Lots of boomers are eager to start their own businesses.
The desire may stem from the frustration that sits in your gut when the hunt to land an in-house position after a layoff hits wall after wall. Other times, it’s a dream that bubbles to the surface when you have the cushion of an early retirement package and the time to start a new venture. Then too, midcareer burnout after two decades or more of working in the same field or for the same employer even, can hit the trigger.
The allure of not working for someone else can be palpable. I’ve met dozens of entrepreneurs during the course of my reporting on career transition. They’ve started wineries, chocolate-making businesses, water companies, Italian restaurants, bookstores and more.
The successful ones have several things in common-but one that sits at the very heart of their stories–all had a business mentor at their back before they launched. This was the go-to person with experience they could turn and ask what do I do next?
Afterall, when you’re the one in charge, you can feel pretty alone. Your spouse or partner may be supportive, but they aren’t in a position to give the advice a boss might.
For the successful small business owners I know, a mentoring guru was their sounding board. He or she was typically someone with entrepreneurial experience, who they could tap for constructive advice, a “you can do it” pep talk. Sometimes it was a tough love kick in the pants or brutal honesty. In the best scenarios, the mentor opened up a broad network of business contacts that gave back ten-fold as resources and more.
Simply put, a business mentor is one of those must-haves in your business plan.
A new Gallup survey supports this. It shows that for budding entrepreneurs, mentor support is key to starting a business.
Gallup surveys in 83 countries indicate that adults who have access to a mentor are three times more likely to say they are planning to start a business than those who do not have a mentor, according to Gallup researchers Sangeeta Badal and Rajesh Srinivasan.
And mentors are important for men and women alike. Gallup data indicate that 16% of men who have access to a mentor plan to start a business, compared with 6% of those with no access to a mentor. Eleven percent of women with access to a mentor plan to start a business, compared with 4% without a mentor.
According to the Small Business Administration, over 50% of small businesses fail in the first five years. Why? In large measure, it’s the founder’s lack of business experience. The folks at Gallup, surmise that “without a mentor, an entrepreneur may find it difficult to access resources, build networks, and create partnerships that help the enterprise grow.”
The Gallup researchers conclude in their report: “There are tangible and intangible benefits of having a mentor. Gallup’s consulting work shows that pairing an entrepreneur with a mentor increases confidence and self-awareness as well as enhances business thinking and risk taking among the entrepreneurs.”
By absorbing advice from people who have been successful in their own small business, particularly if it’s a field you want to jump into, you can get a sense of what the work is like on a day-to-day basis. You learn what has worked for them in the past and what stumbling blocks to avoid in a range of areas–inventory to bookkeeping to marketing and hiring.
If you’re a small business entrepreneur, here are some great places to look for a mentor. For more advice, go to How to Find a Mentor.
Where to look for a business mentor.
- There are personal paths to explore–your network of friends, family, and business colleagues, LinkedIn and Facebook contacts. But these may not always be the best people to turn to for objective nuts and-bolts business advice.
- Professional associations often have mentoring programs to match members with experienced mentors. For example, local chapters of The National Association of Women Business Owners offer mentoring programs. You can search for a local chapter on the site. For instance, here’s the link to one in Orange County, CA, the NAWBO-OC mentoring program.
- Check out your university’s alumni association to to see if they offer a mentoring program.
- Get involved with your local Rotary Club, the U.S. Small Business Association (SBA) in your town, and contact the chamber of commerce near you. There are often recent retirees at lunches and other events sponsored by these groups who have the wisdom you need. You might discover someone who is looking for a protégé, has expertise to lend free-of-charge, and time to devote to lending a behind-the-scenes hand without seeing you as a competitor.
- Another way to connect with a reliable person to guide you is through SCORE, a nonprofit association dedicated to educating entrepreneurs and to the formation, growth, and success of small business nationwide. SCORE is a resource partner with the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). Both working and retired executives and business owners donate time and expertise as business counselors. SCORE mentors will advise you for free, in person, or online.\
- The Association of Small Business Development Centers, a joint effort of the Small Business Administration, universities, colleges, and local governments, provides no-cost consulting and low-cost training at about a thousand locations.
- The SBA also offers a Mentor-Protégé program designed to help small businesses compete for federal government contracts.
- The U.S. General Services Administration offers a GSA mentor protégé program, as well, that focuses on small business growth and development and subcontractor partnering relationships.
Like most things in life, finding a mentor is a process. The right chemistry takes some trial and error. And there’s no law that says you can only have one. For many small business owners, having a virtual advisory board is handy. Pick someone with marketing knowledge, someone with a finance background, and so on.
Remember you aren’t looking for yes-men and women, who support you no matter what. You want them to believe in your mission, but you need to hear the good, the bad and the ugly. No lip gloss.