Eight months into his role as CEO of Business Mentors New Zealand, Craig Garner highlights the importance of mentoring to business owners and shares the latest initiatives from his organisation.
Electrician Mark Dudfield believes that if everyone knew about Business Mentors New Zealand (BMNZ), there wouldn’t be enough mentors to cope with the demand. And considering BMNZ currently have more than 2000 mentors, that’s saying something.
Eighteen months ago Mark lacked the confidence or knowledge to move his business forward. But thanks to a newfound confidence he attributes to his business mentor Ross Kennedy, Mark is already looking to expand beyond his hometown of Cambridge.
Now, as a result of Ross’s encouragement and advice he doesn’t let anything hold him back. “Before I wouldn’t have put out certain goals that I do now,” explains Mark. “I would have thought I wasn’t good enough.”
After every meeting with Ross, Mark says he feels driven, encouraged and calmer.
Ross, on the other hand, says now that Mark knows more about the business he operates, he “understands the business he originally wanted to build”.
All that support and advice seems to have paid off with Mark having recently hired his first employee – something that he and wife Sarah wouldn’t have contemplated 18 months ago.
For Craig Garner, who has held the CEO’s reins at BMNZ for the past eight months, success stories like Mark’s – of which there are many – make his job worthwhile, and provide the inspiration to take his organisation to an even higher level.
Craig believes no matter how experienced we are in business or what stage the business is at, there’ll always be a need for human interaction and sound advice based on experience. And there seems to be a greater need for people wanting help to declutter and simplify their busy workloads.
Today, mentors span the generations. “Adding to our valuable pool of senior, and retired business people, BMNZ is seeing increasing numbers of younger mentors volunteering to bring with them specialist skills,” says Craig.
In 2019, with advances in technology and the need to ensure data security, his organisation is also upgrading its computer systems, server platform, website and client/mentor management systems to keep pace with the demand and expectations of agencies, clients and mentors.
BMNZ invests in the professional development of its mentor pool too. “We have introduced a monthly webinar series that addresses relevant small business issues,” explains Craig. “To date we have discussed health and safety and succession planning, with 400 individuals registering for the first webinar and excellent post-session feedback.”
A new Roadshow Series this year gives mentors and clients in the regions a chance to network and gain access to subject matter expertise – all with the help of partner supporters.
“We’re aware that small business owners are time poor and we’re confident that the format of our roadshows will be unique,” says Craig. “Not only will the content be relevant to our small business sector but gaining access to supporting mentor follow-up will be of high value to participants.”
The most recent BMNZ Customer Monitor Survey, which monitors the organisation’s service and interactions between mentors and customers, was the best ever, says Craig, “proving that the interactions we are creating are successful and valued.”
Feedback also reinforces the fact that isolation is a significant concern for business owners.
Research1 shows that 80 percent of SME owners at one point have felt this sense of isolation and that isolation was more of a challenge than financial worries (54 percent), mental and physical exhaustion (50 percent) and customer attraction and retention (41 percent).
Brian Slingsby, a mentor with more than 40 years’ experience in packaging and manufacturing, says that feelings of isolation are rarely discussed, yet are incredibly common.
“A lot of SME owners tell us they need support in removing obstacles that are frustrating their plans to grow their business. Reaching out for help and advice from an experienced mentor can be invaluable in providing the extra momentum needed to push the business forward to a greater level of success.”
BMNZ gives business owners a chance to learn from a trusted advisor who’s removed from emotional or financial investment in the business,” says Craig. “Our mentors offer their hard-earnt experience and the opportunity for small business owners to realise their potential, test new ideas and to avoid mistakes made by others.”
Interestingly, Craig’s association with the BMNZ service dates back to 2001. As CEO of the Tauranga Chamber of Commerce, he was agency manager for the BOP mentoring programme and quickly realised its value and importance for cost-effectively linking experienced and new business people together. He also worked as a volunteer mentor in Tauranga and Auckland, worked with the BMNZ National Office on several projects, and has experience across a range of sectors.
“The roles in senior management, starting my businesses and working in adult education, including HR, leadership and health and safety training has meant start-up business and business development have always been at the core of my career and personal interest,” he says.
Craig says the age-old saying ‘give a person a fish and you feed them for a day; teach a person how to fish, and you will feed them for a lifetime’ applies to mentoring.
“If you want an issue fixed in your business, then pay a consultant to fix it for you. If you want to be a better business person, then get a mentor to help you be better at running your business.”
The limitation in client/mentor relationships is when clients are uncommitted, close-minded, unrealistic in their expectations of the mentor’s role, or unwilling to change, he says.
“Mentors are with clients for a limited time, and business development is a never-ending process. As a client, if you are willing to push yourself, open to critique, able to accept – or at least attempt – change, and remain committed to the process and agreed goals and actions, then the outcomes will be positive for all involved.
“We’ve seen numerous examples of businesses that were near closure, and as a result of new thinking, new action and renewed energy have transformed into award-winning and highly profitable ventures.”
Business Mentors New Zealand is aligned with NZTE’s Regional Business Partnership and has 14 agencies nationwide. To learn more about its services, including the 2019 Roadshow Series, go to www.businessmentors.org.nz
1 From BMNZ’s white paper “The State of SME”.