
A different perspective may help you decide that the time has come for your company to pivot or for you to upgrade outdated systems for new technology. Constructive feedback--and criticism--are expected from a mentorship, and accepting that input can pay dividends.
It gives you the opportunity to expand your network. A mentor may not have all the answers, but he or she should be willing and able to connect you with other people who can help. A good mentor can help you find investors, clients, co-founders, or contractors who provide a valuable service.
It will still be your business. One of the top mistakes that entrepreneurs make with mentors is expecting that the mentor will do the work for them. A mentor can open the door, but you must walk through it. This goes both ways. Your mentor won't be "taking over" your business, and, in fact, you can take legal steps to protect your inventions or trade secrets, should that be necessary.
The best mentoring relationships don't cost a thing--except time. Good mentors know they should not expect anything in return for their help from a financial standpoint. Similarly, mentees must not squander that valuable commodity and should not waste a mentor's time by canceling meetings at the last minute or involving them in trivial matters that can be handled by you. Mentor-mentee relationships are built on a foundation of mutual respect, not money.
There is no standard for how often or for how long to meet with a mentor. As with most non-formal business relations, that's entirely up to the parties involved. The only constant across all mentoring relationships is to meet regularly, and to use the time together constructively. Your mentor is not a lunch buddy--he or she is an asset, yes, but also a person with his or her own responsibilities who can only budget so much time for you. If you keep that in mind, your meetings will be fruitful.
There are a number of ways to find the right mentor for you and your small business. Peers can be mentors, but you can also use government-sponsored mentor organizations (such as SCORE), trade associations, and other groups to meet someone new. For a full list of potential resources, visit the U.S. Small Business Administration's website.
Smart small-business owners know that having an advantage like a mentor can be crucial in staying ahead of the market, and, in some cases, out of bankruptcy. Look for the helping hand of a mentor to open your mind to new ideas, your address book to new contacts, and your business to new opportunities.