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Posted: July 20, 2011

Mentors: Building great businesses…

...from great relationships

By Tameka Montgomery

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A business mentor can be invaluable to both new and established business owners. Tapping into the insights of a seasoned business owner who has "been there and done that" can help you avoid costly mistakes.

As an objective outsider, a mentor offers strategic insights from a 20,000-foot view. Additionally, mentors can help you expand your network by giving you access to key decision-makers.

A key factor for building a successful mentoring relationship is trust. Your mentor becomes a de facto member of your team, and her ability to offer relevant advice depends on your openness about your business. A mentoring relationship works both ways; the mentor must also demonstrate her commitment and desire to see you succeed. Both the mentor and mentee benefit from the relationship.

While most people agree that having a mentor can be beneficial, the challenge is knowing how to find a mentor and build the relationship. If you have always wanted a mentor, but were unsure of how to go about initiating and following through on such a relationship, here are a few tips to help you:

1) Assess your strengths and weaknesses. Determine those areas where you could use fresh insight. If you know the areas where you need help, you are better able to define how your mentor can help you grow as a business owner.

2) Be proactive. Often, mentoring relationships do not happen spontaneously. I have found that people who have an expertise are willing to share that knowledge, but the first step is asking. Be intentional about your approach to find a mentor. Take an inventory of all of the people in your network, set up coffee or lunch meetings and update them on your business and your vision. Ask directly if they would be willing to share their expertise and mentor you in a particular aspect of your business.

3) Act on the advice given. Everyone's time is valuable. Your mentor invests time in you because she wants to see you succeed. The worst thing you can do is ignore the advice and insight a mentor provides; no one wants to feel that they have wasted their time.

4) Stay connected. A mentoring relationship is just that - a relationship. Check in regularly with your mentor; let him know how his advice has helped you and/or your business.

Dawn Abbott and her husband, Tim, have grown Aurora-based Fun Productions Inc. from a $200,000 business to a $1.5 million company. In 2010, they participated in the Growth Catalyst Business Coaching Program through the Denver Metro Small Business Development Center.

"We were growing without a strategic plan and needed direction to take us to the next level," Dawn Abbott said.

Through the mentoring they received, the Abbotts developed a plan that led to an employee-training process for their customer-facing staff. The result was a 100 percent increase in staff quality and service levels, as well as time and money savings related to hiring employees.

In 2007, Clarence Low opened a new Lakewood office for Monterey, Calif.-based Byte Technologies. Low credits having a mentor for much of his success with the new office.

"When many businesses in our industry were closing or downsizing, we grew and have not needed to compromise our equity position or incur debt," Low said.

Low's mentor, a former Frito-Lay executive, helped Byte Technologies develop tools to manage cash flow, forecast sales and consider new business scenarios.

"The pain that large consumer-products businesses go through is the same as what most small businesses experience, only on a different scale," said Low's mentor, who asked to remain anonymous.

To aid small business owners in developing mentoring relationships, the Denver Metro SBDC is launching a new initiative called the Main Street Mentors Walk to be held on Aug. 13 at City Park. Registrants will be matched with successful business owners for a 5K walk to discuss relevant business issues, seek advice and learn from the mentors' experiences in a fun environment. For more information, visit www.mainstreetmentorswalk.org.
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Readers Respond

Tameka, thank you for the wonderful article. Your comments about a business mentor partnership are a great read. As you talk about mentoring and the wonderful benefits that it offers to business people, I can't resist the urge to mention another mentoring program that is as equally worthwhile - Byrne Urban Scholars. They provide assistance to under-privileged youth in Denver that are at risk of dropping out (did you know: 37% of Denver's youth drop out of school?) They provide financial assistance so that these students can attend private high-schools where graduation rates and academic levels are much higher AND they match each student with a mentor that can be the student's advocate, hold them accountable, and provide them a different perspective on life than the one they see in their own homes and neighborhoods. Byrne Urban Scholars is ALWAYS looking for mentors to pair up with students, especially men. If anyone out there is looking to help out a child in need, please take a look at the wonderful things they do for Denver's inner-city youth at www.byrneurbanscholars.org. By Nathan Jansch on 2011 07 21

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