Mentors key to small business owner success

(Family Features) You have a compelling business model … ambition … entrepreneurial spirit. Add in a solid business plan and the necessary capital, and you may be well on your way toward launching a business. But before you take the leap into owning your own business, it’s worthwhile to consider adding in another important element — the guidance of a mentor.

According to a recent survey conducted by The UPS Store, 88 percent of small business owners believe having a mentor has been invaluable. As evidence of the value this unique relationship brings, more than two-thirds of business owners who had a mentor prior to starting the business are still in contact with their mentor.

“For many, starting a business can be overwhelming — it’s not just about exploring a passion or following a dream,” said W. Kenneth Yancy, chief executive officer of SCORE, a nonprofit association dedicated to helping small businesses get off the ground. “A mentor can help navigate the complex challenges that often come with being a business owner, and the guidance from someone who has been there themselves can be a real asset.”

Beyond the intangibles — access to knowledge and the confidence that comes from having a respected colleague rooting for your success, for example — a mentor relationship can have a very real impact on your bottom line. In fact, 70 percent of small business owners who receive mentoring survive for five years or more, double the rate of those who do not.

“Many small business owners feel like they’re all alone when it comes to facing challenges,” said Tim Davis, president of The UPS Store. “Getting help from an expert, or advice from another business owner who’s already experienced something similar, can be invaluable.”

A mentor’s contributions can take many different forms, so it’s important to find a partner whose expertise and approach to business is similar to yours. Through organizations such as SCORE, small business owners can — at no cost — pull from a pool of more than 11,000 certified experts from every industry to find a mentor that fits their personal work style and needs.

Before choosing a mentor, consider the following questions to help you find a match who can maximize your business potential:

• How strong a role would you like your mentor to have? Are you looking for someone to bounce ideas off of, or someone who will guide you?

• What timeframe does your schedule allow? Are you looking for a mentor to connect with weekly? Bi-weekly? As needed?

• Where are you most comfortable meeting with your mentor? Is an electronic or phone-based relationship acceptable, or do you prefer chats over coffee?

• Are there specific skills you lack that a mentor could help develop?

• What credentials does your mentor need in order to provide you the greatest benefit?