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11:44 AM Tue, Sept. 25th

SCORE: What does a Mentor do and why do I need one?

Question: Your articles always suggest that questions be directed to a SCORE mentor, or that a mentor's help should be solicited for resolving issues. My business survived the recession and is slowly gaining momentum. Can having a mentor really make a difference?

Answer: Mentor is described in the Oxford American Dictionary as an experienced and trusted advisory; one who trains and counsels. It's a given that all aspiring small business owners will face dozens of decisions, not only getting an enterprise started, but countless more once it's up and running. Some solutions may seem obvious, while others may appear to have only "lose-lose" consequences. And still, others may require careful weighing of trade-offs and compromises against both current circumstances and future scenarios.

Certainly there are no guarantees you'll always make the best choice, but having a mentor is an avenue to making informed decisions that give you greater confidence in achieving a positive outcome. The best place to start is by finding a small business mentor to work with on a regular basis.

A small business mentor is someone who has done what you're trying to do and tackled the same problems-likely many times. Because they achieved success and also because often someone mentored them on their road to success, SCORE's mentors are willing to translate their experience into advice and guidance for the sake of helping another entrepreneur succeed.

Mentors see a larger picture than just helping a single business prosper. They see the value to our overall economy and sustaining our community. Mentors guide newcomers by asking questions and issues that may have been overlooked and helping them learn from their mistakes. Also, as Northern Arizona SCORE has more than 40 mentors in its chapter, if your mentor doesn't know the answer, chances are, he or she knows someone else who does.

SCORE is an SBA-affiliate organization (Small Business Association) specifically created to provide free and confidential counseling and advice to small business owners nationwide through a network of business executives, leaders and volunteers. Northern Arizona SCORE volunteer mentors are local and you can meet with one in person, or you can work with one entirely via email.

"After 15 years of small business mentoring," says Hal Freedman, former president of Northern Arizona SCORE, "I've come to a single realization. The clients that get the most out of mentoring are those that establish a long-term relationship with their score mentor.

"The first time I see a client," explains Freedman "they know what they want. Then, after two or three meetings, they begin to realize what they need. That shift from knowing what they think they need to actually understanding what they really need cements a real relationship with their mentor that will last a lifetime. Score is a valuable resource for a small business just like a banker or an accountant. Those small businesses that maintain this relationship tend to be more successful.

"Think of a business as an organism," continues Freedman, "and like any organism it goes through several life stages, from concept to start up, survival, growth, expansion, maturity to finally reinvention. The challenges faced in each lifecycle stage differ as do the solutions and skills necessary to overcome these challenges. Your SCORE mentor has successfully navigated each lifecycle stage, has faced the challenges and understands the solutions and their implications. Additionally, your Mentor will work with you to avoid the pitfalls associated with each specific stage. The greatest value of score mentoring is not solving problems but rather avoiding them."

Sign up for a SCORE mentor today. Go to http://northernarizona.score.org. Questions? Call 928-778-7438 email scoreoffice@scorenaz.org