Mentoring: A Guide for Diverse Suppliers

Mentoring is one of the most sought out venues by Small Businesses, Minority, Veteran Owned and Women Business Enterprises. If your business needs mentoring, the best way to approach it is to have clear objectives and identify specific areas in which you want mentoring. If you seek mentoring from a large corporation, like Verizon, have a strategy that maintains mentoring as the focus. However, trying to attract business through mentoring creates confusion and ultimately a strenuous relationship.

Successful mentoring is a direct result of focusing on the specific business areas in which your company requires assistance. Businesses normally need mentoring in one or more of the following areas: 1) business strategy, 2) e-commerce, 3) human resource planning, 4) financing, 5) legal, 6) marketing, 7) production, 8) product delivery, and 9) technology. It is important to peel back the onion and identify specific sub-categories. For example, you may need mentoring in marketing, but specifically in the development of an advertising strategy for the products and services you sell. Or it may be on how to leverage market intelligence to make a sale.

In the area of business strategy, you may want to understand how to approach partnerships: Whether to follow a vertical or horizontal integration strategy, or whether a merger or acquisition strategy makes sense for your business. The more specific the better. Lack of clarity normally leads to confusion on the part of the "mentor" and frustration on the part of the "mentee." Most mentoring failures are a direct result of unclear goals, roles, responsibilities, and expectations.

Before you seek mentoring, be sure to have a complete business plan in hand. (The Small Business Administration can assist you with this free of charge. They have lots of information on their Web site at http://www.sba.gov.) The business plan process will assist in identifying your strengths and weaknesses. Looking for a mentor without a business plan will create an undue burden on the mentor, as much of the time will be spent on trying to understand your business model.

When you approach large business customers, it is important not to request mentoring while pursuing a business opportunity. This approach results in a mixed message to your customer. At a minimum, it will raise doubts about whether you can deliver on your business proposition. If you want mentoring, seek it in an area outside of the business relationship with your customer. This strategy will go a long way toward supplying the guidance you need while sustaining a positive business relationship.

In considering a strategy, you also should spread your mentoring requirements across multiple business customers. This provides multiple inputs and proves less burdensome to one mentor. Keep in mind that a mentor can help you move toward where you want to go, or provide insight into other avenues. Mentors are not in a position to recommend what business direction to pursue, nor should they.

It is important to set a time limit for the mentoring engagement (6 to 18 months). Time lines help ensure that both the mentor and the mentee are focused on achieving an objective. At the end of the mentoring process, you should not only have demonstrable results, but should have gained the knowledge to move ahead independently. The personal growth and independence is what will generate more business.