Q&A: Home is where the mentoring is
Sarah Trotman has returned to her mentoring roots as CEO of Business Mentors New Zealand. NZBusiness asked her what it’s like to once again be at the cutting edge of mentoring in this country.
Sarah Trotman needs little introduction in New Zealand business circles. The businesswoman, community advocate and former business expo entrepreneur has returned to her mentoring roots as CEO of Business Mentors New Zealand, leading a team of experienced volunteers to advise business owners in these challenging times.
NZB: How does it feel to be back in charge of the organisation you led when it was known as Business In The Community? And what are some of the biggest differences between your job then and now?
SARAH: It feels wonderful, like I’ve come home! Business support and business ownership has been at the core of my 30 year career, so it was a logical next move to step up and lead an organisation that is at the heart of a Covid recovery response for businesses.
Of course, something that never changes is that great staff make for a great organisation – I’m so thrilled to have joined such an exceptional team.
Business Mentors has over 2,000 business mentors, all giving their time for free. I’ve noticed a deep commitment by our mentors to ensure they are informed on complex issues, such as the Future of Work and the positive impact of artificial intelligence (AI) on business.
Business is much more complex these days, it’s not uncommon for a business owner client to have a secondary mentor – one that has specialist experience with a particular pain-point.
NZB: When you look at the impact of Covid-19 on our SMB community – what concerns you the most? And what surprises you?
SARAH: I’m really concerned that many business owners haven’t looked at a worst case scenario for their business. It can be very difficult to confront having to reforecast, say, a retail, events or hospitality business that has lost more than 80 percent of its revenue.
Many business owners have their life savings, including the family home, tied up in their business and they need to take a hard look at the new world they’re operating in.
That said, I’m incredibly impressed with the resilience of business owners as they navigate these times. Many are bringing their staff, customers and suppliers with them on the journey to recovery. That gives them so much more confidence.
NZB: How has the pandemic impacted directly on the way BMNZ operates and the services it provides?
SARAH: The need for business mentoring has soared since Covid’s arrival. Many of our 17 agencies across the country are recording more than a 400 percent increase in demand – and across all sectors.
We’ve been grateful to the Government, through MBIE and NZTE, for recognising the importance of mentoring at this time, and stepping up its support of Business Mentors NZ since Covid struck.
More than ever before, business owners are needing an experienced business mentor to talk their challenges over. Thankfully our mentors have stepped up to the challenge of increased workload and we are recruiting quality mentors at double the rate of this time last year.
NZB: From the feedback you’re getting from BMNZ’s mentors, what are the most common concerns of business owners?
SARAH: We’re seeing high demand for support with questions around business hibernation, e-commerce, digital marketing, creditor negotiations and, of course, the all-important cashflow management. Many business owners reaching out for mentoring are scared about what the future holds for them and their staff. Fear can stop people in their tracks. Many mentors are just helping business owners to prioritise key next steps.
NZB: What are some of the important initiatives BMNZ has under way or planned to assist business owners?
SARAH: We currently have a strong push to strengthen our relationships with trade associations, sector groups and Council-supported business associations. These organisations have a macro view of key issues facing their members, and this helps us inform our mentors of potential pain points for businesses.
We’re also strengthening our support for mentors, from virtual mentor training to upskilling on how to get the most from mentoring online.
We are putting our 17 agencies, who match clients with mentors, at the heart of everything we do. They know their regions, mentors and clients better than we ever will. If we deliver a world-class service to them they, in turn, will deliver a world-class service to Aotearoa New Zealand’s business owners.
BMNZ celebrates 30 years next year, so of course we’ll celebrate that in style. We’ve mentored over 75,000 businesses since we were founded in 1991 by Dr Grahame Craig and Bill Hall of Woolrest fame.
We have a lot of people to thank, acknowledge and celebrate. One of the most important of those is the late Sir James Fletcher. We all recognise that it was Sir James’ deep sense of community spirit and belief in small businesses that truly put mentoring on business owners’ ‘must do’ list.
NZB: Can you share some inspiring stories about BMNZ mentors helping owners grow their businesses in the face of Covid-19?
SARAH: Rose Gould-Lardelli and Derek Lardelli from Lardelli Arts in Gisborne make a great example. They enlisted the help of engineer and entrepreneur Georg Winkler to bring more cohesion to the different facets of their business. They say they can now see opportunities they couldn’t see before and Georg’s mentoring advice definitely helped clarify things.
Another standout example is Darran Rowe and his dog training business Mindfulness4Dog. Darran was introduced to online marketing expert and business mentor Sarah Imeson and with her help was able to take his business to the next level with enthusiasm and determination.
You’ll find many inspiring stories on our blog.businessmentors.org.nz page.
NZB: What advice do you have for business owners still struggling and uncertain about the future?
SARAH: Get a mentor. Talk to someone with business experience. Friends and family may mean well but they often don’t have the skills to help in a productive way.
Know that you are not alone and it’s OK if you don’t have a clear path forward. Being in business is complex enough without having to deal with a pandemic too!
There is a wide range of support for the country’s business owners, look for it. Be proactive.
NZB: Why do you think mentoring is just as important, if not more important, now than back in your BITC days?
SARAH: I said it 20 years ago when I joined Business Mentors the first time, and I still say it: “Running a business is more complex than parenting. Not even the best of business owners know everything there is to know about how to be successful in business”.
I think the value of having a mentor in these difficult times is best summed up by a quote from one of our clients just yesterday: “After an hour with my mentor I had a new and exciting direction for my business and a significantly more positive attitude to the future”.