Community Futures South Georgian Bay

Mentors Help Small Businesses Break Through Barriers, Get To The Next Level

Jeremy O’Krafka would have unwittingly run his new business into the ground if a guiding hand hadn’t reached out to stop him.  “My tech company had raised its first round of funding. And I was spending it fast. During one of our regular meetings, my mentor told me I was headed for trouble, and helped me see where I was bleeding cash,” says O’Krafka.

Over the next few months, his mentor helped him develop and implement a more sustainable strategy. And then kept him accountable by reviewing his monthly cash flow statements with him for the next 2 years. “Looking back, I’m so grateful,” O’Krakfa says. “He really saved my business and helped me grow.”

Jeremy’s story isn’t all that unusual. In fact, research proves conclusively that mentors make a real difference in helping small businesses make it.  While more than half of all businesses fold within the first 5 years, a survey by The UPS Store shows that 70 percent of those with mentors survive. And that as little as three hours of mentoring can help small businesses earn more and grow faster.

Buoyed by his own experience, O’Krafka has devoted the past seven years to helping business owners and mentors connect. Next month, he’ll do it in Collingwood with local facilitator, Sandra Kahale, as part of the PowerUp Your Business Mentoring Program being offered through the Centre For Business and Economic Development and other local partners.  Veronica Vescio, owner of Vescio Painting & Decorating, was a mentor in last year’s program. “It was an excellent program and helped me to develop my business much more effectively than if I’d tried to do it alone,” Vescio says.  That’s part of the magic of mentorship. With a fresh perspective and the wisdom of experience, mentors can help business owners identify and tackle whatever is holding them back.

“Business owners face a lot of complex challenges, especially while they’re growing” says Gillian Fairley, General Manager of the Centre For Business and Economic Development. “There’s no faster way to shorten the learning curve than to tap into the knowledge and experience of someone who’s been there.”  Tim Newton, Manager of the Small Business Enterprise Centre, concurs. “In that growth period, business owners are trying hard to find their way forward and get to the next level. Mentors can help them recognize what’s working, address what’s not, and strategize about how to move in the direction they want to go.”

That was certainly the case for mentee, Darryl Hindle. His company, Quenchbuggy, leases and sells mobile hydration stations. “The first thing my mentor did was to help me get all my ideas out on paper, and then talk it through, focusing on how do you make money? He helped guide me to exactly the right strategy for my business. It got me on track, and I’ve stayed there.”

Corynn Fowler’s mentor helped her make the decision to start Corynn Fowler Photography. “Having a mentor was really important for giving me the confidence to really step into a small business,” she says.

But it’s not just mentees who reap the rewards of a mentoring relationship. “Mentors really contribute to the economic development of the community,” says Fairley, “They put their knowledge and experience to work for the benefit of everyone.”  Being a mentor is also an opportunity for experienced business owners to share their knowledge and expertise, pay it forward, help accelerate growth and profitability, and contribute to the health and success of small business in their communities.

“I found it rewarding to see entrepreneurs embrace their passion and place trust in and follow their gut,” says Kirsty Stevenson, a life-long entrepreneur and innovator who was also one of last year’s mentors. “I enjoyed meeting and connecting with other mentors and mentees I would not otherwise have met.”  Many also find that mentoring helps them expand their networks, stay current, learn about new trends, hone teaching and leadership skills, and connect in the community.

Ultimately, reaping the rewards of mentorship takes commitment and an open mind from both parties. “For mentees, it’s about having clear goals and being able to listen to and accept different points of view,” says Newton. “For mentors, it’s about listening, and sharing openly about the lessons – even the hard ones – you’ve learned along the way.”

The PowerUp Your Business Mentorship program starts  Thursday, October 27th and includes 8 monthly one-on-one mentoring sessions and facilitated workshops.