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7 Tips for Getting the Most from Mentoring

Working with a SCORE mentor can help you as you navigate the path of starting, managing, and growing a business. Mentors provide guidance, align you with resources, and share expertise in every aspect involved in entrepreneurship.

You get a lot of  engagement,  but to really benefit from your mentoring relationship you need to put effort into preparation for your meeting.

According to SCORE Maine Certified Mentor Bill Goodspeed, SCORE clients can get the most from working with a mentor by coming prepared and considering seven key activities.

  1. A concise description of your business or business idea.

Goodspeed says to include a concise statement of how you will add value. This is called a “value proposition” and is an important lynchpin for both communications with your mentor and the building of a business plan.

“Whether in a new business or existing business, I always say, ‘Genius is making the complex simple.’ It’s also critical for customer understanding and brand consistency and development.”

  1. Focus is everything..

“Many new clients are so passionate about their industry or idea that they try to do everything possible with the business,” explains Goodspeed. “Dilution can be death in business.”

He suggests to instead concentrate on the key elements and critical value proposition of the business. You have limited time and resources—so it’s important to use them wisely by retaining focus on what matters most.

  1. There is a time and place for giving back.

Many clients are extremely passionate about their communities and want to start giving back right away.

“While this is admirable, it is premature,” shares Goodspeed. “The best way to give back to a community is to make your business successful first.”

He advises putting your resources and energy into creating valuable products and services, which will translate into creating jobs and markets for suppliers.

“Once you are successful, you can contribute more to the community through various programs. However, it’s better to wait until you are successful.”

4.  Give your mentor(s) an opportunity to ask clarifying questions.

After you’ve provided information about your business and idea, your mentor will ask you questions to hone in on opportunities and issues, some you may no  have considered. This is an important step because it allows you to consider  new frameworks and/or possibilities for growth and improvement.

“Later, ask your questions and don’t be shy about it,” says Goodspeed.

  1. Be clear about what follow up work you should do as a result of the meeting and before the next session.

You will get a lot more out of your time with your SCORE mentor if you check your understanding about any action items you need to accomplish between meetings.

  1. Plan ahead and schedule the next meeting.

Goodspeed suggests scheduling a follow-up meeting on the spot before you finish your current meeting          with your mentor. “I recommend planning to meet again between three to four weeks out, depending on        the work that needs to be done in the interim.”

  1. Give plenty of advance notice if you need to reschedule a mentoring session.

“Mentors often travel to the SCORE office (or other meeting place that you’ve agreed upon) for the sole purpose of meeting with you,” explains Goodspeed.

To ensure your meeting can be rescheduled as soon as possible—and to respect your mentor’s time—communicate with your mentor immediately when you know you won’t be able to attend a scheduled session.

By following Goodspeed’s seven simple tips, you can make sure you’re getting the most from the time and expertise that SCORE mentors provide. A little preparation and focus will go a long way in ensuring you benefit fully from the insight and resources available from your SCORE mentor.

If you haven’t yet taken advantage of SCORE Maine’s free, confidential mentoring services, contact us for an appointment!

 

About Bill Goodspeed, SCORE Portland, Maine Mentor

William Goodspeed has been a SCORE mentor since spring of 2014. He is an expert in family-owned businesses, having considerable experience as family member, executive in family businesses, board member, and next generation developer. He is a fourth-generation member of the Huber family, which owns the J.M. Huber Corporation, a large international family company founded in 1883. Mr. Goodspeed serves on the board of Huber, as well as the boards of four other family-owned companies and on the Huber Family Education & Development Committee, whose mission is to develop fifth-generation Hubers for future roles as board members, executives and educated shareholders.

To devote time to family business, Mr. Goodspeed retired as Corporate Vice President of IDEXX Laboratories, a $1.2 billion worldwide leader in animal diagnostics and water testing. At IDEXX, Mr. Goodspeed managed three businesses: Livestock and Poultry Diagnostics, the world leader in farm animal diagnostics; Water, the world leader in testing for microbial contamination; and Dairy, the second largest producer of milk contamination tests.

Before IDEXX, Mr. Goodspeed held several positions in the J.M. Huber Corporation: Sector CEO of Natural Resources (Timber and Oil & Gas); President of Huber Wood Products (Engineered Woods and Timber). He joined Huber in 1994 as the Vice President of Strategy and Business Development.

Before Huber, Mr. Goodspeed was Executive Vice President of Pasona International, the international arm of Japan’s Pasona Group, then the largest human resource staffing firm in Japan.

Mr. Goodspeed was also a management consultant at McKinsey & Company and an attorney. He received a J.D. from the University of Michigan and a B.A. from Dartmouth College.

 

Manage Your Time Effectively

Small business owners and solopreneurs are eternally challenged to get the most done with the limited time available. With responsibility for all aspects of their businesses, using time—or not using it—as wisely as possible can mean the difference between success and failure.

If you or someone you know is struggling to keep up with all there is to do in managing a business, adopting some good time management habits can help.

Time Management Tips For Small Business Owners And Solopreneurs

Say Goodbye To Multitasking

Unlike the word implies, “multitasking” doesn’t help you get multiple tasks done more quickly. In fact, studies have shown that it kills focus and people get less done, not more, when they attempt to multitask.

Prioritize Effectively

This may seem like stating the obvious, but it’s easy to get distracted from doing what’s most important  when you’ve got a long list of to-dos. Consider deadlines and the financial impact projects and tasks will have as you decide which should get your attention first.

Reserve Time

Intentionally dedicating time on your calendar for projects and tasks will help you stick to your priorities and meet deadlines. It can also help you better identify when you’re over-committing.

Outsource When It Makes Sense

Speaking of which, another way to avoid over-committing is to outsource tasks that are keeping you from revenue-producing activities and that don’t specifically require you to complete them. Examples might include bookkeeping, writing and/or proofreading, social media, data entry, etc. Outsourcing work to an independent contractor or agency for even a few hours a month can help prevent you from getting overwhelmed.

Try A Tried-And-True Time Management Technique

Practicing the Pomodoro Technique or something similar to improve mental acuity could also help you make your time more productive.  It involves breaking the time you work into a series of short intervals intermixed with short rest periods. The premise behind it is that you’ll stay more fully focused and not allow interruptions when on task because you’ll have set periods (held true by using a timer) of work and rest.

As the new year is upon us, now is an excellent time to gauge your time management skills. Did lack of productivity and organization hold you and your business back this past year? If yes, perhaps it’s time to pick up some new habits in 2015.

If you need a little guidance,  you can always meet and talk with a SCORE mentor. Through our free mentoring services and one-on-one coaching, we’re here to help small business owners navigate the many challenges of entrepreneurship.

Happy New Year!

How to Pitch Your Business

When you have been developing a product for months or years, there comes a time when you have to focus on getting seed funding or other sources of investment. Pitching, just like networking in general, is about building relationships and communicating well about why your product or service is a winner. Take the time to hone your pitch and try to avoid common pitfalls.

Consider these tips:

  1. Focus on the problem you’re solving.

New entrepreneurs often talk about their companies in terms of what they do (“we make X, we offer Y”). Instead, focus on describing WHY your product or service matters. Frame your story from the end user’s perspective, e.g. “Dog owners are struggling for control when walking their pet, so we help them by…” Explain the pain point, and how you’re solving the problem. Use stories to help bring concepts to life. Bill Feldman, Portland native and entrepreneur, created the Liberty Wristband after walking his dog Henry. His dog was constantly pulling the leash of out of his owner’s hand, and Bill engineered a unique solution that he is now taking to market.

  1. Don’t use jargon.

Ditch the buzzwords, acronyms and any industry jargon that requires a dictionary or advanced degree. You want everyone to understand and connect with what you’re saying instantly.

  1. Adjust your pitch to each situation.

You likely have an elevator speech you’ve practiced. This pitch makes a compelling investment case in a minute or less, and there is a time and place to use it. When you are engaged in casual conversation, be sensitive to the give and take; don’t deliver a monologue about your idea.

  1. Don’t pitch your resume.

A good pitch focuses on what you’re doing, why you’re doing it and how it’s going to make a difference. This isn’t the time to cover the general work and educational background of everyone on the team. Don’t include all the companies where you worked or schools you attended during initial conversations.

  1. Hold off on the crazy projections.

Perhaps your friends and family are impressed with how you will grow from 10 to 10 million users in two years. Investors and experienced businesspeople don’t want their time wasted with growth projections, which are best guesses. Describe your business now and what resources it will take to scale.

  1. Consider feedback a gift.

There’s a lot of personal pride involved in any venture. Put it aside when pitching your company. Expect people to have tough questions. They’re not attacking you personally; rather, they’re thinking about your idea from their points of view. Learn how to take critical feedback to make improvements.

 

Seven Writing Tips for More Effective Communication

Building a successful business requires building relationships. And building strong relationships requires effective communication across all fronts: in person, phone, web meetings, social media, and email.

When you’re exchanging information via email with prospects, clients, employees, and vendors, tone and intent can get lost in translation.  Without the benefit of facial expressions, tone of voice, pauses, and inflections to gauge emotion and intent, your audience could get confused or misinterpret your meaning.

Simple changes and 7 quick tips will make you a more effective communicator:

  • Stick to the point.

Addressing too many things and running off on tangents within your emails will make it difficult for your readers to home in on what you’re trying to communicate and your purpose. Don’t confuse them; keep your emails brief and to the point.

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