> Small Business Tips > Manage Your Business > Lead



As you know, women business owners make a significant contribution to the economic health of our nation and communities. Their contributions continue to rise as more women become entrepreneurs and existing women-owned businesses expand. Experienced, successful women entrepreneurs and would-be entrepreneurs alike often ask the same question: How can new entrepreneurs learn from the experiences of others? The answer is mentoring. Mentoring is a term historically used to describe a teacher-student relationship. In the business world, mentoring occurs when a more experienced professional (the mentor) gives significant career assistance to a less-experienced professional (the protégé). Mentoring relationships are particularly helpful during a period of transition such as a new business launch, new product introduction, or business expansion. Mentors are wise and trusted counselors for protégés. A mentor's knowledge, experience, tenacity, and skills offer the growing entrepreneur guidance, advice, and training. However, while a mentor can steer a protégé in the right direction to reach her potential, protégés must still rely upon themselves to succeed.

Roles and Responsibilities

Establishing some basic roles and responsibilities can ensure a successful mentor/protégé relationship. The following chart outlines a few roles for the mentor, the protégé, and the mentor and protégé together.


  • Provide guidance based on past business experiences.
  • Create a positive counseling relationship and climate of open communication.
  • Help protégé identify problems and solutions.
  • Lead protégé through problem solving processes.
  • Offer constructive criticism in a supportive way.
  • Share stories, including mistakes.
  • Assign "homework" if applicable.
  • Refer protégé to other business associates.
  • Be honest about business expertise.
  • Solicit feedback from protégé.
  • Come prepared to each meeting to discuss issues.


  • Shape the overall agenda for the relationship - know what you want!
  • Establish realistic and attainable expectations.
  • Be open in communicating with your mentor.
  • Establish priority issues for action or support.
  • Don't expect your mentor to be an expert in every facet of business.
  • Solicit feedback from your mentor.
  • Come prepared to each meeting to discuss issues.

Mentor and Protégé

  • Identify roles the mentor can play to help the protégé achieve goals.
  • Develop an action plan to achieve agreed upon goals.
  • Determine level of structure in the relationship.
  • Communicate on a regular basis.
  • Set milestones to monitor success of reaching goals.
  • Set the agenda for each meeting.
  • Schedule formal meetings and cancel only when absolutely necessary.
  • Establish guidelines for telephone calls; i.e., calls at home are or are not acceptable.

Finding a Mentor That's Right for You

  • Look for someone who has knowledge and business experience in areas you don't.
  • Make sure the mentor you choose desires to be a mentor. A mentoring relationship requires consent by both parties.
  • Look for what you can offer the mentor - make the relationship mutually beneficial.

Many organizations have mentoring programs. Look for one in your community. Contact your local women's business center for more information.

Becoming a Mentor

  • Identify why you want to be a mentor. See what is motivating you to accept this opportunity in spite of your busy schedule.
  • Analyze what you have to offer your protégé. Be brutally honest with yourself as you consider what influence, skills, knowledge, or other contributions you can make. Acknowledge your weak spots also.
  • Identify your needs, expectations, and limits for your mentor/protégé relationship. Ask yourself what you would like to have happen and how far you are willing to go.

Dos and Don'ts for Mentors


  • Be clear about your motives for helping your protégé. If you're not sure yourself, the protégé will get mixed messages from you.
  • Look after your protégé's needs, but consider your own as well. Be certain about what you want from the relationship and what you're willing to give.
  • Be prepared for the relationship to end. The successful mentor-protégé cycle requires that the protégé moves on and the relationship either ends or takes a different form.


  • Don't give up right away if your protégé resists your help at first. She may not recognize the value of what you have to offer. Persistence - to a point - may help.
  • Don't try to force your protégé to follow your footsteps. If the footsteps fit, she will follow them voluntarily. Value the protégé's unique path and where she is along that path.
  • Don't have a pre-conceived plan for the final outcome of your relationship.

Myths About the Mentor/Protégé Relationship

  • Mentors are going out of style.
  • It is best if mentors are older than protégés.
  • Mentor/protégé relationships need to be close and last a long time.
  • The relationship benefits the protégé more than the mentor.
  • A person cannot have more than one mentor or protégé at a time.
  • Healthy mentor/protégé relationships won't run into difficulties.
  • Mentors are the easy way of getting ahead.