Small Business Mentors Build Success

January is National Mentoring Month. Created in 2002 by the Harvard School of Public Health and MENTOR:

The National Mentoring Partnership, National Mentoring Month focuses attention on the need for mentors. Mentors play important roles in our lives at various stages. I’ve been fortunate to have had many great mentors during my life — as a student, corporate employee, attorney, author and business owner. In these turbulent times, if you are struggling to grow your business and you don’t have a mentor, then you are missing out on a significant competitive advantage.  Many entrepreneurs don’t know how to go about finding a mentor.  So here are a few tips to help you not only find a mentor, but make the relationship beneficial for you both.

1. Make a List. Identify the people you admire and who have been successful in their careers.  Then create your “wish list” — those people who you think could provide the greatest assistance in helping you achieve your business goals.  Many of the small business organizations offer more formalized mentoring programs too.  For example, the National Association of Women Business Owners or the Small Business Development Centers offer excellent opportunities to find a business mentor.

2. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask. Successful people typically have a generous spirit and want to see others succeed.  And believe it or not, they are flattered when you ask them to be your mentor.  Of course, that doesn’t mean they will automatically say “yes”.  A lot depends on their current situation and whether they have the time to share.  So don’t be offended if they turn you down.  There’s someone out there who will say yes.

3. Be Prepared. When you first meet with your mentor, be prepared to explain what it is you need from the relationship.  Come equipped with background material on your business so they can understand your current situation.  Keep in mind, mentors are not there to solve problems for you or be your fairy Godmother.  They are there to help guide you by asking questions and offering recommendations.

4. Listen and Keep an Open Mind. A mentor isn’t your therapist or your business coach.  Participate actively in your mentoring sessions and listen openly to their feedback.  They may not always tell you what you want to here so don’t be defensive.  One of my first career mentors was extremely critical of my writing style.  Finally, one day in tears, I almost quit my job.  He explained he was being tough on me because while he thought I was a good writer — he wanted to make me a great writer.  I am very thankful for the time he took to help me grow and improve even though it was not always easy.

5. Be Accountable. A mentor will quickly lose patience if you take up his or her time, but then never act on any of the growth strategies you’ve discussed.  Repeating the same old issues time and time again, causes a mentoring relationship to quickly fail.  So be accountable to your mentor.  Follow through on action steps you agree to take.

If you are already fortunate enough to have a business mentor, take time during this month to show your appreciation.  Take your mentor to lunch or simply send a note letting him or her know how grateful you are for their assistance.

Finally, it is rewarding to be a mentor.  So if you have achieved success in your business or career, pay it forward.  Spend time with a young person or someone in career transition, and help them avoid the pitfalls on their journey to success.

Susan Wilson Solovic is an award-winning entrepreneur and journalist, author of three best-selling books, multi-media personality and contributor to ABC News and other outlets, public speaker and attorney. AT&T has sponsored this blog post.

Susan Solovic CEO Susan Solovic Media Group About Susan