When you’re starting a business, you can’t overlook the value of having someone with experience and expertise guiding you along the way. Some of today’s most-well-known business leaders credit their early mentors for helping them build and grow their companies.
But how do you find the right mentor to help steer you in the right direction as you launch your new company? Here are three ways to find mentors:
1. Maximize your connections
You may already know your best mentor—you just haven’t tapped them yet. Consider other entrepreneurs you’ve met in your industry or at networking groups (who wouldn’t be considered a direct competitor). Or perhaps you know someone who has achieved success building and running their own business and is now happy to be a resource to you.
Sometimes even family members can suggest mentors. That’s what happened with Dan Giovacchini, co-founder of Tango, a Boston-based workplace learning software that began operations in mid-2020. While he was still in college, a family friend suggested he connect with someone they knew who was co-founder of a VC firm. That co-founder helped him make valuable connections early in his career and then became an invaluable resource when he started his company.
“He is really strategic and well-connected,” Giovacchini says. “While I was getting ready to start the business, and I had questions on how to write a business plan or do marketing, he would say, ‘Go talk to this entrepreneur’ and ‘Here’s an idea, what do you think?’ and ‘This is what you need to do to validate a problem.’”
2. Line up a SCORE mentor
The federal government funds a program that helps connect business owners with retired executives who volunteer their time as business mentors.
SCORE—the Service Corps of Retired Executives—bills itself as having the largest number of volunteer small business mentors in the U.S. Funded by the Small Business Administration, over 10,000 volunteers provide free, confidential business mentoring in person at over 250 local chapters or remotely by email, phone and video. SCORE mentors have expertise in running a business or in functional areas of operating a business, such as accounting or marketing.
“SCORE is a great starting point for new business owners,” says Veatrice Conley, owner of Unveiled Bridal Studio in Chattanooga, Tennessee. When starting her bridal store in 2020, Conley knew she needed outside financing but didn’t know how to pursue it. She came across SCORE while doing online research and decided to ask for a mentor who could help her with business planning.
“SCORE is a great starting point for new business owners.”
She was matched with SCORE mentor Pat Wente, a retired CFO, who helped her put together her business plan. The two met virtually, sometimes as often as two or three times a week. After two banks turned down her request for a $100,000 loan, Wente suggested tweaking the business plan and asking for $50,000, as part of a SCORE funding program with a local credit union.
The loan was granted, allowing her to open her store in January 2021. “One of the conditions of my loan is to continue to be mentored by SCORE,” she says. Wente continues to help Conley with finance-related matters, including recently helping her put together a profit-and-loss statement. “I wouldn’t be in business if I didn’t have my SCORE mentor,” she says.
3. Turn to an online mentoring platform
If you can’t find the right mentor through connections or SCORE, you might want to consider looking for one through the growing number of online platforms and organizations that provide mentoring.
Some free mentoring resources include MicroMentor, The Venture Mentoring Team and America’s Small Business Development Network. Membership organizations such as the Women’s Business Development Center and some local business-networking groups also offer mentoring opportunities.
When looking for business mentors, it can help to have more than one, says Giovacchini, who also has also used mentors to help provide expertise on particular facets of starting the business. “I suggest that every new business owner have at least two mentors,” he says. “One who can motivate you overall and another who has the functional skills that you need help with.”Print this article