When you don't know it all
Susie Kauffman, owner of Stats Cafe Inc. in downtown Columbus, was a mentor with the chamber's Women's Network for Entrepreneurial Training program when she decided she could use a mentor herself. Here's how she leaned on fellow restaurateur Sue Doody of Lindey's to help her make decisions in her own business.
Interviewed by Joan Slattery Wall
What prompted you to seek a mentor?
I had been in business, I think at that point, four or five years and was considering some expansion. I thought I'd like to have somebody to talk to about that, to guide me through it or help me decide whether that was a good idea for me.
What was the dilemma?
To me, it was going to be whether I would still be a hands-on person just here or if [the business] would become big enough that I'd be an administrator. I couldn't see me actually still cooking and taking care of customers and trying to run several different places at the same time. I ended up deciding that I wanted to just stay here and try to have some kind of personal life.
How did Sue Doody help you reach that decision?
I gave her the situation and she came up with some good points for me to think about. I might have come to the same conclusion on my own, but I felt very comfortable that I'd made a good decision after having her input.
What other issues did you talk about?
I was concerned about putting together something in writing like an employee manual, and she shared the one-I think it was from Bravo!-with me that they had put together. So instead of just stabbing in the dark [myself], she kind of said, "Here are some things that you should address in your manual."
Whenever I was having difficulty with an employee or employees, I talked with her about that.
What was important in making the mentor relationship work?
I think the fact that she was so willing to share information about her business with me. Some people are very closed-mouthed about their own experiences and they don't want to give away any secrets or anything. She never gave me the impression that she was worried about anything like that at all. Of course, I would have never revealed anything to anybody else that would compromise her business.
Also, it was important to bring her specific subject material or problem areas, or have some idea of where I needed some guidance from her. Although sometimes it's just nice to have somebody to discuss things; to throw things back and forth to somebody who's been in the business. I know a lot of other small-business owners. Everybody is so busy running your own business that you don't always talk with them very often ... about all the things that come up every day.
What advice would you give other business owners interested in working with a mentor?
Particularly at the early stages of your business, it's very beneficial to have someone-in the same business or not-just someone you can talk to about different problems, because you always have something come up that you haven't run across before.
In the mentorship, you should not hesitate to ask questions; don't think they're silly. And find someone you really feel like you can be open with.