Finding a business mentor
Experienced leaders help startups navigate their way to success

By Katherine Michalets - Freeman Staff

Aug. 25, 2015

OCONOMOWOC - Launching a small business can feel intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be an isolating experience, said SCORE mentor Dave Maaske.

In fact, Maaske said studies have shown that when a small business owner has a mentor, the chances of the business’ success are greatly improved. As the chair of the Southeastern Wisconsin chapter and a certified mentor with SCORE, Maaske has helped advise small business owners with their questions or concerns or connected with someone who has more expertise in that area.

He said SCORE, which is sponsored by the U.S. Small Business Administration, is like one-stop shopping because mentors have formed a nationwide network and can address a variety of questions. Otherwise, an entrepreneur may be finding and consulting with lawyers, bankers and accountants all on his or her own.

“SCORE has a proven track record of people who left major organizations that want to give back to small businesses,” Maaske said. “We tend to be gatekeepers of the small business.”

SCORE is comprised of around 11,000 volunteers nationally, 300 of whom are in Wisconsin and 70 are in southeastern Wisconsin who provide free mentoring.

One of Maaske’s clients is CJs Premium Spices in Oconomowoc. Co-owner Laura Swan said SCORE has been mentoring her and her husband, Alan, since spring 2014.

“They really cover all the bases; everything you need to know to start a business,” she said. “They are super helpful, informative. It really is a mentoring process but it’s more than that because they have your back.”

In addition to the SCORE mentors, the group offers programming for a cost that also provides valuable information, Swan said. SCORE mentors continue to work with businesses after they are launched to address questions of a growing company, such as distribution and employee hiring.

An important place to start for an entrepreneur is with learning how to form a company by obtaining a limited liability company or corporate status. Another early step is creating a business plan, Maaske said, because if a business owner doesn’t know what he is getting into, he may find himself halfway down the path and without enough capital to continue.

Other areas that SCORE mentors help small business owners with are marketing, social media and how to protect a business idea, product or service. 

Starting a business and growing it is often more difficult than in previous years due to increased regulations, Maaske said, as well as daily changes in technology.

“Small businesses have always created at least half of the employment in the United States. In the recent recovery, there have been more headwinds in creating small businesses. We are trying to make that change, make that better,” Maaske said.

Swan reminds would-be small business owners that it’s important to follow basic business creation guidelines to have a strong business plan in place. Also, creating a business takes time.

“You have just got to stick with it; business doesn’t happen overnight. If you have a good idea or business product or service - if that’s good then the rest will follow,” she said. “SCORE is a way to navigate the unknown.”

When working with a mentor, the U.S. Small Business Administration recommends ensuring a formal mentor-protégé structure is in place. The organization also advises to be organized, prepared and consistent; do not expect your mentor to run your business for you or make decisions for you; plan your mentoring sessions in advance; take notes, create action items and be prepared to review progress during your next session; and thank your mentor for his or her time and assistance.

The Small Business Center at Waukesha County Technical College  offers mentorship opportunities as well. The SBA also suggests using other resources such as small business development centers, women’s business centers, minority business development agencies and veterans business outreach centers.


10 steps to starting a business

1: Write a business plan

2: Get business assistance and training

3: Choose a business location

4: Finance your business

5: Determine the legal structure of your business

6: Register a business name (‘doing business as’)

7: Get a tax identification number

8: Register for state and local taxes

9: Obtain business licenses and permits

10: Understand employer responsibilities

Source: U.S. Small Business Administration


20 questions before starting a business

So you’ve got what it takes to be an entrepreneur? Now, ask yourself these 20 questions to make sure you’re thinking about the right key business decisions:

1.) Why am I starting a business?

2.) What kind of business do I want?

3.) Who is my ideal customer?

4.) What products or services will my business provide?

5.) Am I prepared to spend the time and money needed to get my business started?

6.) What differentiates my business idea and the products or services I will provide from others in the market?

7.) Where will my business be located?

8.) How many employees will I need?

9.) What types of suppliers do I need?

10.) How much money do I need to get started?

11.) Will I need to get a loan?

12.) How soon will it take before my products or services are available?

13.) How long do I have until I start making a profit?

14.) Who is my competition?

15.) How will I price my product compared to my competition?

16.) How will I set up the legal structure of my business?

17.) What taxes do I need to pay?

18.) What kind of insurance do I need?

19.) How will I manage my business?

20.) How will I advertise my business?

Source: U.S. Small Business Administration