For female founders who face unique challenges (especially when trying to break into male-dominated industries), having a mentor could be the missing piece of the entrepreneurial success puzzle.
Navigating the roadblocks to business success becomes much easier when you have mentors with experience to guide you. Mentors can make connections, introduce you to trustworthy legal and financial advisors, and point you in the direction of affordable resources and financing. At a very basic level, they can also help fine-tune a business idea and advise you on what not to do.
Research shows that having a mentor can double the survival rate for small businesses after five years.
And the need for mentoring never ends: according to the Harvard Business Review, 84 percent of CEOs said having a mentor helped them avoid costly mistakes. The same study also found that 69 percent of CEOs said their mentors helped them to make better decisions, and 71 percent said the advice they got increased their company’s bottom line.
Below are mentoring resources that women business owners can use to help start, grow and expand their business.
First, know what you need help with
Before you approach a potential mentor for help, you need to know what kind of help you’re asking for. It can be general, like how to turn your grandmother’s recipes into a scalable business; or specific, like how to apply for a particular license in your city or state.
Knowing what kind of help you need will help you pinpoint not just who your mentor(s) will be, but where you look for them.
For instance, if you need general help, consider asking people within your personal network if they know someone with a similar business. If you need help with very specific tasks, like starting or growing your customer base, you may consider both your network and a mentorship program or coaching service to help with your professional needs.
No matter how you find your mentor, the most useful thing to do first is to ask yourself where your business can use a mentor’s expertise most. What kind of experience should the mentor already have that will help you the most? Is it important that they work in your industry? Is their experience as a woman, a person of color, or a veteran integral to understanding your needs as an emerging entrepreneur?
Knowing what you need from a mentor will help make for a meaningful and effective relationship for all parties.
Where to find your mentor
Because women-owned businesses now represent 42 percent of the 13 million businesses in the U.S., there is a real need for mentoring programs. Below are a few to help you get started:
Start off by seeing what kind of help is available where you live. For instance, Women Entrepreneurs NYC, which is based out of the New York City Department of Small Business Services, is dedicated to helping female founders in New York start and grow their businesses.
In the past, WE NYC has collaborated with other organizations in the city, from the Department of Small Business Services (SBS) to Goldman Sachs to LaGuardia Community College, in initiatives aimed at helping thousands of women entrepreneurs from underserved communities.
If you live in the midwest, the Women’s Business Development Center provides programs and services in everything from technical assistance to financial support. According to its website, WBDC has helped over 85,000 women by providing more than 13,000 training workshops and more than $82 million in financing.
Wherever you live, there will likely be a nearby organization that can help you find a mentor. If you’re not sure where to start, check with your local Chamber of Commerce.
The U.S. Small Business Administration
The U.S. Small Business Administration has hundreds of local development centers across the country. All you have to do is enter your zip code to find the center closest to you.
The following organizations are also funded by the SBA. They specifically provide mentoring resources for women entrepreneurs:
- Women’s Business Center has 122 locations across the country that offer programs and seminars in everything from one-on-one counseling to financing resources.
- Veterans Business Outreach Center comes from the SBA’s Office of Veterans Business Development. Its mission is to help assist veterans with a variety of entrepreneurial needs that include developing a business plan and finding a mentor. If you’re a female founder who also happens to be a veteran, this can be a great place to start your mentor search.
According to its website, SCORE and its mentors “helped start 32,387 businesses and create 135,687 jobs” in 2018. The nonprofit, which is a partner of the SBA, helps connect small business owners with over 11,000 volunteer mentors across 320 chapters. That means that whatever your business needs help with, you’ll likely find someone through SCORE who can assist you.
SCORE can set up in-person meetings with active or retired business owners. If you don’t want to talk to a local competitor about your business plan, SCORE can connect you with business owners in your field.
The best part of all of this? It’s free, regardless of how many times you need a mentor to email, video chat, or meet face-to-face.
Minority Business Development Agency
According to a study from Forbes, minority-owned business owners “encounter higher borrowing costs, receive smaller loans and see their loan applications rejected more often than others.”
This demonstrates how minority business owners often have the deck stacked against them; yet, women of color account for 89 percent of new businesses started every day in the past year, which means access to mentors for this group is critical.
As an agency with the Department of Congress, MBDA works with minority-owned business owners to help them reach new markets, especially through funding and scaling.
Association of Women’s Business Centers
AWBC is a nonprofit organization that helps women by providing business services in everything from training to mentoring. The organization, which is particularly helpful for women who start businesses later in life, has over 100 business centers across the country and assists 140,000 women business owners each year.
This community of women angel investors offer more than just money. The organization also connects women entrepreneurs with seasoned mentors to help them with issues in everything from funding to marketing. Turning to an organization like 37 Angels can also help women entrepreneurs widen their professional network.
The bottom line on mentoring resources for women
Aside from the resources above, don’t forget about your own personal network, like LinkedIn and Twitter. Social media platforms can be a great resource for connecting with potential mentors. It might also be worth it to consider due-based professional and trade associations which can help provide access to seminars and leadership development courses.
Because mentors can help advise you in everything from scaling to inventing to branding to growing your customer base, having one (or many!) can change the playing field for a small business.
For women business owners fighting the many barriers ahead, having a mentor is key to business growth, development and survival. At the very least, you’ll have someone to provide support, motivation, and encouragement.
This article was originally published in November 2019.