Why Every Business Needs a Mentor 

January 10, 2021
Why Every Business Needs a Mentor 

Most new small business owners and entrepreneurs are advised to find a mentor – someone who can share their experience as a small business owner and provide helpful tips to new entrepreneurs as they navigate their first years in business. According to Inc.com and a study conducted by UPS, 70% of mentored businesses survive more than five years, double the rate for non-mentored small businesses over that same period.

But, finding a mentor and then forming a mentor relationship is no easy feat. It feels daunting to ask someone to “be a mentor” and formalize a mentorship relationship.

Mary Anne Kennedy, owner of Primary Source, Inc., a Targeted Small Business in Urbandale that provides branded promotional products, business gifts and awards and Kris Howard, owner of KSH Design Studio, LLC in Urbandale that also provides logoed gifts, items and apparel, said their mentor/mentee relationship came together very organically. Howard met Mary Anne through a contact at the Iowa Center for Economic Success, who recognized that while the two women were in similar industries, the size and scale of their businesses differed enough that they wouldn’t be in competition. Howard then ran into Mary Anne at an in-person function.

“I went down to Mary Anne’s business and had a nice introductory conversation, and then it’s just kind of grown from there,” Howard said.

Both women are a part of Iowa’s Chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO), which helped set the stage for their relationship. 

“I think part of it is because NAWBO women are just more open to hearing others’ needs, listening to their situations, and then making connections to who might be of help or service or whatever the other member happens to need,” Kennedy said. “I find that with all NAWBO members, they are all willing to discuss, commiserate, whatever the situation. Then, you have a fresh perspective outside of your office.”

Because they are in the same industry, Kennedy has helped advise Howard on various aspects of business, such as how to close sales, pricing and quoting, and providing suggestions on how to emphasize the unique aspects of Howard’s business.

“I think MaryAnne’s done more for me than I’ve done for her, just because of the experience she is able to offer. That is what I appreciate, and the willingness for her to give opinions or review things with me,” Howard said.

With their unique relationship of two businesses in the same industry, the two have been able to collaborate on projects and work together with clients. Because of Mary Anne’s scale, her business typically handles larger bulk orders of promotional products. When clients contact her needing smaller orders, she can refer them to Kris, knowing the referral doesn’t detract from her business; it actually helps her maintain relationships with her clients.

“We broadened our potential client base because for people that call me, and we can’t do exactly what they need, I can refer them to Kris and vice versa,” Kennedy said. “It works to our advantage, and we expanded our potential clients. Either way, we take care of them.”

Recently, a client of Primary Source requested a small order of face masks with a quick turnaround. Since Mary Anne’s business typically works in mass quantities, it would have been difficult for her to get them printed and shipped in a short amount of time. Instead KSH Designs took care of the order and had the masks shipped back to the client a day early. The end result was a very happy customer, which was good for both women and their businesses.

Both women advise that the best way to find a mentor is to first start networking.

“Des Moines is the smallest big city you’ll ever run into, and the only way to survive is networking. And, the only way to network is to get out there and meet people and join organizations and find out who is in the community to provide you support,” Kennedy said.

It also helps to have a mutual connection. Because a friend helped introduce the two of them, their relationships started organically, Howard said, which is why it’s important to join organizations such as NAWBO, a local chamber of commerce or attend events at the Iowa Center for Economic Success that can help you connect with others.

“Because someone introduced them, it made it easier to talk. It was a nice way to connect without selling ourselves to each other,” Howard said. “The word mentor can scare people,” Kennedy said. She advised posing the question of asking someone to be a mentor as, “can I ask your advice because of your several years of in business?” rather than “will you be my mentor?” as a phrase that will be more inviting for someone to offer assistance.

Even though she has been in business slightly over four years, Kris said she too has mentored other businesses and advises new business owners not to sell themselves short.

“One thing to keep in mind is you don’t have to be in business for 25 years to help another business or be a mentor,” Howard said. “If you’re open to sharing your experiences and your lows and successes, you’re bound to have another business who you can share with.”

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