When it comes to starting and running a small business, women, in particular, have a lot on their plate. From managing the company itself to the unique challenges women entrepreneurs often face, like juggling kids, home and other family obligations—having a mentor may not be at the top of your to-do list. But the truth is: That’s precisely why it should be, especially when you consider the fact that women business owners are twice as likely as men to cite a lack of a support system as a hurdle to business ownership.
Why having a mentor is a good thing
A good mentor can give you that valuable “been there, done that” business acumen that you’re not likely to get anywhere else. Owners who were mentored by a successful entrepreneur were three-times more likely to have top-performing companies themselves—and 80 percent of female business owners with mentors said they found the relationship helpful. Yet only 22 percent of small businesses reach out to a mentor as they try to get their business off the ground.
A mentor will help you avoid costly pitfalls, navigate complex situations and develop skills and confidence. It may seem time-consuming or even intimidating, but it appears to be worth it.
Why peer mentors are critical to female business owners
Here are just a few of the benefits of having a business mentor:
- Solid advice for overcoming any potential gender-related challenges you may face
- Ability to draw on their many years of experience right away, and for free
- Opportunity to network and connect with other business owners, female or otherwise, as well as clients and vendors
- Assistance in navigating all the unexpected roadblocks, unwritten rules and workarounds that inevitably happen in the business world
- Having a source of motivation, support, encouragement and validation
Things to keep in mind before finding a mentor
While a mentor-mentee relationship will require time, trust and focus, it is well worth it. So, if you’re ready to become a mentee, here are some things to consider:
- Have some well-defined goals. The burden of mentorship doesn’t fall solely on the mentor. As a mentee, you should have a realistic understanding of your strengths and weaknesses, so you can define the goals for your business and find more value in the relationship.
- Find the right balance. Once you know your strengths and weaknesses, find a mentor that can fill those gaps—one who can supplement your strengths and help offset your weaknesses. For example, you’re great at creating a product, but you have no marketing or social media experience. Choosing someone who does is a valuable asset.
- Consider having multiple mentors. Sometimes you need a few people to fill those gaps. By having a diverse team of mentors with varied backgrounds, you get different points of view, a bigger network and a broader range of experience.
- Know how to find the right business mentor:
- Seek out someone you know who’s already successful in your area of interest.
- Use your current network to make a connection.
- Join a professional organization related to your business.
- Attend conferences or other events specific to your industry.
- Use online, non-profit mentorship programs like SCORE, which partners with the U.S. Small Business Association to connect volunteer mentors with small business owners.
Attributes to look for in a mentor
Once you find and meet your peer mentor, make sure it’s the right fit. A good mentor will be open about their business experiences, both good and bad, and will have the relevant skills you need. They should be able to faithfully commit their time and energy—without attempting to “rescue” you or ask for anything in exchange. Once you’ve found the perfect fit, you’ll deepen your business knowledge base, while growing a more successful business.