Launching a startup means you'll be in business for yourself, but you don't have to be in business by yourself. High on the list of things an entrepreneur needs to do in the early stage of starting a new company is to find a mentor that you can rely on for solid advice and guidance. Not sure where to find one? Here are some good places to start.

You and your mentor will be spending a great deal of time together and you need to have someone in your corner you can trust. The first place to start is to look at who you already know. A friend or family member who knows the ins and outs of starting a business is a great option because you know they'll only have your best interest in mind. The downside is that close friends or family may have trouble being completely honest about your grand ideas for fear of hurting your feelings or damaging the relationship. If you ask someone close to you to be a mentor, be sure to keep the lines of communication open at all times and have regular conversations about how well the arrangement is working for both of you.

One of the most well-known mentoring resources is Service Corps Of Retired Executives (SCORE). Unlike its name implies, SCORE isn't a bunch of old men in leather chairs, swilling Scotch and dispensing outdated advice. It's actually a thriving nationwide community of business advisors with expertise in just about every industry you can imagine. You can get free and confidential business advice online or in person from one of more than 12,000 volunteers across the country, as long and as often as you need it.

If you're working with an angel investor or venture capitalist (VC), don't hesitate to ask them for the name of a good mentor. In fact, in many cases the investor himself will act as your mentor since he has a clear interest in seeing your business succeed. The biggest challenge with an investor-as-mentor arrangement is that the VC may push you more aggressively towards decisions that benefit you both, whereas in a more traditional mentor relationship, the final decisions are yours alone.

The Office of Small Business Development Centers (SBDC) is a great program run by the U.S. Small Business Administration. It brings together members of the state, local, and federal governments, along with businesspeople from the private sector to help new business owners navigate the startup waters. There are service locations in all 50 states where entrepreneurs can go for training, counseling, and specific business advice. The SBDC also makes a special effort to assist minorities, women, veterans, and disabled people who are working to launch a new company.

Many entrepreneurs have success locating a mentor through their local Chamber of Commerce. By attending Chamber-sponsored events, you get a chance to meet other area business people, many of whom started companies themselves. Mentors you connect with this way typically have intimate knowledge of the region's business climate, as well as the details of county and state regulations that affect startups. These mentors are already plugged into the local community and can also help you expand your professional social circle as your new business grows.

There are plenty of ways to locate mentors from the national to the micro-local level. The most important thing to keep in mind is to find someone who's company you enjoy, who's judgment is sound, and can provide you with the voice of experience you need while you build your new business.

Flickr image courtesy of Andyrob.



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