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Small Business

Managing a Small Business

Don't Try to Run a Business Without Having a Mentor

For Entrepreneurs, There Are Some Questions You Just Can't Research Online

You'd love to become your own boss. You've always dreamed of starting a cake business, running your own car dealership, or launching a consulting practice.

Choose what’s right for your business

Lately, that dream has morphed into a plan. You've built some savings. You've carved out a home office. You have approval from your spouse.

But there's one incredibly important piece of the puzzle that you may be lacking: a mentor.

Why a Mentor?

You can read all the books about writing business plans, managing self-employment taxes and filing LLC paperwork. You can study the biographies of the leaders in your field. But unless you have a trustworthy person who can provide direct feedback that's unique to your situation, you won't be able to improve as quickly or as well.

Mentoring is essential in any field. If you're a software programmer, meet with your mentor monthly to ask whether you should stick with JavaScript or learn Ruby on Rails. If you're a professional writer, send your mentor one article per month and ask for feedback on style and tone. If you flip houses, show your mentor your operating budget and request advice on how to manage contractors.

So where can you find a mentor?

Many industry groups offer formal mentorship programs. Bloggers Helping Bloggers, for example, pairs full-time bloggers with aspirants in the field. Real estate brokerages often pair veteran agents with new licensees. Many universities pair tenured professors with post-docs.

Run a web search for the name of your industry, plus the word "mentor" and maybe the words "association," "organization" or "society." It's a quick way to find formal mentoring programs.

The second option is to simply reach out to someone in your network and ask for help or advice. It may sound too formal to say, "Will you mentor me?," so instead, ask if it would be okay to email them an occasional question. Most people will say yes.

Ask Smart Questions

But use this privilege with care. Never ask a question that you can research on your own. Don't email a frequent business traveler and ask, "How do you get a passport?" Look it up.

Instead, ask meaningful questions that need expert answers. Send an article and ask, "What do you think of the headline I wrote?" Or write an email and say, "I'm pricing my service at three different tiers. Do you think these price points are reasonable?"

Respect your mentor's time. Don't send a barrage of questions or write more than once a month, unless you have explicit permission to seek advice more frequently.

Finally, make sure you maintain a relationship with a mentor -- or several mentors -- throughout your business life. Don't stop learning after you become well-established. You'll need mentorship at every stage, through the day you sell your business or pass it to your kids.

As your business grows, aspirants will turn to you for advice and guidance. Return the favor. The best mentorship, you'll discover, comes from guiding others.

For everything your business needs in one place, from news and expert tips to valuable products and solutions, visit chase.com/forbusiness.

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