Don't go it alone. The right mentor can help you, quite literally, grow your business. Small businesses that receive three or more hours of mentoring achieve higher revenues and increased business growth, reports the Small Business Association (SBA). A survey by The UPS Store found that 70 percent of small businesses that receive mentoring survive past five years. That is double the survival rate of non-mentored businesses, according to the SBA. These trusted advisors can help you navigate challenges and avoid mistakes they have already learned from. They can also provide emotional support when you need it most.
1. Help getting out of the weeds
You are never too successful for a mentor. Having one helps you stay in "learning mode," says Linda Swindling, a workplace communication expert and author of more than 15 books. She notes that it is easy for small business owners to get so busy working in the business that they forget to work on the business. Mentors help business owners think beyond day-to-day management by asking strategic questions and encouraging big-picture planning.
2. Impartial feedback
Swindling's mentor, former CEO of Southwest Airlines Howard Putnam, taught her that she had to speak up at board meetings when they both served as directors for the National Speakers Association. He saw that she felt intimidated and reminded her that her voice needed to be heard.
Bret Bonnet, co-founder and president of Quality Logo Products, notes that unlike friends, family, and business partners, a mentor is impartial, making it easier for him or her to "tell it how it is." That could mean delivering tough feedback on an idea or pointing out personal weaknesses. Bonnet's mentor is his former college professor, Dr. Gary Ernst. Bonnet calls Ernst his "accountability buddy." He checks in to see that Bonnet has followed through with his claims and calls him out when needed. "I am a passionate person, especially when it comes to my business, and sometimes this prevents me from thinking rationally," admits Bonnet. "Whether it be a dispute with my business partner or an issue with another employee, I can always rely on Dr. Ernst to talk me off a ledge."
3. A built-in network
One of the most valuable benefits mentors can offer is their relationships. An advisor may be able to introduce you to vendors, clients, and other resources. Bonnet's mentor helps him find and recruit top talent--graduating students from his alma mater. "Almost 70 percent of our workforce originates from North Central College where my business partner and I graduated from, and where my mentor still teaches," says Bonnet.
4. Emotional support
Stephanie Staidle, founder of The Right Brain Entrepreneur, a consulting firm that helps entrepreneurs tap into their creative side, believes that people often underestimate the importance of emotional support when building a business. "Many entrepreneurs give up during the low times. Having a mentor who can re-inspire and motivate you is crucial," she says.
Staidle recalls her despair when a big project she had invested in flopped. Her mentor let her grieve. Then he gave her the tough love she needed, reminding her to move on and not dwell on the setback.
5. Avoid rookie mistakes
A small business owner can "accelerate the learning curve" by learning from a mentor's experiences, Staidle says. This could save you time and money and help you avoid mistakes. For example, a mentor might be able to weigh in on the best vendors to enlist, potentially saving you the hassle of an unfruitful partnership.
Of course, mentors aren't mind readers. Reach out proactively and speak candidly. Schedule regular calls and sessions. And, as Swindling suggests, be sure to circle back with your mentor to share what resulted from his or her coaching.