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Mentoring tips and resources for women small business owners

As a small business owner, you may have found your edge and distinguished yourself from the competition with an innovative product, great prices or outstanding customer service. But you have to wear all the hats, even the ones that don't fit quite right, and it's impossible to be an expert in everything. Learning from others—their successes and mistakes—could be the key to reaching next-level success.

It might be time to find a mentor, especially one who has dealt with the unique challenges facing women-owned businesses. Below are some strategies and resources to get you started.

Determine your goal

Mentorship requires active participation from both parties. Set yourself and your mentor up for success by determining what type of advice or guidance you're looking for. Start by defining your personal strengths and weaknesses as a business owner and the roadblocks holding you back then look for a mentor who can provide expertise in that specific area. For instance, if you're just starting out, you may want guidance from a serial entrepreneur who can help you properly get your business registered and licensed. It could wind up being a short-term relationship that ends once you're up and running. But if you're trying to become a better manager or struggling with work-life balance, you could make it clear that you're looking for a longer-term commitment from the mentor. In general, it can be helpful to remember that mentors play an advisory rather than functionary role.

Mentors can:

  • Offer advice, guidance, and a fresh perspective.
  • Help you identify oversights and limiting beliefs.
  • Refer you to other people and businesses.
  • Offset your weaknesses.
  • Keep you accountable.

But mentors often won't:

  • Answer every question for you.
  • Solve all your problems.
  • Tell you what to do.
  • Do the work for you.

How to find your mentors

Finding the right mentors—many successful business owners have more than one—can be tricky. It can sometimes be awkward to ask someone to be your mentor, and it may take a few first meetings until you find someone who clicks with you and has the right knowledge. Fortunately, there are many places you can turn to for help, including organizations that are ready to connect you with successful business owners. Some programs are open to anyone, while others are specific to women-owned businesses.

National associations and organizations

  • SCORE, a national nonprofit and U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) partner, hosts one of the largest networks of volunteer mentors. You can find and connect with area-specific experts online and select whether you'd prefer to meet in person or virtually.
  • Women's Business Centers (WBCs)are overseen by the SBA's Office of Women's Business Ownership (OWBO) and offer services specifically for women-owned businesses. Reach out to your local WBC to ask about potential mentors.
  • Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs) work with the SBA to offer free and low-cost counseling and training to small business owners.
  • MicroMentor is a Mercy Corps program that connects entrepreneurs and volunteer business mentors from around the world.
  • Industry and professional associations and groups, such as the International Association of Women, Moms as Entrepreneurs and Ladies Who Launch.

Local organizations

Your network

  • Friends and family members
  • Former classmates
  • Social media platforms

As you're considering who to ask, consider whether the person has experience in the specific area where you need help. Often, but not always, working with someone who built a similar type of business can be beneficial.

Look into mastermind groups

In addition to working one-on-one with mentors, many business owners benefit from being part of a mastermind group. These groups are often made up of peers—perhaps fellow women entrepreneurs or business owners from the same industry—who share similar goals and will challenge, encourage, and help each other succeed. Mastermind members bring their individual interests and expertise to the group. As a member, you can turn to the group when you need suggestions. But you're also equally responsible for being attentive to other members' needs. The collaboration can be a key to success for everyone.

Finding or creating a mastermind group can be more difficult than finding a mentor, as you'll need to bring together and vet multiple members. You can look for groups online, or you could organize and lead your own mastermind by reaching out to peers who you think may be a good fit.

Consider becoming a mentor

You don't need to wait until you've reached a major milestone to turn around and become a mentor. If you can teach your mentee one thing, offer encouragement or act as an accountability partner, you could help other women business owners get ahead. It's not completely altruistic, either. Many mentors volunteer their time because it can be a fulfilling and rewarding experience, but they also find they can improve their own businesses based on what they learn from their mentees.

Take the next step

Once you know where to look for a mentor and the importance of learning from and sharing with other entrepreneurs, it's time to take action. Send a few outreach emails or set a reminder in your calendar. It might take a few weeks to find the right person, but it could be an important step toward investing in your personal and business growth.

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