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All Aboard! The Mentor Ship

During the start-up phase of my retail store, I realized that I required more than the assistance of my lawyer, bank manager, and real estate agent (aka: The Butcher, The Baker, The Candlestick Maker). So rather than sinking into a self-induced pool of worry, I decided to climb aboard the Mentor Ship, hoping they could buoy me into the safety of success. Now, normally asking for help is a hard task from a go-getter like me who prefers to take control of her own destiny (cough – Type A Personality?). But despite my need to do it by myself, I knew that the magnitude of entrepreneurialism was too much to take on entirely on my own and that my mentor’s advice was not only helpful, but extremely vital.

What is a Mentor?

Call them what you want: guardian angel, business guru, consultant, guide, career coach, advisor, role model or Bob. In the end, your business mentor is, as John C. Crosby said, “a brain to pick, an ear to listen, and a push in the right direction.”

What can a Mentor do for your business?

Mentors are a plethora of information and are there to provide you and your business with:

Experience

Your mentor can speak from experience which is a highly valued asset. Not only have

they trudged through the start-up trenches and made it past the enemy lines, but they know what works and what doesn’t. Through experience comes wisdom and with such sage advice comes the ability to bring forth a more calm approach to the occasional chaos of business.

Connections & Cost Savings

Beyond the ‘what-you-know’ is the ‘who-you-know’, and who ‘knows’ better than your highly connected mentor. From finding a trusted graphic designer to help with your brand development, to a real estate agent who always has the inside scoop on prime locations, your mentor can hook you up with fantastic networking options. After all, time is money, baby, and the less time you spend on fielding the vital components of your business by yourself, the more time – and cost savings – you have to get your business fully operational.

Solace

More than once, one or all three of my mentors (yes, I had three) offered a few kleenexes,

supportive words and a friendly “snap out of it” approach to help pick me up from the occasional moments of overwhelming adversity. In my opinion, there is no time for victimization in business, and your mentor understands this approach. He/she will be there to ease you out of your slump but then quickly get you back to the business of business.

How do you select a Mentor?

Think organic when selecting a mentor. This means use your intuition and natural instincts to seek out someone who holds both business and life expertise, as the two go hand-in-hand. This could be someone who you have already contacted when researching your business, a highly respected family member, or a friend of a friend who has expressed interest in helping you out. There are many resources available in Vancouver ranging from Small Business BC, Women’s Enterprise Centre, government-based self-employment organizations, and of course social media outlets such as LinkedIn.

As mentioned, I didn’t just have one mentor, I had three along the way, with each offering their own expertise and wisdom. With every pivotal phase in my start-up, I was introduced to each mentor through industry affiliation and recommendation.

I met the amazing Julia who was my assigned self-employment counsellor by Toward Excellence, a government-funded organization that help first time business owners in professional development. Julia and I had our initial interview to discuss my business concept and we just clicked! As she was an entrepreneur, wife and mother, she could also relate to my similar personal and professional challenges along the way. After I finally completed the development of my business plan, Julia not only believed in my ability to run a successful retail store, but she urged me to submit my plan to Small Business BC which then won second place provincially in the 2008 business plan competition.

Then there was Don. Sweet, kind, sardonic Don, with his 30 plus years of government and Old Boy’s Club experience. We met after I received a long list of possible contacts to assist with detailing my financial section of my business plan. With his guidance and insight, I not only obtained a $45,000 grant, but I had a solid mentor who was there with me to the end of my business.

And finally, I had Suzanne, who to this day has remained a true friend and supporter. She was recommended as a business accountant through a family member who entrusted her incredible accounting services to me when I was asking for financial advice. She may have been my last mentor to jump aboard, but she was the first one to truthfully point out that my next step was to develop my Exit Strategy – a painful truth that needed addressing.

Where do you find a Mentor?

So for all the entrepreneurs who are seeking a business mentor, remember these final considerations:

  • Think Local –  All across BC there are exceptional resources to provide a guide to finding a mentor that understands how small businesses operate.
  • Think Recommends – Ask various businesses in your related industry who they would suggest as solid business mentors with extensive and reliable experience
  • Think Small Business BC – Who best to provide you with answers to your questions?

For ideas on where to find a mentor, read Why Mentorship is Good for Business.