Nik Payne and Sarah Delany of Mount Deluxe, a boutique Auckland design agency, are evangelists for business mentoring.
The couple, who have been together for 15 years, both qualified with visual communications degrees after meeting at design school in Wellington.
“We worked in New Zealand for four years and then from 2004 had five years in London,” Sarah explains. “We always knew we wanted our own company one day but we wanted to get that international experience.”
Sarah worked with a range of education-based clients such as Granada Learning while Nik was a graphic designer in the fashion industry. But after a while they both started to feel pigeon holed and wanted to spread their creative wings.
“We had a great time overseas but it was time to come home,” says Nik. “We came back to New Zealand in late 2008 and set up Mount Deluxe design in a small apartment in the Beaumont Quarter. We still had some clients in the UK so we were being paid in pounds sterling when that was high. In the meantime we were starting to get some New Zealand clients, although no one really knew of Mount Deluxe.”
After relocating to Northcote Point on Auckland’s North Shore, Nik saw a TV advert about business mentoring and around the same time recalls seeing a story in the local council newsletter about business mentors.
“We had been to some networking events but were mostly hanging out with other designers,” says Sarah. “We really needed advice on what to charge and strategic counsel on the next steps in growing the business.
“Greg Bateman, our business mentor, came to us with an accounting background, so he had quite a different viewpoint from ours. After the second or third meeting we just clicked. We were coming in as graphic designers who knew our jobs but we did not have the business experience and nous to work smarter.”
Nik agrees. “We were going to Designers Institute events when we should have been going to networking breakfasts and Chamber of Commerce meetings. Greg explained that’s where our prospective clients were. We needed a change of mindset to being a business that happens to do graphic design rather than graphic designers who are in a business. We discovered that there is a lot of satisfaction in running a business well.”
“We always said we wanted to work with people we like and be our own bosses for lifestyle reasons, but through the mentoring process I think we learned to respect each other and to realise that there is no place for inflated egos,” says Sarah. “We are both designers but there are also very different things that need doing in the business and we have become better at identifying the things we’re good at. So while we are both networking, Nik is doing more of the business development, as well as the accounts.”
Nik says Greg suggested a project management system to monitor how their time was being spent. “Tracking our time has helped a lot. Then there were the tips on how far to push the pricing. We discussed the difference between project management, account management and chargeable design time. Greg helped us identify the time we were not charging and made us think about the value of what we were offering. The next step was making the invisible visible so our clients could understand what is involved in the design process.”
Sarah is enthusiastic about the results. “We’ve been in business for three and a half years and although we finished our mentoring with Greg earlier this year, we have kept in touch. He helped us become accountable and more professional in a business sense. We went from being employees to business people. It has been a massively positive experience.”
Nik points out that their time with their mentor is the only time they were forced to step back from the day to day activity and think about what they were doing. “We often went into our meetings with Greg frazzled but came out calm. I want to keep learning – there are more secrets out there that we are yet to discover.”
Mount Deluxe is now housed in a smart Ponsonby villa with a range of clients including brand, identity and food packaging, but the couple have plans to hire staff and move to bigger premises.
“We have tripled our income since working with Greg,” says Sarah. “We’re now getting out and networking where our ideal clients are hanging out. We need to find the right space and work out who the ideal people are to help us grow Mount Deluxe. It feels like it’s a really big next step.”
Mentoring made easy
Business Mentors New Zealand provides access to a wide variety of volunteer mentors (who provide their experience, skill and knowledge free of charge). The focus of the organisation is on developing capability, profitability, and employment generation. Since the organisation was established in 1991, Business Mentors NZ has assisted over 60,000 small to medium businesses. It is funded largely by patrons from the private sector, with additional support from New Zealand Trade and Enterprise. It provides a mentoring service to any businesses that are trading with evidence of accounts.
The $150 registration fee allows mentoring for up to two years. The term of the relationship with a mentor depends on the objectives and goals both client and mentor jointly agree upon.
One of a business mentor’s main roles is to act as both sounding board and brainstorming partner. A mentor can help a business owner take a step back from the company and take a look at the ‘bigger picture’. A mentor can assist in identifying strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats that may have been missed. A mentor may also help the business owner refocus on their business goals and offer advice on strategies to better achieve them.
For more information on Business Mentors NZ go to www.businessmentors.org.nz or call 0800 209 209. Peter Boyes is a volunteer business mentor and director of Boyes Public Relations, a brand and marketing communications consultancy. www.boyespr.co.nz