According to the Small Business Association, about a third of new startups fail in the first two years. Sometimes the right advice can make all the difference. While entrepreneurial mavericks may enjoy being the lone sheriff in town, they’d do well to deputize a trusted advisor. MicroMentor.org, a free service connecting entrepreneurs with volunteer mentors, reports that 82 percent of their mentored start-ups survived in the first two years (about 15 percent higher than the average).

The Washington D.C. chapter of the American Marketing Association reports that its members who have completed their mentoring program typically earn 20% higher salaries than those who haven’t.

Strategy and Management Services is a participant in the SBA’s Mentor-Protégé program, which is designed to enable successful firms to provide various forms of business development assistance to 8(a) program participants. The goal of the program is to enhance the capability of the participants to be competitive, achieve entrepreneurial success, and contribute to the strength and vigor of the economy. Learn more about SAMS’ Mentor-Protégé relationship here.

There are notable historical precedents for mentoring. Alexander the Great was mentored by the philosopher, Aristotle. Even Warren Buffet benefited from mentorship by investor and economist, Benjamin Graham. This just goes to show that the right advisor can come from any walk of life and may not even be in your line of work.

What makes a good mentor?
The most important factor is chemistry. Do you like this person? Do you trust them? Do you feel comfortable revealing certain details about your business to this individual? An ideal mentor is an expert in one or more areas in which you may be lacking and has experienced significant success, either as an entrepreneur or professional in an organization.

An effective mentor is articulate, patient, and compassionate. Your advisor is not a nanny, but must be able to provide encouragement and reassurance, especially when the going gets tough. A mentor can be a role model for developing emotional intelligence—the ability to both perceive and control one’s own feelings as well as understand the emotions of others.

A good mentor is action-oriented and able to provide concrete advice about real problems. It is not the mentor’s job to tell you what to do, but rather to help you access your own critical thinking and model the skills you may be lacking. For example, a mentor may teach problem-solving or troubleshooting or provide models and methods for strategic planning.

Where to Find Mentors
A wise person has a clear notion of their own strengths and weaknesses and the humility to see every person as a potential teacher. Look around you for mentors (you may want more than one). Sometimes a friend, family member, client, or peer can provide you with just the fresh perspective that you need. To establish a more formal relationship with a mentor, consciously develop a plan to find the right person:

  • Determine what you might be able to offer a mentor in exchange for their help; most often, potential advisors are willing to help without a quid pro quo, so long as you are respectful of their time.
  • Make a list of business people you know and those whom you’d like to meet. These are folks you admire or who could provide you with insight. Systematically reach out to them by email or phone and set up a few lunch dates.
  • Connect with people on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and other online platforms to turn up professionals and peers who might be able to mentor you.
  • Get in touch with SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives), an organization staffed with thousands of volunteers around the country who are ready to serve aspiring entrepreneurs. SCORE now has a strong online presence and can work with people via the Internet.

Once you have found a mentor, keep the relationship going with periodic contact. And don’t forget to pay it forward by eventually becoming a mentor yourself.