Discover state, federal and advocacy programs that can help you connect with seasoned small business owners and experts. Then learn how to make the most of mentoring relationships that you establish.
By Dennis McCafferty
For six years, Jesse Camacho has run a successful business in greater Indianapolis, Camacho Equipment and Janitorial Supply. He has as many as 50 customers at any given time that need both cleaning supplies and services at offices, schools, hospitals, courthouses and other buildings. And with six full-time employees and $1.5 million in annual sales, Camacho is ready to take his small business to the next level.
Scott Miller, president of a national landscaping company, Mainscape, headquartered in Fisher, Ind., is more than happy to help Camacho. Thanks to a mentorship program for Hispanic business owners launched by the Greater Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce, Miller and Camacho have met repeatedly during the last 10 months to discuss Camacho's needs. Sometimes, they meet in their offices. Sometimes, it's at the local Cracker Barrel over eggs, bacon and oatmeal. And they talk about anything that Camacho needs direction on when it comes to growing his business.
"Scott has an accounting background, and, right off the bat, he advised me to hire a bookkeeper to come into the office twice a month," Camacho says. "I used to take my books to an accountant once a year. This way, we stay on top of the records much more closely, and we make sure nothing is missing that we need. I can tell you that I got the taxes done much more quickly this year."
Make New Contacts
Camacho also wanted to expand his customer base. Because Miller is on the chamber board, he has strong contacts there who can help Camacho get his foot in the door. "Jesse runs a great business, with quality customer service and a competitive price," Miller says. "We're now working to get him in with the 'big dollar' customers — the larger school systems with big cleaning needs, and large commercial property-management companies. Because I've already established those contacts, I can create a 'softer lead' for him, by vouching for Jesse and his business to these potential customers."
As Camacho has discovered, sometimes it just takes a friendly lift to help a small business get to where it needs to be. By connecting established business leaders with future leaders to provide advice and guidance, a strong mentorship program facilitates success. In the end, the local economy benefits, with growing businesses owned by men and women who now have a better idea of how to run a successful company. In a recent Indianapolis chamber survey, "mentorship from a successful business owner" emerged as the No. 1 need among Hispanic business owners, with more than half saying that this is something they're "extremely interested" in. (See chart below)
"There are different levels of experience, education and English-speaking proficiency within the Hispanic small-business community," says Roberto Curci, who oversaw the survey. Curci is CEO of Latinus Group Enterprise Facilitators, a Carmel, Ind.-based for-profit consulting firm that helps organizations connect their marketing efforts with the Latino community. "The bakery shop owner may know how to bake great products, but he or she often needs to rely on instincts to serve the other needs of the business," he says. "What these owners need is input from people who are already successful in the community."
More Programs that Offer Similar Help
- In Miami, South Florida Urban Ministries' ASSETS training program presents an 11-week series of seminars for the local community of low-to-moderate income entrepreneurs that covers a broad spectrum of business needs. Patricia Sanchez Abril is an assistant professor of business law at the University of Miami School of Business Administration who contributes her time and expertise for one of those seminars. "The business owners who attend are looking to learn more about basic contracts and agreements," she says. "I teach them when a contract needs to be in writing to be enforceable, and how a verbal contract can be valid. They are very interested in this information. They'll say, 'How can we not know about this?' Whether the business owner is a mechanic or runs a salon, I tell them you can learn about these things the easy way or the hard way."
- The Los Angeles-based Latin Business Association offers a student entrepreneur program that provides financial support and mentorship to college students interested in launching their own businesses after graduation.
- Aflac provides a mentorship program that helps Hispanic small business owners develop best practices for landing large-client accounts. In its February/March 2007 issue, Hispanic Trends magazine, now Hispanic Enterprise, has recognized Aflac as a top 50 company offering the best business opportunities to minority entrepreneurs.
- The Alternative Board, a Westminster, Colo.-based peer-advisory effort, also helps minority-owned businesses nationwide on a variety of topics, such as staffing, market development and financial management.
In the end, mentors often find that they get as much out of the experience as their protégés.
"Anytime you meet with another business owner, you get a great perspective," Miller says. "Jesse and I share ideas all the time about employee problems and customer issues, and how to solve them. I've learned as much from him as he has learned from me."
Tips on Becoming a Mentor
More Information on Mentoring and Hispanic Small Businesses