Mentors lead to small business success

Is there a place besides where you live that you keep tabs on? For me, that’s Rochester, NY. While I’m not from there, I lived in or near the city for more than 20 years. That’s longer than I’ve lived any place else, so it feels like home. It’s where I met my most valued mentors. These folks helped guide me toward small business success. Many still live there.

One of them is Greg Marshall. I was surprised to recently read he had vacated his role with Visit Rochester, the area tourism agency. I guess I figured he’d never leave. He decided it was time to retire after 41+ years serving this organization with his marketing expertise.

Greg taught me, as a young gal in my 20s, some marvelous lessons I still use today. Here’s some of his wisdom:

Luncheon meetings

Mentors lead to small business success with the guidance they give. One lesson was to pick a nicer restaurant for lunch meetings. It doesn't cost much more to leave a great impression.
Don’t dismiss nice restaurants for a luncheon meeting choice. You might be surprised to find lunch prices are close to what you pay for casual fare.

Choose a nice restaurant when you invite a business associate, client, or prospect out for a meal. The difference in lunchtime meal prices between a poor restaurant and a great one is usually only $2 or $3, but the difference in the impression you make is priceless.

Along those lines, he taught me about the joy that comes from planning to pick up the tab. It’s just so much easier and less awkward to cover the bill for a meal when you’re the one who suggests a luncheon or breakfast meeting location. Plus, it makes you memorable.

Curiously, this has been a challenge in Roanoke, where Dutch seem to be the norm. In most urban markets, though, treating someone to lunch is an appreciated kindness. My work-around here has been to declare ahead of time it’s my treat. When I forget, I’ve learned to ask for separate bills.

FAM Tours

Make visiting media representatives, especially freelancers, feel like royalty. Otherwise known as Familiarization Tours, these events brought writers representing publications from around the world to Rochester. It helped that Greg had hundreds of active and organized members from the hospitality industry eager to support the initiatives. Still, he ensured all involved made these folks feel special.

His reasoning for freelancer focus was borne from experience. Typically, contract writers don’t get the same respect given to their salaried counterparts. What Greg discovered is that appreciating and uplifting freelances could result in pitches for Rochester feature stories to multiple publications for double or triple the coverage.

Trade Shows

Smart strategies for communicating before and after the show can be more important than the interactions you’ll have with people during the event. This includes attendees, the media, and those with booths. Fellow exhibitors can become enthusiastic referral agents when you impress them.

Organize lists and lead collection mechanisms ahead of time with a good plan for follow-up. It’s also important to allocate time immediately after the show to respond to contacts and leads. Not having easy access to contact information after the show can be costly. Simply passing out information in hopes the recipient will take the initiative leaves you lost in the noise and overwhelm of a busy trade show. Following up quickly and keeping communications flowing sets you apart from almost all other participants.

Greg hired me to launch and serve as executive director of an association before I had much experience at, well, life. When I asked him about this decision later, he said he knew I could do it and cited my work ethic as a selling point. He had more confidence in my ability to perform the job than I did. That’s what great mentors do. They help you realize bigger achievements than you imagine possible.Thanks, Greg! I couldn’t have done it without you.

Mentors are all around you. I found Charlie online last year. He inspired the watercolor image feature for this blog. When I reached out to him, he graciously offered his insight and experience as I explored needed resources for an anticipated comic strip launch.

Go find someone with relevant experience willing to help you shine. You’ll be amazed at how much caring guidance from a leader will change your world. You might also be surprised how much mentors are willing to give when you’re serious about achieving small business success.

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