Free Online Program Helps Small-Business Owners Find Mentors
Ever wonder how much you and your business might benefit from a little sage advice, as in tips and guidance from someone who’s “been there, done that”?
You can stop wondering. MicroMentor, a free program offered by the nonprofit Mercy Corps, connects entrepreneurs with volunteer mentors.
“Our mission is to help small businesses grow faster, increase their revenue, and expand their workforce,” says Anita Ramachandran (pictured), senior partnership development officer. “MicroMentor provides entrepreneurs access to a pool of experience and wisdom, matching mentors with small-business owners based on industry, expertise, and location.”
According to Ramachandran, mentors help small-business owners in many areas, principally finance, marketing, and general operations.
Most of its mentees are companies with one to 25 employees, but larger businesses are welcome to enroll online. To date, MicroMentor has enrolled more than 5,300 mentors and made 5,000 matches, she says.
The free program is supported by various partners, including Sam’s Club, Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs, Ashoka Changemakers, Hewlett-Packard, and Google Grants.
Mentees Get Results
Jill Salzman owns The Founding Moms, which she touts as “the world’s first and only kid-friendly collective of monthly meet-ups for mom entrepreneurs.” When early success indicated it was time to grow, Jill sought some expert advice. Through MicroMentor, she connected with Jim Mills, who had more than 25 years of experience in management and human resources, for companies such as RadioShack and CPI.
Over six months, Mills and Salzman’s met weekly to address key issues around franchise expansion. She says their talks enabled The Founding Moms to grow from a few friends in Chicago to an international organization with more than 2,200 members in more than 30 cities.
“Our backgrounds are so different,” Salzman says, “but his energy is very complementary to mine. I never want to give him up.”
Entrepreneurs typically work with mentors for 14 hours total, although many keep in touch with their mentor for more than a year. The results are impressive: According to a MicroMentor report, participating businesses report an average increase in annual revenues of 106 percent and an 82 percent business survival rate (compared with the national average of 69 percent). What’s more, half of the entrepreneurs who receive mentoring create at least one full-time job.
Mentors Hone Leadership Skills
“The vast majority of our mentor volunteers take part because they want to give back,” Ramachandran says. “They’re looking for a skill-based volunteer opportunity so they can leverage their personal experience and share what they’ve learned over the years. Most importantly, they want to help others avoid going through the struggles they did.”
Sandra Eckland wanted to turn her part-time pet-sitting business, Yappy to Be Home, into a full-time enterprise. Through MicroMentor, Eckland met Rachel Simeone, a former marketing executive who’s now an independent coach. They worked closely together to refine Eckland’s marketing plan, while also gathering client testimonials, revising the business website, and designing a monthly newsletter.
“When I talked to Sandra, I could tell she was very committed to her business,” Simeone says. “It was clear that if I gave her the help she needed, there would be a very positive outcome.” Today, Eckland serves 50 clients and is ready to take on more.
Mentors also benefit from the experience. “Their motivations are altruistic,” Ramachandran notes, “but being a mentor also enables them to hone their own leadership skills and offers new opportunities for personal growth.”
Lee Polevoi is an award-winning business writer specializing in the challenges and opportunities facing small business. He is former Senior Writer at Vistage International, a global membership organization of CEOs.