It’s alarming and discouraging, but according to Gallup research, five out of 10 U.S. businesses fail in the first five years. Five years of blood, sweat and lots of tears go swiftly down the drain, and this often leaves behind a bad memory that may linger for years. And for many people, there’s a good chance this bad memory will prevent them from getting back into the saddle and trying again.
While there are valid reasons for business failure, the cruelest reality uncovered by the Gallup research is that many business owners just don’t have the skills to run a successful business. Sure, they may have a passion for what they are doing, and they may be exceptional at creating the service or product they offer, but running a business is an entirely different ball game.
So, what’s the secret to business success?
It boils down to experience, and your best resource is a mentor. I recently reached out to one of my favorite mentoring sources for advice: LinkedIn Groups. The value a mentor brings to the table is immeasurable. But before you start your search for a mentor, take a look at what business professionals from around the world recommend.
How do you identify the ideal mentor?
Leadership Mentor and International Speaker Ian Berry says three ingredients must be present for a mentor program to be successful: alignment of values, a fit between the mentor’s expertise and the mentee’s needs, and finally, a relationship. Berry finds that his most successful work, whether with his own clients or from those who have mentored him, begins with a friendship.
Heather Cox, founder of Mighty Little Web Shop, has found value during her career by turning to many different mentors. She recommends seeking out mentors for their expertise in specific business functions such as managing finances, hiring employees, marketing, and finding your niche market. In other words, find mentors whose strengths address your weaknesses and tackle your challenges one by one.
Growing a business is tough and mentors can shave years off learning the dos and don’ts of running a business. They share secrets that put you in the right direction and can be tied to business growth. Parimal Shah with Contrivance Technologies advises business owners to seek a mentor who can guide them through difficult situations, so they don’t lose focus on core business activities, especially when their business may have limited resources.
Which is better? Paid mentors or volunteers?
The dynamics of a mentoring relationship vary from a formal to informal program, from a paid professional to a colleague who volunteers their time, and from in-person meetings to online or phone meetings.
An opportunity for mentoring can arise at any time. Even reading an article or case study can teach a valuable business lesson and possibly prevent us from duplicating a costly mistake. Medical Director Lesley Reece says while it is useful and important to have a mentor you can interact with and contact directly, don’t disregard mentors you have never met. There is a great deal to be learned by influencers in your industry who share their expertise through blogs and other sources like LinkedIn.
Companies like MicroMentor connect business owners with seasoned professionals for free. Cox said she has used both paid professionals and volunteers, and both were invaluable.
The common thread from those who have had successful mentoring relationships is finding what will work with your unique business situation and needs.
Three things every mentor relationship must have.
John Baiki, managing director at MPowering Pty, draws attention to the importance of confidentiality. He says nothing will destroy the mentor relationship faster than the slightest breach of confidentiality.
Strategic Business Coach, Jackie Nagel stresses the importance of defining the expectations of the relationship, so neither party is disappointed and/or frustrated by the process. She says coming to an agreement on what the structure of the relationship will look like is very helpful in avoiding challenges down the road.
David Scarola, chief marketing technologist with The Alternative Board (TAB), recommends finding a mentor who has “been there and done that.” His company, which takes the concept of a board of directors to the small business owner, believes that 75 percent of all businesses face the same challenges regardless of their industry. This means another successful business owner should be able to guide you through at least 75 percent of your challenges. Last month, TAB released a survey on what business owners would do differently if given the chance. Scarola said the results revealed many common regrets and also showed that by simply working with someone who has been there before, you are given the rare gift of foresight to avoid those common mistakes.
Scott Hansen, a speaker, coach and leadership trainer, also supports the advice of finding someone with experience. He said when he coaches clients, he suggests three qualities to look for in a mentor: someone who is genuine, someone who is already doing what you want to do, and someone who has been successful at it.
Has a mentor made a difference with your business? Please share about your experience.