Young business woman.

By Alice Williams

Entrepreneurship is an exciting undertaking and in dire need of more women. American Express stated that there are 11.3 million businesses owned by women in the United States compared to 7.8 million in 2007. This is a positive sign of growth among women entrepreneurs, but still pales in comparison to the number of businesses owned by men—only 36.8% of all new entrepreneurs in 2015 were women.

Many of the women who do blaze the path of entrepreneurship may turn to mentors to help them with their business endeavors. Having a mentor is a smart move for women—owning a business can be fraught with challenges that may require the expertise of someone more experienced than yourself. However, while mentors can give you the knowledge you need, sponsors can act as a guiding force in advancing your business and it’s potential. According to the Harvard Business Review, sponsors will purposely use their influence to advocate on behalf of you and your business to those who can open doors, offer valuable capital and more.

The Value of a Sponsor for Women Entrepreneurs

While the term “sponsor” is well-known in the corporate world, it’s still relatively unknown to entrepreneurs. Despite this fact, the value of a sponsor should not be underestimated. Because sponsors are generally professionals with a wide network of connections—such as investors, executives, or distributors—they can use their social capital to open doors for you.

“Sponsors have made a huge difference for me because I view my relationships as critical to my company’s success,” says Georgene Huang, founder of Fairygodboss, a site that reviews jobs and companies for women.  “Women entrepreneurs can really benefit from having sponsors who can vouch for them during fundraising, or introduce them to partners, customers and even future employees.”

While general networking is an important part of entrepreneurship, you need people advocating for your business who are willing to open doors for you. In business, relationships and networks are key to growing and developing your business.

How to Find and Keep a Sponsor

Now that the value of a sponsor has been made abundantly clear, how can you find a sponsor?

“Finding a sponsor is a strategic move in furthering your business as an entrepreneur,” said Garit Boothe, business specialist at Frontier Business Edge. “Be sure to choose sponsors who are willing to reach out to others within the industry to connect you to valuable sources of capital and executives.”

Understand that the relationship with your sponsor must benefit both parties; you want to provide value for your sponsor as well. Think about how your business can be advantageous to your sponsor—will you be able to build his or her brand as a result? Look to professional women’s networks, such as the Ellevate Network, that have been specifically designed to connect women with others who can become a sponsor.

Once you’ve built a network of sponsors, be sure to prove your worth to them. Be on time for meetings, act professional, and show that you value the time your sponsor gives you. Finding a sponsor is half the battle—keeping them as a loyal ally is the other half.

Whether you just started your owned business or have been operating one for years, consider finding yourself a sponsor. The verdict is in: finding a sponsor will help you grow as a woman entrepreneur and advance your business to unprecedented heights.

Alice Williams has written in-depth on a wide variety of topics which include business, technology and social media. She has a masters degree in Communication Studies from San Francisco State University. Follow her at @1alicehw.