6 Small Business Mentors You Can Access for Nearly Free!

By Gagan on 23 July 2010 (Updated 13 May 2014) 3 comments
Photo: wibs24

If you've started a small business and need advice, there are plenty of resources available to lend you a hand. The problem is that many of them are in the form of books, lectures, and "programs" that have no issue with charging you for their services. So what's an entrepreneur with limited cash and just a handful of questions to do? Get in touch with these local experts. They'll more than likely be glad to show you the ropes.

1. Your Parents

It doesn't matter if they have ever owned a business. They didn't even have to raise you well. If you had a modestly decent childhood and are alive today to tell about it, chances are great that your parents (or at least one of them) had enough business sense to run a household. Asking them about their most important lessons can spur you on in some tough situations, and most of them are applicable to any business.

2. Local Small Business Owner

If you can identify any local business that's been around for over 20 years, you've found a great candidate for getting free advice — with extra points for family businesses. Why? Working in the same community throughout a changing economy takes flexibility, forward-thinking, and perseverance — all qualities that a successful business-owner needs to survive. (And anyone who can work with their own family is especially talented!)

3. Librarian

Your local library is in the business of giving information (literally), and the head librarian is usually very well versed in all kinds of free resources for those wanting to know more about local regulations, tax law, continuing education, and networking opportunities. If you haven't visited your local branch in awhile, take a day to go in and introduce yourself. Let the librarian know who you are, what you do, and how you could benefit from the library's resources. Then let them do the talking. They will most likely share all of the perks available to you, including interlibrary loan programs, free information on funding and grants, and more!

4. Chamber of Commerce

If you're not already hooked up with your local Chamber, there is much you may be missing out on. In addition to networking functions and speaking engagements, you'll be listed in their directories. While not always free to join, the cost (if any) is usually minimal. (And there is no shortage of professionals who can answer your questions.)

5. College Professor

Thought you had to take a course to get marketing and entrepreneurial info? Think again. Many professors make themselves available to small businesses that are just starting out, and they may appreciate the opportunity to point you in the direction of new trends and tools being studied by current students. Remember that they are busy, too, so don't take advantage of their kindness. However, a phone call to your local college to inquire about what the students are learning can bring new ideas and opportunities to your business, so don't hesitate to at least ask!

6. Local Economic Development Groups

In addition to the more formal networks (like the Chamber of Commerce), many communities are forming groups of local businesses for the sole purpose of supporting one another and providing an exchange of ideas and expertise. These groups span several communities (entire states in some cases), and are less formal and political than Chamber groups. Costs can vary from a few dollars to several hundred, but initial communication and participation in their activities is usually free. The opportunity to learn from other businesses is endless!

With the growing popularity of small business startups, it's natural to assume that you'll be competing with those more educated or experienced than yourself. However, don't be intimidated. Your community can be very supportive of your endeavor. After all, growing business locally is good for everyone!

This is a guest post by Gagan. Gagan works for GO-Gulf.com, a Dubai-based web design company that provides web development solution in Kuwait, Qatar and all across Middle East.

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Guest's picture
Emma

Our Chamber of Commerce has been so helpful. We did have to pay for membership, but it's been totally worth it, just for the networking possibilites alone.

Guest's picture

Nice article. I'm the President/CEO of a chamber of commerce on the north side of Chicago. Sometimes there's more help available in your own backyard than you might realize, and this list is a helpful reminder of that.

At the Edgewater Chamber of Commerce, we work with existing businesses in the neighborhood putting on networking events and educational workshops, advocating on behalf of the businesses when they run into issues with the City or State, and marketing/promoting local businesses.

Practically every city in the country has a local chamber of commerce, and they're usually great organizations to help get connected with the local business community and potential mentors. Additionally, I'd suggest people look into local SBDCs (Small Business Development Centers), which also organize workshops for new businesses.

Guest's picture
Donna D

You didn't list SCORE (Service Corps Of Retired Executives), which has both in-person mentors and online mentors available. Visit www.score.org. Some locations are better staffed than others but if you're not happy with the locals, you can always get a "email" mentor. My online mentor has been a godsend, and she's free!