Everyone in business should consider having access to a volunteer business mentor. Someone who has “been there, done that” and is willing and able to share their wisdom with you on an ongoing basis. Working with a business mentor is particularly useful when starting a new business or looking to grow a business in a down economy. An experienced mentor can not only offer useful guidance on a range of business management issues, but s/he can be a valuable sounding board for testing out new ideas or hashing over periodic business challenges.
Fortunately, there are many different sources to choose from today where you can evaluate and secure experienced business mentoring at no- or low-cost.
Public Mentoring Agencies
For example, SCORE Counselors to America’s Small Business (SCORE) has been around for over forty-five years and offers access to over 12,000 volunteer business mentors throughout the United States. These individuals offer mentoring expertise in more than 600 business disciplinary skill areas. You can work with a SCORE mentor face-to-face through local Chapter offices, online through email communications, or a combination of both. Many SCORE Chapters provide a detailed profile of each volunteer mentor’s area of expertise. This allows you to review which mentor you view best matches your business interests and needs.
Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs) also offer access to no-cost experienced business mentors across the United States. SBDCs operate through academic institutions and state economic development agencies. In addition to no-cost consultation, SBDCs also offer low-cost training in a variety of business disciplinary areas.
Corporate Volunteer Mentors
Corporations are also making it possible for their employees to volunteer their time to mentor people looking to start and grow business ventures. This avenue of mentoring may be particularly useful where the volunteer mentor offers access to a broad industry-specific network or certain technology solutions that can help an up and coming entrepreneur tap new markets or operate more efficiently. MicroMentor, a nonprofit agency, is one example of this type of no-cost business mentoring. By visiting MicroMentor, you can search profiles of available mentors and work with one or multiple mentors to help you start and grow your venture.
Special Interest Mentors
Mentoring relationships are also available for a variety of special interest groups, such as Veterans, women, minorities and individuals with disabilities. Many of these mentoring sources are also available at no cost. For a nominal cost, typically referred to as a membership fee, there are a wide range of special interest associations that provide access to mentors, as well as other entrepreneurial training and development resources.
A nonprofit organization called American Corporate Partners (ACP), offers free career counseling and mentoring to Veterans through volunteers from corporations and universities. Veterans interested in pursuing entrepreneurial interests are provided with business mentoring support through the ACP web site as well as through select mentor skill sets. There is also an Office of Veterans Business Development (OVBD) that hosts a Veterans Business Outreach Program (VBOP) where veterans are provided with on-site visits from experienced mentors who provide assistance with business planning and financial management. OVBD is available by visiting the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) web site and selecting Veteran Business Outreach Centers under the Local Resources dropdown menu.
Business mentors focused on assisting women entrepreneurs include Women’s Business Centers (WBCs). Like SCORE, SBDCs, and OVBD, WBCs are in part, funded through the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). WBCs are managed through the Office of Women’s Business Ownership (OWBO) and may be accessed by visiting the U.S. SBA web site and choosing Women’s Business Centers under the Local Resources menu option.
Mentoring for various minority owned business interests is fostered through the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA), which is part of the U.S. Department of Commerce. MBDA is the only federal agency created specifically to support entrepreneurial development and growth for minority-owned businesses in America. In addition to providing referrals free of charge to mentors through over forty Minority Business Development Centers (MBDCs), MBDA offers other business support services at nominal fees.
For individuals with disabilities, business mentorships and related entrepreneurial development training services are available through state-based vocational rehabilitation programs typically run through the state Department of Education. Mentoring guidance focuses on assisting individuals with physical or mental disabilities in living more independently through the pursuit of employment, self-employment or venture creation and growth. A Google search for vocational rehabilitation followed by the name of your state will return where in your state you may connect with mentoring services of this nature.
The Right Fit
In summary, working with a volunteer business mentor offers many benefits and rewards. The key is to be sure that you secure the right mentor for the right reason at the right time. Mentoring relationships that offer a combination of structured business guidance based around your specific interests and needs, as well as unstructured brainstorming opportunities tend to provide the best return for your time and energy.