If you’re running a small business (or thinking of running one), you might think you’re largely on your own. But that doesn’t have to be the case. Getting help and support can be crucial for your small business to survive and thrive.
A small business mentor is someone who has the experience, knowledge and capacity to guide you with your business. There are many personal and professional people you can potentially turn to for business mentoring.
Other small business owners
A fellow small business owner will usually have a better understanding of your situation than someone who works for an employer in either big or small business. They can tell you what works, what doesn’t, and some of the day-to-day issues they face.
While you probably won’t be able to get a lot of tips from a small business owner that you are (or will be) in direct competition against, even a small business in a different industry is still likely to be an invaluable source of advice.
Other small businesses in your geographic area are likely to be especially useful. For example, they might be able to give you more insight into local business conditions and how they market themselves. You may be able to join useful network and lobby groups with them to represent and negotiate your mutual interests (e.g. with local councils and government representatives).
They should also be able to refer you to professionals who can help you, like accountants, lawyers and recruiters who they’ve used in the past and who have helped them in their business.
You might even be able to generate mutual customer referrals from a complementary business. These referrals can be very powerful. You could potentially run joint marketing activities with complementary businesses so that you both benefit. Bookshops and coffee shops are examples of complementary businesses, as are general medical practitioners and chemists.
You need to develop a good relationship with one or both these financial professionals from the outset. They can:
· advise you on how to best finance your business affairs;
· help you prepare a business plan;
· help you prepare financial proposals for lenders;
· help you prepare your financial statements and tax returns;
· help you develop budgets to manage your cash flow;
· analyse and measure the performance of your business;
· help you manage your payroll if you have staff.
Try and find an accountant who is experienced in small business and ideally obtain a referral from one of their previous clients.
Lawyers can be invaluable mentors for your small business, especially when you’re buying or establishing it. They can advise you on:
· the best structure for your business;
· any legal obligations such as registration;
· any licences you may need;
· any intellectual property you may have.
Again, it’s best if you can find a lawyer who specialises in helping small businesses and one who has been recommended to you by another small business owner.
If you need to hire staff, the best thing you can do for your business is to get the best people. Talented people will make a difference to your bottom line. Recruitment agencies can take a lot of the hassle out of hiring staff, allowing you to focus your time and energy on your business instead.
For example, they’ll often have people on their books that they can recommend, or they can screen applicants for suitability before passing them on to you for an interview. They can also advise you on the most appropriate wording of the job description for your job ad, so that you attract the best quality applicants.
If you’re running a small business (or if you intend to run one), you need the support of your family. At the end of the day, your family and friends are the most important people in your life. They know your personality, skills, abilities and habits better than anyone. You know they’ll always have your best interests at heart and they’ll be able to provide unbiased (and free) advice.
If you’re quitting your current job to start a business, they’ll also be aware of your life situation and the risk you’re taking. They can help you make decisions and keep things in perspective.
But while family members can be a great source of advice and support, you should also recognise their limitations. If they aren’t experienced in business, don’t rely solely on their advice. Always seek the advice of a professional (e.g. an accountant or a lawyer) as well, at least for a second opinion.
Friends can be an important source of advice and support for your small business venture. And there’s an old saying that “you can choose your friends, not your family”. If this accurately describes your circumstances and you rely mainly or exclusively on friends for your small business advice, the same caveat applies as the one we described for your family (i.e. you need to understand the limitations of the small business expertise of your friends as well). Don’t act upon or rely solely on their advice. Again, it’s best to consult a professional.
Many government and private sector education providers run small business courses and workshops that you and your staff can enrol in or attend to improve your small business skills and knowledge. You can even do these online. If you physically attend a course or workshop, you might also make some useful contacts who can support you in your business.
Many governments provide mentoring and support services for small businesses. Depending on the service, the mentoring can be delivered one-on-one to you or in a group situation. You should contact the relevant small business government department in your area to see what is available.
Many industries are represented by industry associations that represent their interests and provide a range of services to their members. Many of these associations also offer mentoring programs. You should contact the relevant industry association for your small business to find out what programs and services are available and suitable for you.
Did we miss any? Let us know in the comments below!