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Reaping the Benefits of Business Mentoring

By Dr. Deborah Osgood

Everyone in business should have a business mentor. Someone who has 'been there, done that' and is willing and able to share their wisdom 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 he or she 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.

MENTORING SOURCES For example, SCORE Counselors to America's Small Business (SCORE) has been around for over forty-five years and offers access to over 12,400 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. To learn more and to connect with a SCORE volunteer business mentor, visit www.score.org.

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. Search for your local Small Business Development Center, while also checking out their small business start-up FAQs.

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 may offer access to a broad industry network or certain technology solutions that can help an up and coming entrepreneur tap new markets or operate more efficiently. MicroMentor is one example of this type of 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.

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.

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 at http://acp-usa.org/, 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 www.sba.gov 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 www.sba.gov 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. Visit www.mbda.gov for more information and to learn where the closest MBDC office is to you.

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 accordingly.

MENTORING DIRECTORY The above examples are just a sampling of the different types of no- and low-cost business mentoring resources available to you today. For a more complete perspective, visit BUZGate.org, choose your state in the dropdown menu, and select Free Help to review a more comprehensive list of available business mentors. At BUZGate.org, you may select mentoring sources by type of business interest, such as counseling, marketing, start-up, funding, import/export, government contracting and workforce development.

MENTORING PLATFORM While there are many different mentors available to support your business development and growth needs, it may still require some time to develop the mentor/mentee relationship in a way that drives progress efficiently. Building rapport and establishing a foundation for productive communications is an evolutionary process. To help this process along, the Knowledge Institute offers an online learning platform whereby individuals and mentors can collaborate around an established 10-step program for assessing skills and starting or growing a business venture. Visit www.bdki.com and select eLearning to learn more about the 10-Step to Venture Success program.

In summary, working with a 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 on your particular interests and needs, as well as unstructured brainstorming opportunities tend to provide the best return for your time and energy.

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