Photography by Heather Ellis
When Larina Tiffen wanted a change following the Christchurch earthquakes, she took a punt and bought a food truck. Fast forward two years and Miss Lilly’s was named the best New Emerging Business and the People’s Choice winner at the North Canterbury Business Awards.
But on her road to success, things we’re not always smooth travelling.
Larina did struggle a bit to get the new business the attention it deserved initially, so she did what hundreds of business owners do each year: she got a business mentor.
“It was the best thing that’s ever happened to me,” she says now.
“My business mentor encouraged me to think outside the box and do things I could not manage by myself.”
Jill Taiaroa from the Canterbury Development Corporation (CDC) believes a business mentor can help business owners of all kinds, whether it’s just a couple of meetings to solve some simple issues, or a relationship spanning years.
Here she talks through the variety of reasons a business mentor may be right for you.
You need a fresh (and impartial) pair of eyes
“There’s a variety of reasons to get a business mentor, but probably the best one of all is the fact that it’s an independent view and somebody sharing their expertise and they don’t have any other agenda.
“They’re not from the bank, not from the IRD, they are volunteers. You don’t have people in there giving their time to share their expertise and experience that don’t want to do it. It’s the best type of person you can possibly get. They’re just there because they want to help the other person to do better.”
You’re new in business and a little unsure of yourself
Building a business from scratch is a tough job, and especially if you’re new to it, it doesn’t take long to learn you don’t have all the answers.
“Often business owners are not confident in their planning or their decision making so they want to run it past someone else.
“The advice people need ranges across the board from everything. It could be an HR problem today, it could be finance, marketing, it could be they are going to open in a new area somewhere else, or they are going to start exporting.
“Whatever it is, a mentor can be paired up to suit their needs.”
You’ve been in business a while but it’s getting stale
“Some businesses that come in are 20 years old where the people have become really jaded and quite stale, and they recognise that and think it would be nice to have somebody else with a fresh pair of eyes come in, look over and say what they would do with the business.”
You have a problem to solve
Sometimes you know what your problem is, but finding the right answer yourself is doing nothing but creating sleepless nights, whether due to inexperience, being too immersed in the project, or it’s just something no one anticipated, the latter of which Jill has experienced.
“Immediately following the earthquakes, the CDC had a surge of requests for mentors from long-established businesses who needed help to adapt to the new challenges they were all facing,” Jill says.
“They’ve had so much disruption after the earthquakes they’ve had to relocate, lost half their staff, lost their customer base, they’ve really gone back into start up mode again, so needed mentoring from a start-up point of view.”
You have a problem to solve, but don’t know what it is
However, sometimes the issues that need solving are not so obvious.
“When people sign up, we often find what they think they need and what they actually need are quite different,” Jill explains.
“They say they need a marketing mentor because they need more customers, but when you press that point and talk a bit more about their financials, you would then find out that what their actual problem is they need to get the money out of their existing customers. What they perceive as marketing was actually credit control.
“That’s the fresh eyes coming in.”
You need to air some thoughts
“Strangely enough,” Jill says, “a lot of people end up answering their own questions by explaining them to a mentor.
“They begin by telling them ‘I plan to do this, this, and this,’ and by airing it, it clarified the picture and they often see if it’s a good thing or a bad thing just by talking it through to somebody.”
You need to get with the times
“While most people have been forced either by the competitors or the customers or suppliers to move forward, there are still some also-rans that need some digital guidance.
“There’s still people who don’t really understand websites, what they are and what you should have on one, but I think you’re always going to have that. Even if a business is reluctant, they have to adopt email, payment online, etc. It’s either a sink or swim situation, and a business mentor can help guide that transition.”