Small-Business Owners Share the Best Advice They Ever Received

by Stephanie Taylor Christensen on March 27, 2012
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A trusted mentor who can guide you toward opportunity — and away from costly mistakes — is a valuable asset to any small-business owner.

The Intuit Small Business Blog recently asked six entrepreneurs for the best advice their mentors ever gave them. In the spirit of paying it forward, here are their pearls of wisdom.

Mike Monroe, owner of The Invisible Boss, has learned a lot in a decade of being an entrepreneur. One of his greatest lessons came from a mentor who stressed the importance of “soft” skills. Monroe’s mentor taught him to obsess less about systems and protocol and to put more energy toward connecting with people. “Your clients, colleagues, and business partners will judge you based on how you make them feel,” he says. “Relationships are your greatest assets.”

You have expertise and passion for your business, but it’s important to stay realistic and connected to the perceptions of others, says Bill Elward, president of Castle Ink. Elward says his mentor taught him the value of knowing his business so well that he could anticipate where outsiders and prospects might have doubts. “Whether presenting analysis, pitching an idea, or writing the perfect ad script, always anticipate the questions people are going to have or ask — and be ready to address them. It’s amazing how well this simple technique has served me over the years.”

Sonia Kapadia, founder and CEO of Taste Savant, says her mentor encouraged her to put ego aside and to recognize that the best leader doesn’t have all the answers. “Encourage debate among your teams. You don’t want [people] who agree with everything you say or do or who are too afraid to speak their minds,” she says. “You want people around you who will challenge you to think smarter.”

You can’t go the distance without a strong team behind you, even though you put your heart and soul into business, notes Brad Kriser (pictured), founder and CEO of Kriser’s, a natural pet food retailer. Kriser says his mentor taught him the importance of looking beyond resumes when hiring employees. “Look for people who not only have the skill qualifications, but are as equally and personally passionate about your business as you,” he advises.

Entrepreneurial success can have many false starts. Scott Walode, president and CEO of ExhibitCraft, says his mentor helped him to think big and to prepare himself for seizing opportunities whenever they emerged. “You don’t learn by just playing or doing, you learn in practice,” Walode says. “If you condition yourself to perfect your practice every time, you will always be ready to play the game. ”

An entrepreneur’s workday often lacks a clear start and end time. Greg Muender and Sara Schoonover of TicketKick learned the value of taking periodic breaks. When the couple began to feel overwhelmed with the day-to-day challenges of business, Schoonover’s mentor reminded the couple that, despite their urge to do it all, they needed “to get away, put someone in charge for a week, and just get the space needed to be able to see the big picture of where business was going again.” Following that advice, they re-evaluated their roles, kept the parts of their jobs that they loved, and brought in a solid support team to handle the rest.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received from a mentor? Share it in the comments below.

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