How to find a mentor, advisor or resource that will drive your startup forward
Your first hire doesn’t turn out to be the best fit.
You’re growing faster than expected—and your inventory can’t keep up.
Something about your books just seems a little off.
You’re making steady profits. Where do you go from here?
No matter how well-written your business plan is, how far you’ve thought ahead, and how good your instincts are—when you start a small business, you’ll likely run into a few questions you don’t anticipate.
That’s okay! In fact—change is often a sign of growth and momentum.
And as your business changes, you might start to look for advice on how to handle the inevitable unknowns.
Here’s a roundup of resources that should point you in the right direction: whether you’re looking to get a question answered, a skillset solidified, or a mentor onboard. There are lots of places to turn for small business advice.
“I just have a question I need answered….”
Sometimes, you don’t need extensive coaching. You just want someone who’s been there to point you in the right direction. Small business advice lite if you will. Finding your community—both online and in person—can open a lot of doors.
A few places to look first…
Slack—a business-focused messaging app—is a great resource for entrepreneurs. Even if you don’t use it for your own company—there are hundreds of slack communities it’s worth popping into. Some are exclusively for entrepreneurs, while others are house subject matter experts you can learn a lot from. Many also have job threads, which may be of use when you look to hire.
A few of our favorites communities for entrepreneurs:
- Launch: A hybrid chat for entrepreneurs, designers, developers and marketers—Launch is a great place to solicit expert opinions. Whether you’re looking for a co-founder, or feedback on your logo design—Launch’s ~18,000 members can help.
- Startup Study Group: A robust free community with a mission to be the best startup community on the internet. Their channel boasts a helpful makeup of founders, investors, and advisors.
- Bootstrapped: A channel specifically for those trying to launch their business with no (or nearly no) money down.
- 10x Factory (Paid): 10x factory boasts a more connected community of expert founders and mentors. They also charge a $147 a month fee—but give you two free weeks to evaluate whether your membership is worthwhile.
- Startup Chat (Paid): Startup.chat hosts nearly 8,000 founders and investors—and is part of a larger initiative to make startup tools more accessible. Their $29 join fee also opens up about a hundred other deals on startup software.
And a few places to seek out subject matter experts:
On the surface, Quora is a standard Q&A site—an extension of a traditional forum, or a flexible version of Wikipedia. The difference comes down to the quality of responses, and expert attention, common questions normally earn.
Experts in just about any field write entire books worth of advice on Quora. Answering questions on the platform has emerged as an SEO and marketing tactic. Thought leaders rush to provide value, get eyeballs on their responses, gain authority, and promote a link. While this leads to occasional self-promotion, it also creates to heavy competition to provide the best response. Asking a question on Quora, and tagging it to the right topic, should generate some solid feedback.
Beyond direct asks, you can also use Quora to create your own “boards”–sourcing helpful responses and tying them to topic-oriented categories. Use this to follow topics that are important to you, to bookmark common questions, or to keep an eye on the competition.
Reddit is a solid place for unfiltered advice—and the communities for entrepreneurs are generally earnest, helpful, and blunt.
Top questions easily get “upvoted” to the top of the page. And most Reddit forums for entrepreneurs have “intro” threads—which allow you to say “hi,” explain your business, and connect with other entrepreneurs in your niche.
A few of the most popular Reddit channels:
“I have a knowledge gap I’m hoping to fill…”
If you’ve decided you’re done “asking an expert” and are hoping, instead, to become a practitioner: there’s no shortage of free courses and training programs.
Major MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses) platforms like Coursera and EduX have entrepreneurship course listings and tracks. Beyond that, they offer plenty of courses that touch on essential business skills, like finance or marketing.
Some of the country’s top business schools also offer intro-level entrepreneurship courses. Amongst the most popular are the Wharton Entrepreneurship Workshop, MIT’s Entrepreneurial Marketing, Stanford’s Building an Entrepreneurial Career, and UC-Irvine’s The Elevator Pitch.
If you’re looking for something smaller, and in real time—Y Combinator’s Startup School covers all the startup basis, on a scheduled more “traditional class”-like environment.
Beyond that, both the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and Small Business Association (Small Business Association) offer a plethora of resources for entrepreneur education. The SBA’s Encore Entrepreneurs is a quick session for those looking to start a business on little capital. The IRS’s Starting a Business video portal breaks down essential topics like record keeping, and avoiding tax mistakes.
Looking for something more specific? Here’s a list of 101 different free, online courses that breakdown pivotal know-how.
“I want a consistent mentor/advisor who can help out…”
Having a consistent mentor for your business correlates pretty strongly with business growth and success.
Twice as many “mentored” small businesses survive past the 5 year point as unmentored ones. 92% of small business owners agree mentors have a direct impact on the growth and survival of their business. And entrepreneurs with a mentor 5x as likely to actually start their intended businesses. It turns out, turning to a mentor for small business advice pays off.
A few places to start looking:
Score: Score is a free, nationwide network of 10,000 volunteers. They’re a nonprofit partner that works alongside the SBA, and mentorship through their program is always free: whether you meet once, or one hundred times—in person, or over the phone.
Other SBA/Department of Commerce Programs: Several smaller offices within the Small Business Association and Department of Commerce help qualifying entrepreneurs connect with mentors that understand their unique challenges. Contact your local Women’s Business Center, Veterans Business Center, or Minority Business Development Agency for mentorship and other resources.
Networking: There’s no understating the value of expanding your network. This may mean searching LinkedIn for the people who are “where you want to be in 5 years.” It may be attending a local meetup event for entrepreneurs. Or getting involved in nationwide events that attract small business owners, like Creative Mornings or 1 Million Cups.
Summing it up: getting small business advice
You’ll never know if you don’t ask—and luckily, there are more places for small business owners to ask than ever. Whether you’re looking for long-term guidance, or an answer to a pressing immediate question—there’s a community, advisor, or resource that can point you in the right direction.
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The information above is provided for educational and informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice and may not be suitable for your circumstances. Unless stated otherwise, references to third-party links, services, or products do not constitute endorsement by Yelp.