4.09.2014

Small business owners: me and my mentor

By Suzanne Bearne, theguardian.com,

Mentor rock climbing
. Photograph: Kevin Arnold/Getty

Three entrepreneurs discuss the mentors who either inspired them to start up or helped them when the going got tough

Having a mentor behind your business can encourage you to strive for success

 Heike Schnell, founder of the luxury yoga and pilates brand Wellicious

I first met Kathrin when she came round my house with a mutual friend. We were sitting around the kitchen table and she gave me some insights into running a clothing label and how to optimise the designs. We never officially discussed the idea that Kathrin would be my mentor, it just evolved naturally – that's why we probably work so well together. As Wellicious began to grow we started to work together more, with Kathrin providing not just valuable insights on the design process of the brand, but also how to manage my team. She also gave me guidance on the brand strategy we implemented, but in particular she has greatly improved our design and production processes.
She's really good at having an honest and open mind in various situations, providing me with a clear picture of the company – one that I may have missed as I become so involved in the brand.
Kathrin inspires me because she always remains calm. If there's ever a day when the challenges seem particularly tough or she can tell that I am becoming anxious about something, she encourages me to continue and helps me return to a state of calmness.
Heike's mentor: Kathrin Huesgen, owner of her eponymous strategic design consultancy
Heike is unbelievably strong, yet she is not scared of taking advice on board, which is a great combination. I hardly ever insist on anything as I believe there simply isn't one way of doing things, and so we work together well, learning from and listening to each other.
Where I am hopefully able to add value to the business is on a strategic level and giving her the confidence to continually adapt the strategy according to the needs of the company and the individuals within. Inevitably it hasn't always been easy, but even in financially and emotionally taxing times, Heike and her team have showed the determination, drive and, most importantly, the belief in the business to move forward.

Bryce Keane, founder and director of Albion Drive, a PR and social agency for entrepreneurs, and co-founder of startup networking event organisers 3beards

It wasn't until I met Jason more than three years ago, when I was working as an external PR for his agency, that I came across the startup scene and met a cluster of weird and wonderful tech people in east London. Entering his world of entrepreneurs and startups encouraged me to go to events in Shoreditch and that's where I ended up meeting my future 3beards business partners.
Around this time I actually stopped working with Jason as a client but as 3beards started to grow, we would catch up for a beer and I'd ask him for advice. He identified the value of what we were doing – bringing the tech community together in a focused way – and was a big supporter. He'd always ask me if I needed help and connections, and he's introduced me to great founders and investors. Jason's such a facilitator. I joke with him that he's the Don Draper of startups.
Jason approached me a couple of years ago to start Albion Drive with him. He said he wanted PR in-house and wanted me to start an agency for entrepreneurs with him. I was 28 years old and I could have stayed in corporate PR but he took a risk on me and trusted me to hire people. I don't know anyone else who would take that risk.
He's taught me how to hustle, and how to still be genuine but go after what you want. He taught me that people are always going to tell you you're rubbish until you prove them wrong.
Bryce's mentor: Jason Goodman, founder and chief executive of creative agency Albion
Even though Bryce and I always engaged on a personal level, which is crucial in any business relationship, there's always been mutual respect for one another. That's really important if there's some sort of mentoring between you.
Mentoring has been both informal and formal. Bryce feels comfortable in turning to me when he needs help in any way. He's got my implicit support. Sometimes when you're inexperienced in managing a team, you can make classic mistakes and I've tried to tell him what these are and if I see any signs, I tell him he's making that classic mistake and explain why. But mentoring is also about knowing when to back off and give space.

Rachel Galley, jewellery designer

I entered my company into Walpole's Brands of Tomorrow programme, which was like Dragons' Den as I had to present my brand and ideas to judges. I was accepted along with seven other businesses and the programme involved having access to a mentor for a year.
My mentor is Maurice Helfgott. We've met about half a dozen times and we've talked through different areas, such as branding and price points. He asks me questions and makes me think about where I want to take the brand. I'd been in a state of flux for the past year and was nervous about making a decision about how I wanted the company to be. I'm so close to every single product I make, it's hard to take a step back and think about how you want the company to move forward – Maurice told me not to panic and told me to just enjoy the process.
As a result our mentoring, I've really dissected the company and put it back together again. He's given me so much reassurance of what I can achieve.
Rachel's mentor: Maurice Helfgott, founder of Amery Capital
My mentoring with Rachel involves listening to her ambitions, goals, understanding her business model and helping her to identify the resources to make progress.
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