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How Can Small Business Mentors
Help Your Organization?

Use Your Business Coach Association
to Find a Coach or Mentor

Business mentors and coaches can provide small business owners with support, advice and opinions. Mentors are typically people who are experienced, skilled, knowledgeable, and who have great communication skills, along with a willingness to share. Coaches are very similar to mentors; perhaps they bring a stronger training orientation to their work and since coaching is a recognized profession, they have the opportunity to become certified coaches.

A business coach can help you develop your business leadership skills and focus on emphasizing your strengths and managing your weaknesses.

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If you need the assistance of a mentor or coach to work with on specific challenges, you can find one through referrals (check with your business network or community), through your local business coach association, and through industry specific, and/or small business, associations.

If you've developed a strong online presence, then you can also use your online social network (through LinkedIn for example) to ask for referrals or recommendations. Make sure that you check out the individual before you start working with them; ask for references and talk to those references.

When deciding to work with a mentor or coach you need to make sure that you can communicate well together.

You also need to check out references and referrals and ensure that the coach can provide the services you need. Always ensure that a non-disclosure and/or confidentiality agreement is signed by the mentor or coach(you don't want your business information accessible to others).

Building a strong relationship with a business mentor or coach, is like building a personal relationship: you have to trust the individual, you have to like them, you have to be able to talk to your mentor about your business concerns (and also just about your business, sometimes raising concerns that you can't even see yet).

To build your own one-to-one business network with your mentor, you'll need to commit to the process in terms of both time and effort. You'll need to meet on a frequent and regular basis. You'll need to follow the advice of your mentor. Your mentor will become one of your stakeholders in business.

The professional mentoring is similar to professional coaching: the goal is for your mentor to act as a business coach to you, helping you grow, change and succeed.

Coaches can provide you with unequaled, unbiased feedback and advice. This feedback will help you develop your business skills. Business mentors and coaches are often certified (see your regional or local business coach association for certification criteria; often they also provide a listing of certified coaches) and sometimes they will also hold a management consulting certificate.

Coaching and/or Mentoring Activities

  • Focus on setting goals at each meeting. Come to your meeting prepared and set an agenda (and follow it) in the meeting.

  • Set near-term (next meeting), short-term (next 12 months), and long-term goals (up to 5 years). Make sure that you build performance measurements into each goal; if you don't measure the results you won't clearly understand why (and when) you succeed or fail.

  • Review progress against the goals at the each meeting. Talk about the actions you took to meet your goals. And make sure that you identify, and understand, what worked and what didn't.

  • Start your relationship with short meetings: 45 minutes to one hour.

    Once you get comfortable with the process, make those meetings one and a half hours every two weeks; don't spread out more than two weeks if possible as it's hard to keep the continuity otherwise.

  • Understand clearly what you want out of this business relationship and verbalize it; make sure your business coach understands what you want and need.

  • Accept your coach's advice and act upon it; otherwise you are wasting your time and effort (and money), and theirs.

An example of an effective outcome from a coaching session is to work with a small business marketing coach; have the coach review the marketing plan you've put together. Ask your coach to highlight areas of weakness (and strength). If you're working with a small business marketing coach don't ask that coach to help you with your financial plan - that's not their expertise. Also don't expect your coach to do the work for you, expect them to point out or discuss what you need to do.

Business mentors or coaches are only one part of building a strong and successful network (and being successful at networking is an important business building strategy). Other elements of a successful business network or community include joining and participating in the right type of association (your industry or trade association); building a strong internal committee; and working with the appropriate government agencies.

Effective business mentors will help you manage your business: consider the relationship you have with your mentor as a personal training program. And consider your mentor as your personal trainer.

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