Why your community needs you to be a mentor.
“Mentoring is a brain to pick, an ear to listen and a push in the right direction.” – John C. Crosby
Few people contribute to their communities more than small business owners do. They provide important goods and services, create
jobs, generate tax revenue for roads and schools, and support local charities.
One of the most important gifts that entrepreneurs can give, though, is their time. Entrepreneurs who mentor up-and-coming business owners are helping create the next generation of business owners and ensuring their community’s prosperity into the future.
Some mentors serve informally—they take the occasional phone call about leases or financial statements from younger friends who’ve just opened their own companies.
In Kansas City, we’re also lucky to have some excellent structured mentoring programs, including one of the nation’s biggest, SCORE, which offers free and confidential business counseling, and the Helzberg Entrepreneurial Mentoring Program, a program for young but established businesses. (There is a fee to be mentored through HEMP.)
If you’re a longtime business owner, there’s a good chance that you had an experienced adviser helping you when you started out. And if you didn’t, you probably wish you had. We all have a need for insight outside the realm of our normal life and educational experiences.
Why We Need Mentors
Today’s new entrepreneurs come from everywhere. Some are younger people, discouraged by a challenging job outlook and eager to strike out on their own. And there are older first-time entrepreneurs, too, people who’ve either been downsized or took early retirement so they could pursue a second career.
No matter what age they are, most new entrepreneurs don’t have any experience running a business, hence the need for guidance. Mentoring requests run the gamut from those who simply have an idea and aren’t sure of what to do first to people with completed business plans who would like a second opinion before securing financing, executing a lease or taking some other permanent step.
Of course, beginners aren’t the only ones who need a little guidance. Requests for help often come from existing businesses that are being challenged by a particular problem and need an outside perspective.
That outside perspective—an objective opinion from someone who isn’t a friend or a family member—can be crucial for a small business owner.
After all, new entrepreneurs tend to believe that their ideas are fabulous. And close associates—who might be worried about damaging the relationship or crushing the entrepreneur’s dreams—can be reluctant to provide a dose of realism. Having a mentor replaces the drama of family dynamics and interpersonal relationships with sound advice from seasoned professionals.
Of course, the mentor benefits, too. By helping a younger business get on its feet, mature entrepreneurs are given the opportunity to serve as a valued resource, to apply skills and expertise developed over a lifetime.
It is truly rewarding to see a young business enjoy success in part due to your coaching. Sometimes, it’s enough just to get a young entrepreneur to slow down and do more research, thus avoiding what perhaps might have been a fatal step.
The community also benefits because new startups, with the advantage of mentoring, have a much better chance of success than those without.
Somewhere down the line, those startups might have a chance to give back, too. Today’s startup could be tomorrow’s mentor.