Usually, the success stories we share are about the relationships between company owners and their SCORE mentors. But sometimes, a company’s employee works with SCORE and plays a huge part in the business’s success.
That’s how Customer Program Manager Adam Stolz of Zepher met SCORE.
Zepher’s history dates back to 2002, when professional engineer Jaime Mack founded a structural composites engineering company. Soon after, she was asked to take a lead role as an engineering design lead, and her husband, Andy, took the helm at Zepher. He repurposed it as a contract manufacturer, working closely with the aerospace industry. Today, Zepher specializes in manufacturing solutions for unmanned aircraft.
“Since we are involved in technology development for government agencies, unmanned systems, and commercial aerospace, we need to remain on the cutting edge of knowledge and continually improve our execution speed to match the fast pace of market change,” Stolz says.
Mack, Stolz, and the Zepher team were well versed in analyzing new opportunities and maintaining the company’s competitive edge, but Mack wanted guidance to attract new customers to his growing endeavor.
Build your professional skills alongside business success
After Mack met SCORE mentor Larry Bunyard at a Portland, Oregon-area economic development event, he introduced Bunyard to his employee, Adam Stolz. The pair scheduled one-on-one meetings to determine the most valuable way to present Zepher for new customer opportunities.
Over the course of three years, Bunyard helped Stolz develop value statements, capabilities statements, marketing materials and communications strategies. “Larry has helped me gain confidence in our company’s position, message, terminology, objectives, and process,” Stolz says.
Since working with Bunyard, Stolz reports a 30-percent increase in hiring and a 30-percent increase in Zepher’s customer base. “Our growth projects for the coming years are significant as well,” he notes.
“I feel stronger as a professional in this industry and in my role within the company,” Stolz says. “I am excited to continue working with Larry. We still have more to improve upon, and I still have more to learn from SCORE.”
Working with a mentor: challenging, but rewarding
“Getting a mentor can be challenging to your ego if you’re a hard-charging business executive who wants to believe in your own strength, agility and resourcefulness,” Stolz admits. He says that working with a mentor to understand your target market and growth plans is important, but you should also understand your baseline before plotting your path forward.
“What are your capabilities, strengths and weaknesses?” Stolz challenges entrepreneurs to consider. “It’s important to understand weaknesses in capabilities aren’t necessarily issues you need to address — they just show you what portions of the market you shouldn’t spend time and resources pursuing.”
Stolz offers some best practices for other business owners and employees hoping to make progress by working with a mentor. First, define your goals and objectives, so your mentor knows how to help you. “They should be able to reiterate your pain points,” Stolz says. “This effort creates a common communication foundation and improves the quality of the knowledge exchange.”
In addition, focus on tangibles during your meetings. Bring an agenda, debrief your mentor on previous action items, and create new action items to encourage progress. “Question anything the mentor says that you do not understand, as these are great learning opportunities,” Stolz advises. “SCORE mentors are professionals with great experience and insight. Learn everything you can from them.”
Want to get experience and insight from your own SCORE mentor? Find a chapter near you to get started.