It goes without saying that small business owners and entrepreneurs are a unique lot. Very few people can, or will, launch their own business—and many will struggle or fail. So what does it take to not just survive, but thrive? We asked Rochelle Blease, Co-Chair of SCORE Rhode Island and CEO of Breakthrough Growth, for some insights.


Critical Success Skills

  • Empathy. Whether you’re serving client type A, B, or C, or all three, you have to be able to step in the shoes of the customer or clients that you’re serving. It’s not just being a listener, it’s being an active listener. It’s not just watching things and measuring things; it’s doing that with the purpose of really understanding where your clients and prospects are, what they’re thinking, and what they need.

  • Thoughtful decision-making. Those two words are essential, meaning you’ve got to have both. Thoughtfulness is about not making seat-of-the-pants decisions. You’re using information to make a decision, and it’s an active process where there are pros and cons, risks and benefits. Then there’s decision-making, the actual process of committing to left or right, up or down, yes or no.

  • Financial management basics. More and more today, this is critical. It’s the ability to understand how you make money, what your expense base looks like, whether you can afford to do x, y, or z. It doesn’t take a ton of training to have some basic financial acumen, and you don’t need to be a bookkeeper or a number cruncher. You just have to know the different ways that numbers help you make decisions.


Common Advice to Avoid

  • Empty marketing suggestions. This goes for social media in particular. Because it’s just, “Be on Twitter, be on Facebook, be on Instagram, be on Pinterest.” But there’s no plan, no strategy, no objectives. You end up with a tremendous amount of wasted time and very poor messaging. 

  • Being told, “ You need to do everything possible.” I see many businesses trying to do too many things and not focusing on the one or two things that are really going to propel them forward. A good mentor or advisor would tell you, “Hey, that one thing that you’re really, really good at? Go for that. As you’re building customers or clients, then you can grow from there.” 

  • Every idea that overcomplicates things. When I ask clients to articulate what their marketing strategy is, they freeze. And I say, “Well, isn’t it brand awareness and customer acquisition? Isn’t it that simple?” And they’re like, “Oh, I didn’t think that’s what you were going for.” It really is that simple. But we get all wrapped up in stuff, and sometimes we’re led to believe that things are more complicated than they have to be.


The ROI on Mentorship 

  • Mentors are accelerators. I can give you a list of 20 different individuals who have been mentored, by me or someone else, and more rapidly achieved their goals because of it. I need to develop financial acumen? How about I have coffee with a financial analyst who can help me sort through the difference between a profit-and-loss statement and a cash flow statement. Simple as that.

  • You don’t know what you don’t know. For small businesses in particular, you’re wearing many, many hats, and you might wear a couple of them very well. But rarely is there an individual that can wear the legal hat, the finance hat, the HR hat, the product hat, the marketing hat, etc. And if you’re self-aware enough to know you can’t do all of those things, how do you become stronger? You surround yourself with people who can. But it starts with that awareness that you can’t do it all. And sometimes you need an objective, independent third-party perspective to see that, because you’re not carving out time to lift your head up enough and look around you. So a mentor can say, hey, here’s something that you may not even realize you’re doing. 

  • Failing to plan is planning to fail. That’s an adage you may have heard a lot in business. And while mentorship is just a cog, it is part of the plan. It’s going to help you be a little more thoughtful and a little more planful, and it’ll force you to look up every now and again and not miss something big.


In the end, the guidance of a good mentor or two can be crucial for developing those critical success skills—and helping you navigate all the advice you’re going to get, good and bad.

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