How To Do Mentor Research At Small Businesses

mentor researchMentor research involves gathering the insights of other business owners and using their experiences to help shape your decisions. It can be extremely helpful for small businesses, especially if you’re going to open a new business or add a product line.

Even if you’ve been around for 20 years, creating a network of contacts will almost certain yield valuable information. Talking to others in that line of business can be extremely helpful. You might want to look outside your area, so they know you don’t pose a threat, but most people are fairly open and happy to discuss their experiences. The more people you can find to interview, the better off you’ll be. If you get conflicting advice, you’ll have to decide whose advice to use.

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Starting A Business: What To Ask Mentors

If you’re starting a new business, here are questions you might want to ask of your mentors:

  • How big is your store? (Floor tiles are normally 1 foot square and ceiling tiles are normally 2 feet square or 2X4 feet. Count them to get a rough estimate of square footage. Is this big enough for you?)
  • Where is your store located? Free standing building? Strip mall? House? Would you consider moving?
  • Do you have a price list or website?
  • How many employees do you have?
  • What are your hours of operation?
  • Do you deliver?
  • What were you surprised by when you first opened?
  • What did you find most difficult?

All this information can be used in your business plan. There will be a lot of surprises when starting a new business and talking to others will help alleviate some of those.

Established Businesses: What To Ask Mentors

On the other hand, if you’ve been in business for years, you might want to ask your mentors about:

  • What promotions have been successful?
  • What wholesales do you use?
  • What related product lines do you sell?
  • Have you ever had a situation like ______? What did you do?

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Talking with hundreds of small businesses over the years, I’ve heard stories and anecdotes that I know would be useful to others. Most of the things I’ve heard would be useful across business categories. There’s no reason a laundry mat can’t be helpful to a car wash business or even a plumber. The bottom line is, even though you’re extremely busy, creating a network of friends and acquaintances that you can call on may be your single most valuable source of information.

The one caveat I would add here is to avoid asking for help about things that you should seek professional guidance. It’s one thing to ask someone how they created a promotion that increased their sales, it’s another to ask for advice on filing your taxes!

Alan Traverse

Alan Traverse

Manager, Insights and Client Experience at Dex Media
A professional researcher since 1997, Alan Traverse’s experience spans several industries including media, telecommunications, finance, travel and loyalty. His work has centered on customer experience, new product development, retention, segmentation and voice of the customer. Concurrent with his research career, Alan has taught Economics and Marketing at Columbia College since 1999.