Paying it forward
Most businesses can benefit from a mentor and it’s often a partnership both sides will benefit from. Speak to any successful business person and it’s likely they’ll tell you about a particular person that inspired and spurred them on. These people, their mentors, are an invaluable source of advice, guidance and inspiration, and a good mentor […]
Most businesses can benefit from a mentor and it’s often a partnership both sides will benefit from.
Speak to any successful business person and it’s likely they’ll tell you about a particular person that inspired and spurred them on.
These people, their mentors, are an invaluable source of advice, guidance and inspiration, and a good mentor can have a profound effect on a business.
Miles Maitland is one of those people. For the past 13 years Miles has worked as a volunteer business mentor and in that time has mentored 162 Wellington businesses through the ups and downs of running a business.
Connecting Miles with business owners is Business Mentors New Zealand. The not-for-profit organization, established in 1991, works in every region of New Zealand, pairing businesses to local mentors based on their needs and goals.
For 25 years Business Mentors has been at the core of Kiwis helping Kiwis get along in business. In this time its small army of dedicated volunteers has supported over 70,000 SMEs around the country.
Miles became a mentor just before retiring. This followed a career that saw him move from Westport, where he grew up, to Wellington and then Christchurch, working in the banking and finance industry, before settling in Wellington and switching careers to real estate.
When the opportunity arose, Miles purchased the Harcourts Real Estate franchise he was managing and went on to successfully grow the business from five employees to 25 licensed real estate agents.
Currently, Miles meets with about four to five businesses per week. At most, he has mentored approximately 15 businesses at once. The process involves an initial meeting to gauge an understanding of the goals or challenges the business is facing, and the urgency of any issues. From this, Miles can determine whether the business’s needs match up with his knowledge and skills.
“This is a crucial element of the mentoring process; it’s all about getting a good match,” he says.
Although mentoring is never easy, Miles says he gets satisfaction from the challenge each new business brings. “No two businesses are ever the same, every business owner I meet with is different, which is why I enjoy it.
“Some are easier to work with than others, there have been a few tough nuts to crack, but I don’t let that stop me.”
Listen and learn
Sometimes the first challenge is establishing communication with the business itself.
Miles finds the businesses that enjoy the most success from a mentoring partnership are those that are open and willing to listen and learn.
One such business was James Henry Joinery and Flooring. When Miles first connected with Chris, the owner, six years ago, he was a sole trader. Chris was operating out of a small warehouse, taking used timber and recycling it into high-quality flooring.
For Miles it was Chris’s eagerness to learn and willingness to communicate openly about the business that created a positive mentoring relationship.
“As a mentor, Miles was able to not only offer useful advice, but he also challenged my thinking and became someone I could bounce ideas off,” says Chris.
“Meeting Miles proved incredibly useful; it helped me stay focused and made me think about how I managed my time and staffing decisions.”
There is no denying owning a business is not an easy path to choose, one that Miles knows well. “It’s bloody hard work running a business. I often see businesses across different industries facing the same challenges.”
Miles cites lack of capital, time management and staffing issues among the most common challenges for the businesses he mentors. Hiring and training employees, in particular, are big commitments for SMEs, but excellent examples of challenges that can be navigated confidently with the help of a mentor.
Mentors are committed, passionate individuals from a range of industries, who give up their time to share their business experience. For 12 months, the mentor works with the business as a soundboard, regularly meeting to provide new perspectives, advice and guidance. They work diligently, often with several businesses at a time.
Just like Miles, most mentors sign up with Business Mentors as a way of paying forward the knowledge and experience that has been passed down to them.
This concept of paying it forward is important to Miles. “I distinctly remember two occasions in my career when I needed to look outside of my organisation for help,” he says. “The advice I received was invaluable and played a big part in the eventual success of my business, so paying forward the advice and guidance I received from mentors was the motivation behind becoming a mentor myself.”
Overseeing the process of matching mentors to businesses is Business Mentors general manager, Lisa Ford. She has worked at the organisation for the past four years and is passionate about the work mentors are doing to help business owners reach their full potential.
“We never get tired of hearing about positive mentoring stories, such as Miles and Chris,” says Lisa. “Our mentors are experienced business people who have a wealth of knowledge to offer, but their ability to bring a fresh perspective to the table really supports business owners in the decision making process.
“We want businesses in New Zealand to think of mentoring as a positive step forward, a proactive action to enhance their business,” adds Lisa. “Mentoring can be perceived as a bottom of the cliff solution, but it doesn’t need to be. Even successful businesses can benefit from a mentor; it can be a very smart decision to make.”
In its 25th year Business Mentors New Zealand is looking to the future, itself aiming for growth and seeking to increase the number of businesses being mentored across the country.