Paying It Forward: Fishbowl CEO David Williams on Mentoring

by Stephanie Taylor Christensen on April 30, 2012

Running a small business often requires shifting your competitive spirit into overdrive. But there can be equal value in stopping for a moment to offer advice and guidance to your peers, particularly new entrepreneurs who want to join you on the fast track, but are struggling with challenges you’ve already overcome.

Fishbowl, which makes the “#1 requested inventory solution for QuickBooks,” also runs BoomStartup, a mentorship-driven accelerator that supports upstart technology businesses. The Intuit Small Business Blog recently caught up with Fishbowl CEO David Williams to get his thoughts on the value of mentoring.

ISBB: What inspired you to volunteer as a mentor to small-business owners?

Williams: Working with a mentee is in some ways like taking a course in Business 101. You go back and learn about things you were unaware of, and see how you’re perceived through the mentee’s eyes. In turn, it actually helps you to see things from a new angle and approach problem-solving differently. In business, you grow your network by connecting with people — even someone less experienced.

What benefits, tangible and otherwise, have you realized for your own business by supporting others?

Building a profitable business in today’s fast-paced, competitive, and demanding world means finding the lowest-cost, highest-quality solutions for your organization’s needs. There is no question that your greatest asset is your people and their collective knowledge capital. Enhancing your organization’s talent translates into real bottom-line results. Unlike traditional training programs, which are often expensive and time consuming, mentoring programs provide a cost-efficient alternative for getting employees up to speed and keeping progress alive.

Why is having a mentor so valuable for small-business owners?

To break through to real success, you need a support system that’s proven to work. Most truly successful business owners I’ve seen have three kinds of support: a mentor, a coach, and a team. A mentor helps you look at your business in new ways to determine what will get you to the next level and how to focus on those activities — both personally and in business. A coach keeps you accountable as you work toward those goals. The support team, which can be made up of family, friends, and business associates, keeps you moving through particularly difficult situations and helps you celebrate successes.

What advice do you have for small-business owners who are interested in developing a mentor-driven program?

Anyone that’s anywhere has had some help getting there, and helping others along their way is the best way to pay back those who helped you. As a mentor, your role is to support, develop, stimulate, and challenge your mentee, whether they’re just starting up in business or are already established and seeking guidance. If you already have plenty of business experience, consider offering your services as a mentor to other businesses. It’s a very rewarding way of passing on the benefits of your experience.