We’re almost a week into the new year, and that means most of us are diving into our New Year’s Resolutions. There are more fitness, diet and stop-smoking commercials on TV than ever, gym memberships are up, and millions of us are trying to be healthier, smarter, calmer, fitter and just plain happier. But while you’ve been crafting your personal resolutions, have you thought about resolutions for your small business? The new year is a great time to address any issues that have come up for your business over the past year, make plans to improve where possible and lay the groundwork for a great 2012.

So now that you know you should probably make a few business resolutions for this new year, what are other businesses resolving? Reuters reports that many small businesses are making technology-based plans, with resolutions focused on becoming better established online or improving existing tech. Social media sites, search engine optimization and other great online opportunities are helping even the smallest of niche businesses compete with bigger companies, the article notes, and some small businesses are handling the economic downturn by taking more of their tech duties on themselves.

Technology isn’t the only factor driving small business resolutions. Barbara Taylor wrote on The New York Times Small Business Blog that she intends to use the “24-Burger Strategy” with her small-business brokerage firm this year. The strategy, based on an Atlanta pub that serves just 24 hamburgers each night, is one of quality instead of quantity; making every transaction count in a down economy is vital to long-term success. No company can please everyone, and if that means turning away some potential clients (especially those with the least potential to add value), it’s a small price to pay for establishing one’s company as the place with the best, most detail-driven, most carefully-prepared burgers in the business (or whatever your company sells).

Ready to make some business resolutions of your own – and KEEP them? The Fox Small Business Center has some tips for you. They asked small business coaches for guidance on making resolutions, and they got the following advice in reply:

1. Be specific in what you want to achieve, and make the feedback clear along the way. Don’t make a vague resolution like “I want to grow my business” – it’s hard to measure that, and without a clear, specific goal, a resolution is doomed to fail.

2. Identify obstacles. What’s in your way? What’s stopped you in the past from getting to your goals, and how can you adjust for those roadblocks now? Figuring out what might come up to hinder your resolution is a great way to be prepared and avoid that hindrance.

3. Remember, it’s all on you. Holding yourself accountable is a major key to keeping your resolution from falling apart. Join or create a group of other business owners, or just check in with one other business owner weekly, to support one another and keep each other on track.

4. Make an action plan and stick to it. Write out the steps you’ll need to take to get to your goal, and be as detailed as possible. Set deadlines whenever you can, and keep them. You can make this step even stronger by putting together a reward and punishment system for yourself – come up with specific rewards you’ll give yourself when you reach various steps, and set aside punishments for yourself if you miss deadlines or fall short of your steps.

5. Work backwards from where you want to be. Some goals seem too high to achieve, but if you work backwards from your goal to where you are now, it can be easier to set reasonable steps along the way that will get you there. You can put monthly checkpoints into place, write up small action plans for each week or month, and even draw out the map visually so that you can see your progress as you approach the goal. Taking it all backwards is great for organizing the path and making it look less daunting.

So now that you know what the popular resolutions are and how to make your own, get to work! Your small business could see some big changes this year, and when you look back at 2011 from this point next year, you’ll be glad to see how much you accomplished.

Tis the season to thank those who have helped you throughout the year! Holiday tipping is common for families and individuals who want to acknowledge a babysitter, mailman, hairdresser or other service provider. But holiday tipping is something small businesses can do, too, to thank those who have made a difference to their business. So what are the guidelines for small business holiday tipping?

The Emily Post Institute offers guidance on holiday tipping in general, and the first bit of advice they give is this: while cash is the most popular tip by far, you should not go outside your budget simply because you feel compelled to tip. There’s no sense in putting yourself in debt just to offer a seasonal thank-you. That said, handmade gifts (baked goods especially) can make affordable tips, even when money is tight. And of course, all tips should come with a handwritten personal note of a few sentences that offer your thanks to the recipient.

So how do you decide whom to tip? Look at the services you regularly use, how often you use them and how long you’ve been using them. Consider your location (big cities tend to mean larger tips) and any regional customs. Be aware of any rules regarding tips that the service provider may impose (mail carriers cannot technically accept cash, for example). And above all, consider your relationship with the service provider – a personal relationship should mean a bigger tip.

Business Know-How suggests that figuring out your small business holiday tipping will have a lot to do with where you work; if you work from home, you might deal with different service providers than those you’d encounter when working from a rented or owned office space. In fact, in a home office setting, many of your everyday service providers might be doing twice the work, delivering extra loads of mail to your home or bringing more packages to your door. Keep that in mind when working out your tips.

Here are some general guidelines for tipping amounts, if you’re struggling to determine how much to tip. This list might not cover everyone who provides your business with a service; if you have a company with fleet vehicles, for example, you might want to tip the gas station attendant who regularly pumps all your company’s gas. And remember, no matter what the averages or guidelines say, do not tip more than you can afford! Most service providers are grateful to be remembered, and the amount of your tip doesn’t matter as much as the fact that you thought of them during the holiday season.

Building janitor or handyman: Suggested tip is $10 to $25.

Computer support person (if you have a regular computer person who comes out to help you with your system a few times a year or more): Suggested tip is $30 to $50.

FedEx delivery guy: FedEx’s official policy is that non-cash gifts that cost $75 or less can be accepted once a year by FedEx employees. Suggested tip for your regular delivery person is a non-cash gift valued at $10 to $30, depending on how many deliveries you get.

Food delivery guy: Do you use the same take-out place for weekly lunch meetings? Do you get the same delivery guy almost every time? Suggested tip for that guy is $10 to $30 on top of a regular delivery tip, depending on how much take-out you eat.

Garage or parking lot attendant: Suggested tip is $10 to $30 per attendant.

Office cleaning staff: If you have an offsite office and use a cleaning crew to keep it neat, tips are a good idea. Suggested tip is roughly the amount of one week’s service, which will of course vary depending on how much you pay to have your office cleaned.

UPS delivery guy: UPS drivers are encouraged to decline cash gifts, so a non-cash gift is a good idea if you get a lot of packages delivered. Suggested tip is a non-cash gift valued at $10 to $30.

Postal Service mail carrier: Official policy for postal carriers is that they can accept only non-cash gifts valued at less than $20. That said, this policy isn’t strictly enforced, and I know there are many mail carriers who value small cash gifts as year-end bonuses. Whether you follow the rules or not is up to you, but on the record, I encourage you to give a non-cash gift of $10 to $20 value.

Matre’d or Waiter: If you have a lot of business meals at a particular restaurant, consider tipping your regular waitstaff. After all, they probably know your drink order before you even sit down! Suggested tip is an extra $20 to $40.

Trash collectors: Suggested tip is $10 to $20 each, or a comparably-valued gift.

Water delivery: If your workplace has a water dispenser and you have a regular delivery guy hefting those big bottles of water, consider tipping him for his hard work. Suggested tip is $10 to $20.

Remember, it’s great to be generous and thoughtful, but stay within your means. Happy holiday tipping!

Whatever your product or service is, you know it’s great. You know that, if people only paid attention, they’d be lining up to get what you’re offering. But therein lies the rub: how do you get people to pay attention in the first place? In this world of nonstop chatter and sensory overload, standing out from the crowd is tougher than ever. Word of mouth and organic growth are important, but most businesses can’t rely entirely on the traditional WOM marketing techniques. You must work to get noticed in other ways, as well, but how?

Dave Navarro wrote at Small Fuel Marketing about how to get your small business noticed. He offered 35 tips, but we’ve combined some and highlighted others to create the following list of ten. Take these tips, get your business (and yourself) on the map, and watch your success increase!

1. Conquer your fear of public speaking. One great way to become more visible is to speak in front of people. Find meetings, organizations, clubs and groups that are relevant to your offering, then make yourself available to speak to them. Many of these groups are regularly on the lookout for guest speakers for their meetings, and you might fit their bill.

One important thing – Don’t make your speech one big sales pitch. Instead, pick a topic that relates to your offering and to the group, position yourself as an expert (or expert-ish), and give an informative, entertaining talk. You can reference your own offering in subtle ways, and of course, the group will have your business card and other info in hand once you’ve met them. You won’t get paid for these speaking gigs (and you shouldn’t be paying to do them, either), but they can do wonders for your visibility.

If you REALLY can’t conquer your fear of speaking, invite a speaker to your own office instead, and send invitations to people that you would like to connect with. Invite them to come hear the speaker, and then take the opportunity to interact with them when they arrive.

2. Invite a media outlet to interview you. Many media outlets, especially local or very niche-specific ones, crave news about local businesses. Interviews are especially attractive because the interviewers can get in-depth while still making the subject human and accessible (and they’re more fun to read than a big block of non-dialogue text). Again, offer insight into a topic relevant to your product or service; the better you position yourself as someone with the knowledge, the more likely people will turn to you for what they need. Being interviewed will also put your name and business in front of a wide variety of potential customers.

3. Be part of a worthy cause. There are lots of great causes out there, and being a sponsor or regular contributor can put you in the spotlight. You don’t have to be a platinum-level sponsor for a major fundraiser, of course; simply contribute how you can, be it through money or goods/services. Causes are always seeking business sponsors who can help them reach their goals, and the publicity and good PR for you are helpful to your own desire to get noticed. If you can manage to get your brand associated with a cause that people care about, you will have succeeded.

4. Get your blog on. We’ve talked before about why you need a blog to build social capital and get more attention for your offering online. But having a good, high-ranking blog is more than simply writing a post here or there about something helpful or entertaining that relates to your product (although that’s very important, since fresh, quality content is key). Take your blog further by inviting other professionals in your field to write guest posts, and offer to guest-post for others. This sort of “you scratch my back, I scratch yours” arrangement means a bigger audience for you and increased recognition for your blog. You can also interview someone for your blog, further driving traffic to your pages; don’t forget, you should comment on other blogs to maintain your participation in the conversation surrounding your niche.

5. Do an ad space swap. Buying advertising space can be pricey, but if you swap ads with another company, it can be free and beneficial. Find a company with an audience you’d like access to (perhaps a company with an offering complementary to yours) and suggest that they place an ad for your company on their page. Put an ad to their company on your own page in return. This can widen your visibility significantly.

Along the same lines, if you’d like to buy ad space but can’t afford it on your own, think about splitting the cost with another company. You can share the space and divide the cost, which could be great for both of you. Your business relationships really can help you be seen!

6. Take Word of Mouth up a notch. Word of mouth matters a lot, and we know that people are more likely to buy from companies that are recommended by their friends. So how do you get people to talk about you? Usually, people talk at one of two times: after a really bad experience, or after a really good one. Try to be the latter! The more outstanding your service is, the more likely customers will refer others to you in glowing terms. Be the standout in your field for how you treat people, and word will definitely get around.

7. Don’t cast too wide a net. Many companies try to do too much and focus on too broad a market. Narrow your niche to get more visibility quickly among a more specific group of potential customers. Once you’ve established your superiority in that niche, you can start to widen your field a bit, drawing in other niches or a broader customer base. Starting small can be the key to getting really and truly set as a success before you branch out.

8. Make a video. Lots of companies try this and fail. They try to be cute, funny, shocking or unique in the hopes that their video will go viral, but in the end, they generally end up falling on their faces. Instead of trying to one-up the “evolution of dance” guy, do what you should be doing with your blog: create content that’s helpful to those in your niche. If your company makes a specific engine part for cars, make a how-to video that illustrates how your part can be installed and used. You can also use video to interview experts, illustrate case studies or otherwise share info with those who really care to see it. Once you’ve made and posted your videos on YouTube, share them on your blog, website and forums. You might not reach viral spread to the tune of 14 million hits, but your videos might become the go-to content for your niche market, raising your visibility still further.

9. Make new friends, but keep the old. Don’t burn bridges in your business. Instead, get to know the influencers in your niche, and make yourself useful to them. Help them solve issues and make new contacts, and they’ll probably return the favor by spreading the word about you. In addition, keep in touch with your older contacts regularly! You never know when someone might be in a position to refer a customer to you, so you want to stay on all the relevant radars.

10. Stay above-board. You might have heard recently about the online businessman who used negative feedback from his angry customers to boost his own page ranking. He abused and threatened clients and, as a result, he saw his position rise, at least temporarily. But now, that guy is in jail, and Google is tweaking their algorithms to try to keep negative content from raising a company’s rank. That guy thought he had the system figured out, but he got his visibility in a bad way, and it came back to bite him.

When you’re working toward getting noticed yourself, don’t break the rules. Avoid spam (in emails, comments or forums), don’t go for link farms to artificially inflate your page rank, and don’t make people angry just to get ahead. Google has ways of punishing those who game the system, banishing them to low rankings and bad reputations. It’s not worth it! Keep your nose clean and get noticed the right way. Good luck!

"Moving forward, let's interface offline to leverage our cutting-edge assets and reach out to the low-hanging fruit."

Buzzwords are a part of office culture. Most businesses will find themselves mired in the latest lingo at some point. New buzzwords crop up all the time; Entrepreneur.com even has a list of ten buzzwords business owners need to know now. When used correctly, sparingly and in the right context, buzzwords can help to communicate business-specific concepts quickly and effectively. But more often than not, buzzwords end up overused, cliche and widely ignored (or worse, mocked).

When buzzwords become too overused, they lose their luster. What might once have been a clever way to explain a concept becomes a trite talking point, and the employees who use them go from appearing “in the know” to appearing lazy and uninformed. Cartoons like Dilbert make a regular joke of clueless managers parroting buzzwords to fill the space left behind by their complete lack of knowledge on any topic. So before you create your next company presentation, think about the words you’re using – if you want your presentation to be predictable and formulaic (in a “corporate” sort of way), use all the buzzwords you like; some bigwigs still dig them, after all. But if you want your content to seem more interesting and new than the same-old, same-old, avoid these buzzwords and go with your own phrasing instead.

After examining lengthy lists of overused buzzwords on various business websites, I’ve compiled the following list of 12 buzzwords (in no particular order) that should be immediately removed from the workplace lexicon. It’s for our own good.

1. “Low-hanging fruit” – Almost every buzzword site I visited hated this phrase. It’s used in reference to going after goals that are so easy to get, they’re like picking low-hanging fruit from a tree (no ladder required). At this point, there’s probably no one left on earth who doesn’t know what low-hanging fruit means, or why businesses want to go after it. Stop saying it.

2. “Reach out” – People who say this mean that they’re communicating with someone. But the phrase sounds vaguely like charity work; we “reach out” to help those in need, not to set a meeting with Bob in marketing. Unless your arms are extended while at work, you’re not reaching out.

3. “Leverage” – This one makes my skin crawl. It has just the right mix of importance and urgency to make it a favorite of managers, especially those who are a little less than connected on a personal level. Leverage in the past has been physical, using a tool (the lever) to move something to a more advantageous spot (getting that big rock out of the road, for example). Now, the office use of leverage takes that concept and applies it to people, positions and resources, using them to get an advantage over something or someone else. It keeps the “person” out of “personnel,” in my experience. Don’t “leverage” what you have to get what you want; it’s far more straightforward (and honest) to say “use,” or in a friendlier case, “work with.”

4. “Drill down” – Going deeper into an issue or topic doesn’t have to sound like searching for oil in the gulf, but some people really enjoy using this phrase. I personally think it’s because they like the active, slightly dangerous tone to it; drilling is an intense, high-energy, potentially-hazardous activity in most cases, which is far more exciting than the typical research meeting. See also “putting out fires” (unless you’re a fireman) and “working on a battle strategy” (unless you’re in the military).

5. “Cutting edge” – What is cutting edge, exactly? Technology is constantly evolving, and the so-called “edge” is a moving target. Even if you have the best, coolest, most highly-developed technology or process on earth at this moment, someone’s going to come along in about 30 seconds and unseat you. “Cutting edge” doesn’t sound awesome – it sounds like you’re trying to make your offering more important than it is. Stop that.

6. “Space” – For some reason, it’s become trendy for people to say that they work in a given “space,” not in an industry. Instead of someone saying “I make widgets,” they now say, “I’m in the widget-making space.” Ugh. The word brings to mind a dusty, unused corner of my parents’ basement with a solitary widget-making machine there. Unless you create space for people (a closet organization company, perhaps) or you work in outer space itself, leave “space” out of your job description.

7. “Moving forward” – Wow, it’s a good thing you mentioned that we should do this “moving forward,” boss! I was about to hop into my Wayback Machine and get to work on this in the past. Thanks for clearing that up!

8. “Touching base” – This phrase gets lumped together with “go the extra mile,” “game changer,” “hit a home run” and “in the ballpark” on my list of sports metaphors that have no business in the workplace. If you’re touching base with someone, you’re communicating with them (see “reach out” above). You’re not tagging a bag at Fenway. Sports buzzwords may be fun to say and may help the more competitive workers among us feel, well, competitive, but they come across as a bit sad when they get so overused.

9. “Cross-functional” – I was on a few cross-functional teams a couple of years ago. It sounds really smart and effective, but what it ended up being was a group of people from a variety of departments, forced to sit together in a room and try to solve a problem when all of us had different perspectives, different skills and different stakes in the outcome. Oh, and we were all ordered to be there; no volunteers in the bunch. The result? Lots of sitting around looking at each other, trying to figure out what to do, while our “real” jobs piled up on our desks back in our offices. Getting input from multiple teams can be a good thing when trying to deal with an issue that affects everyone, but cross-functional teams usually end up non-functional.

10. “Viral” – This is so overused, it’s nauseating. Viral used to mean something that took off and spread quickly through word of mouth, like Youtube videos that got 14 million views solely on the basis of people emailing the links to each other and saying “You have to see this!” Viral is supposed to mean under the radar, outside of the traditional marketing avenues, mostly missed by news outlets (until those views start climbing up into record numbers) and totally organic in nature. Now, companies seem to want to use the word “viral” for any effort they make that gets any response outside of the directly-paid-for demographic. An example: If a business puts out a video, promotes the heck out of it with advertising dollars, posts it to their website and finally manages to get a handful of people to send it to others or comment on it, this business’s video is NOT viral. It’s just visible. Also, when the Today Show recently created some clever videos (or copied existing ones) for a multi-part story called “Today Goes Viral,” Today was not, in fact, going viral. The piece was promoted so much on the front end that there was no chance of viral growth at all.

11. “Offline” – As in, “let’s meet offline.” It seems to be used in two ways, depending on the circumstances: the first involves meeting in person (instead of via email, IM, text, social networks, etc.), and the second suggests getting together outside of the normal flow of office meetings to communicate. Either way, it’s annoying. Are we so used to communicating via a keyboard (or so driven to appear completely connected in all technological ways) that a face-to-face interaction stands out as an anomaly? Or are our processes so ingrained that stepping outside them for a conversation is vaguely roguish? If you mean “in person,” say “in person.” It’s so much less off-putting to say “Hey Bill, can you come to my office for a sec to talk about this?” instead of “Bill, let’s interface offline so we can touch base.”

12. “It is what it is,” “At the end of the day,” and other completely useless phrases – I’m not sure when throwing extra words into a conversation, especially if they add nothing, became so important. Maybe it starts with Charles Dickens, who was paid by the word. Or maybe it’s just the result of people wanting to have something, ANYTHING, to contribute to a meeting so that they appear useful. But whatever the reason, many of us have taken to spewing entire phrases or sentences that are quite literally a waste of breath. “It is what it is” tries to sound deep and philosophical, but ends up coming across as a pointless statement of the glaringly obvious. “At the end of the day” used to reference the actual quitting time of an office, but now it means some nonspecific future time when the expected or hoped-for outcome will arrive. “Six of one, half-dozen of the other” has that vague sense of cleverness about it (“Hey! Six and half-dozen are an EQUAL AMOUNT!”) but it’s just an annoyingly longer way of saying “They’re the same.” In my experience, these and all the other buzzwords that mean about as much as white noise are good for just one thing: making it clear that the value of the conversation is over.

Sources: Divine Caroline, Monster+hotjobs, Thompson Writing, CBS MoneyWatch

As much as we wish things would run smoothly all the time, disaster sometimes strikes. We don’t just mean the major disasters like earthquakes and hurricanes, either; something as simple as a widespread power outage, plumbing leak, vendor problem or computer crash can qualify as a disaster when it comes to business. These issues can be every business owner’s worst nightmare, interrupting the flow of work and causing lost revenue, lost opportunity and even lost customers.

What can you do to deal with potential disaster? First, you should do your best to prevent possible problems, and second, you should have a plan in place for dealing with what might happen. The more prepared you are, the less business you’ll lose if the unthinkable occurs. The Wall Street Journal offers some tips for small business disaster preparedness; below, we’ve added extensively to their list in order to create some guidelines for being ready for what we hope will never happen to you.

Preventing Disaster

If you don’t do the work up front to prevent problems before they occur, you’re inviting trouble. Start by securing your space. Make sure all wiring and plumbing are up to code, and keep a sharp eye out for leaks and other issues.

Go over your insurance policies. What’s covered, and what’s not? Be sure you know exactly what your insurance will do for you in a given crisis, and keep those premiums up-to-date.

Use a fireproof, waterproof lockbox or file cabinet for storage and preservation of sensitive or vital documents.

Back up all your data. ALL of it. And keep those backups in a safe location. That way, if something crashes, you can restore it fairly quickly and painlessly.

Get a battery backup power source so that, even if the electricity goes out, your computers won’t crash; you’ll be buying yourself time for a proper shutdown if the power doesn’t come right back on.

Don’t leave laptops, phones or other electronic equipment in your car (or any other highly visible place) – Why invite theft or heat damage?

Keep the phone numbers handy for your electric company, water company, phone company, Internet provider, server hosting company, security company, and anyone else you might need to call quickly during an emergency. No one wants to spend those first frantic minutes desperately looking through old bills to find contact numbers for services!

Be sure that any passwords, PINs and other secure pieces of information are kept out of sight, not on a Post-It note under the keyboard or, God forbid, stuck to the monitor.

Use caution with your company’s financial information – Just as you take care to avoid identity theft or unauthorized access to your own bank accounts, you must be careful that your company’s credit card and bank info.

Keep your anti-virus software up-to-date, and be sure your wireless network is secured.

Have some alternatives in mind for your current vendors. If you rely on a handful of vendors for your supplies, what will you do if something happens to remove one of them from the picture? A contingency plan for alternate vendors can keep you from losing productivity should something happen to your current suppliers.

Establish relationships with those who might be needed if something goes wrong – Have a plumber and/or electrician you trust, media contacts that can be called on to help with public relations or getting information out should you need it, etc. Having a circle of support before anything actually happens is one of the best ways to plan for the worst. And of course, make yourself available to those in your circle, as well, if THEY need something during a crisis.

Make sure the doorways of your workplace are kept clear and accessible.

Don’t ignore the news – If there’s a report of a hurricane, blizzard, tornado or other natural disaster coming your way, get yourself and your staff to safety. No business is worth your life.

If you rely on vehicles for doing business, keep up with oil changes, gas fill-ups, tires and other regular maintenance.

Have a nighttime security system if you leave expensive equipment behind in your workplace each night.

If you pretty much run the company on your own, think of what might occur should you be taken out of commission through sickness, accident or a family emergency. Can someone else take care of business in your stead for a while? Can you manage things from off-site while you deal with your crisis? Many businesses completely stop down when the boss is physically unable to be there, so think of how you might handle that situation BEFORE it happens.

Dealing with a Crisis

Even if you do everything you can to prevent problems, trouble can still sometimes find you. When that happens, be sure to have a plan in place so that you’re not caught entirely off-guard. Planning can mean saving valuable time in resolving the crisis and avoiding additional issues.

Your plan should include who to call first, depending on the disaster at hand. It should also include the roles that each employee is asked to play in the event of a problem. Short-term, medium-term and long-term possibilities should be discussed beforehand so that, no matter how long the crisis takes, you’ll be ready.

Above all, try not to panic. Problems will happen, but if you keep a clear head, prepare as best you can and stick to your disaster plan, you should be able to deal with whatever happens as quickly and easily as possible.

Once a crisis has passed, be sure to apologize to customers who were inconvenienced in the case of a power or server outage, website problem, payment processing issue or personal crisis on your part, and do what you can to make the situation right for them. Most people respond favorably if a business comes through a crisis with the customers in mind. You can’t avoid ALL troubles, but how you and your company deal with them is how you’ll be judged. Good luck!

Starting a new business (or striking out on your own) can be a daunting prospect. Most people diving into entrepreneurship for the first time could use some guidance, advice and answers about what they just plain don’t know when it comes to running a new business. While building a solid team of individuals with specific skills is important to getting your company going on solid footing (and important to potential investors who want to see more than just a person with a dream standing before them), having a great mentor is also vital. A mentor can put their experience and expertise in your corner to help you find the best path to your own success. Plus, it’s always good to have someone “in the know” to talk to! SCORE.org has a list of five tips for finding a mentor; here’s the list so you can get started right away:

1. What do you want from your mentor? A mentor will want to know how best to help you, and that means knowing your reason for asking them for help. Perhaps you need financial management advice, or marketing know-how. Maybe all you need is someone to keep you on track and thinking positive. Whatever your reason for wanting a mentor, be clear about it (to yourself AND to the potential mentor) so that they know what they’re in for.

2. Be ready with your info. A mentor will want to know all the relevant aspects of your business. Tell him or her what you’re trying to do, what your business goals are (short-term and long-term), etc. Paint a clear picture of what your business is and what you want it to be. Then you can start asking your own questions for advice and guidance.

3. Consider having more than one mentor. Just as you don’t know everything about running a business, most mentors won’t have all the answers all the time, either. Talk to multiple people and build a network of experts you can turn to if needed. The person you ask for help with marketing might be a very different person from the person you ask for help with tech issues, and that’s great.

4. No matter what your business is, keep an eye on your cashflow. For a start-up or growing company, keeping the cash flow at a reasonable level is vital for staying afloat. So when you’re choosing a mentor at these stages, try to look for someone who can help you plan for slowdowns, look into credit and make long-term predictions based on current sales. Your company will sink if the cashflow fails, so be sure to get the advice and guidance you need to prevent that!

5. Stick to experts in your industry. You wouldn’t ask someone with a pharmaceutical background to help you with the details of launching a chocolate shop. Find mentors who are specific to your field. That way, when industry-specific questions come up, your mentor will be of the most help to you.