Why Mentor … For Free?

“Startups are not companies. Startups are dreams. Founders must materialize their dream.” Quote by David Ventzel

People sometimes ask me why I mentor small business owners for free. I may respond by saying “Paying forward the assistance I’ve received over the course of my career is important to me.” or “I love helping the entrepreneurial community.” While both are true, they hardly get to the heart of my motivation.

So why do I take time out of an already cramped schedule to help small business owners? The real answer is that I know how it feels to need help. I know how hard it is to be a startup with limited budget and resources. I know what it means to have no one to turn to when I hit a road block. As a budding entrepreneur, we cannot possibly know all of the answers to the challenges ahead of us. No one does. Having a resource to turn to is very comforting. We can all learn a great deal from others with shared experiences.

When I was starting out if I had had someone to help guide me through the rough spots, to lend me an ear, and provide me with resources and contacts, my entrepreneurial path could have been so much easier. That is what I strive to provide to my clients.

I am not there to tell them what to do; my job is to guide them to actionable answers. To ask the right questions and offer them insights into how to solve problems on their own. To make them stronger not dependent. To provide resources and connections when appropriate. I believe the most important skill sets for entrepreneurs are alive in all of us. Problem-solving, big picture critical thinking and creative thinking are vital to being a successful business owner today. Those are the traits I endeavor to tap into and nurture when working with my clients. I don’t want to have the answer I want help them find the answer.

Traditional business values and tenants are still the foundations of current business practices, it is how we incorporate them and use them to our advantage that is changing.

Online businesses, in particular, need to find a way to stand out and build trust to replace the personal interactions found in brick and mortar businesses. Conversations around their overall corporate strategy lead to narrowing focus to the things that matter.

In the course of our working lives, we are developing the skills and knowledge needed to navigate the business world. It is like being paid to go to learn. I tell my young employees to pay attention and be present in their working life. I remind them that everything they learn in their jobs may be useful in later life. This is true even if they never plan to own a business.

As a mentor, I am far from unique. There are thousands of seasoned business people out there who lend their expertise to entrepreneurs every day. They do it because they care and feel it is the right thing to do. They experience the joy of helping others. They know that being useful to others is an honor and a privilege. These novice startups invite us into their world and trust us. When the relationship works, the paring of the right mentor with the right business owner, magic happens. The synergy is amazing and we are both better for it.

And don’t let the free thing throw you. We always give more value than clients expect from a volunteer mentor.

As the owner of a successful eCommerce business, I am in the trenches fighting the good entrepreneurial fight every day. I walk in my client’s shoes, and I know the physiological stresses that can cause small business owners to crash and burn. Any business owner who does not have a few sleepless nights is rare indeed. I help them understand that it is perfectly okay to stress out and how to avoid having that stop them from going forward with their dream. They learn how to out-think their competition in the race to stand out in the crowded world of the internet. We apply critical thinking to issues. We talk big picture strategy, logistics, product development, e-marketing, whatever they need. And most importantly how to focus their energy on the things that will grow their business.

And what do I get in return? Something much more rewarding than monetary gain. I have the honor of working with terrific folks starting very cool, innovative businesses.

I love to learn, and I love to teach. Mentoring allows me to do both. It is interesting, intellectually stimulating and gives me the satisfaction of knowing I made a positive difference in someone’s business.

“I encourage anyone to share their skills and knowledge by volunteering to become a small business mentor. “ Leigh Reynolds

Perhaps the answer is simple after all, why do I mentor for free? Why not?

I am a certified SCORE mentor. I volunteer my time to mentor small businesses in Southern Maine. Visit SCORE.org to find a mentor that fits your needs. https://www.score.org/