If you’re looking to start your own small business, or have been trading for a while and suddenly find that you’ve hit the ‘wall’, who do you turn to for help or guidance? Whose opinions do you value, and who inspires you the most? The chances are it’s probably a mentor. Mentors are the type of people who understand the type of problems that budding entrepreneurs are going through. In business terms they’ll have been there and bought the T-shirt. The major problem that business owners face is knowing which mentor to turn to. Do you confide in a family friend, or do you spread the net a little wider?  Hopefully the following information might help to point you in the right direction.Choosing family and friends as a mentor is fine, but ultimately can be quite restricting. In fact if there is an existing close relationship then it’s often difficult to be able to speak freely and openly. It’s far better to explore every avenue and seek help from a variety of sources, whether that’s through formal online mentoring programmes or trade associations and local small business groups. The more mentoring you receive the better surely? What you don’t agree with you can always choose to ignore.Establish an effective and efficient relationship  Business mentors aren’t there to provide all the answers. In fact many mentors would see that as a kind of dereliction of duty. Yes, they are a sounding board and are offering their services to help you, but ultimately it’s the mentee who must make the decision and stand or fall by it. In many ways it’s similar to helping a child ride a bike: keep them steady and safe until they are competent, then set them free to ride alone. Therefore it’s important that you discuss the structure of your relationship with your mentor and set out what you each hope to achieve. Some people like to keep the meetings casual; others prefer more formality. It’s best to get this straight from the offset, as otherwise it could prove to an unnecessary distraction.Look to those who tread the same path you now followDon’t be afraid to approach other small businesses in your area if you are having difficulties finding the right sort of mentor. They may have encountered similar problems when they first started out. It might feel intimidating, but many small businesses will be only too glad to help and may actually be flattered by the attention. You can’t take up too much of their time mind you, so make sure that you’re well prepared when you meet them so your time can be used as effectively and productively as possible.

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