To be the best, it helps to learn from the best. That's why so many SMBs turn to mentors for assistance.
Are you the owner of a startup having trouble getting to the next level? Are you a midsize-business owner who wants to use social media more effectively to win new customers?
Have you ever considered finding yourself a mentor?
That's what Sue Manasse, owner of Doctor Digital, did when she started feeling as if her business was a "boat drifting without any direction." When Manasse heard about a speed mentoring event being put on by IBM and the Women's Enterprise Development Center in Somers, N.Y., she thought it might be a good idea to sign up and see what kind of guidance she could get.
Today the entrepreneur is glad she took the plunge. "I've been in business since 2003, but my direction of late had become unclear," said Manasse, whose company provides IT and computer services to businesses and residences in the New York metro area.
For the event, she signed up to meet with mentors in three areas--IT, sales, and social media. They all told her the same thing: Target your audience. "I had a smattering of customers in different vertical markets," Manasse said. "There wasn't any focus. The mentors advised me to pick one or two areas to specialize in--real estate and retail, for example. That way, I can be more than just another IT service provider. I can be a consultant and subject-matter expert."
Today, Manasse continues to work with the mentors she met at the IBM-WEDC event. She said she's seeing a big difference in her business already.
Patty Lennon attended the same event, with equally positive results. The owner of MomGetsALife.com, a life coaching business for women who are also mothers, teamed up with mentors for several reasons--chief among them, to have somebody take an objective look at her business plan and to formulate ideas on how to create a bigger sales funnel.
Lennon, too, continues to have an ongoing relationship with her mentors, who are helping her take the business where she wants it to go. "I come from a corporate background, and I wanted to access that corporate foundational knowledge," she said. "When a resource with the capacity of an IBM or a WEDC extends an opportunity like this, you don't pass it up. With the right guidance, we [SMBs] could lead the economic recovery."
IBM isn't helping just businesses in New York. In celebration of its centennial, the company is running mentoring programs in Hartford, Conn.; India; and Nigeria as well. "We're excited to be working with these SMBs and entrepreneurs," said Robin Willner, vice president of IBM Global Community Initiatives. "Some of these companies will be IBM customers, business partners, or suppliers one day. Meeting with them to help shape their businesses keeps us nimble and reminds us to keep the entrepreneurial spirit that got IBM to where it is today."
But you don't have to go to IBM for a mentor. There are plenty of programs out there. Just search for "SMB mentoring" and see what I mean. Here are just a few resources to get you started:
-- The Entrepreneur Mentoring Program (EMP), a partnership between the Clinton Foundation's Economic Opportunity Initiative (CEO) and Inc. magazine, pairs up entrepreneurs running emerging growth companies with successful business leaders. The focus is on entrepreneurs in America's inner cities, including Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia. Visit www.inc.com/mentor/ for more info.
-- MicroMentor is a free online service that connects small-business owners with volunteer business mentors. With more than 1,400 small-business owners and 1,200 mentors in 48 states, the MicroMentor network claims to have helped entrepreneurs achieve greater business survival rates and increase their annual business revenue. Visit www.micromentor.org/ for more info.
-- The Small Business Administration (SBA) provides small-business counseling, training, and mentoring through a variety of partners and programs around the country. (WEDC, in fact, is one of the SBA's Women's Business Centers.) Go to www.sba.gov/category/navigation-structure/counseling-training for details.
Why struggle trying to find the answers when there are so many experts willing to help you? There's no shame in asking for some assistance. One day, when you've met your goals and followed your dreams, you can always return the favor.
Michele P. Warren, a freelance writer and editor, has 15 years of experience covering technology and the channel. She spent 9 years at CRN and was formerly the managing editor of VARBusiness, Long Island Press, and Long Island Business News.
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