Let's Talk Mentoring...
How many times do we hear the saying, a problem shared is a problem halved? I hear it all too often when running my own business but what does that saying really mean? Well, for me, it takes me straight to a business passion of mine. Mentoring.
It’s no stretch of the truth to say that mentoring saved my business. In 2002, PCL Group suffered a bad debt when a client whom we were working with on a sizeable project simply ran out of money and left us high and dry. Despite running credit checks and undertaking due diligence, we were left totally exposed and even the bank told us we were unlikely to survive and should just throw in the towel.
PCL Group faced a three-year court battle to try and obtain even 50% of what we were owed so we could pay our equipment suppliers the value of £90K as well as legal fees of £58K. We struggled to keep trading and get ourselves in a position to fund some very large contracts that were coming our way. To say this period was fraught is an understatement but finding a business mentor was a major turning point.
Now don’t for one minute think that a business mentor is going to become your fairy godmother or godfather and get rid of whatever it is that is causing you angst. Absolutely not. But what you are going to realise very quickly is that you are suddenly no longer alone with this problem, issue or idea. That person who is your mentor will always have your best interests at heart, become your friend; a confidant, your rock, irrespective of what time, day or night. No matter how you describe this person, he or she will play a very important part in your business and more often than not, your personal life.
When I took the decision to try and trade out of the position PCL Group found themselves in, little did I know what was to unfold over a period of three years. Trying to stay in business was a challenge but more importantly, retaining the credibility that I had worked so hard to obtain over 32 years was the ultimate goal.
I had to deal with situations such as the bank manager arriving at 5pm one Friday evening to tell me to lock the door and push the keys through the letterbox because I was never going to trade out of this position. At moments like these, it was my business mentor who helped me find the positive reasons to carry-on when it would have been so much easier to give up.
When the HMRC demand letters came in the mail and I could not even afford to replace the tea and coffee, let alone pay the PAYE/NI or the VAT, it was my business mentor who helped me to have those difficult conversations with the Revenue. When my 31 year marriage finally failed because of the stress we were both under, it was my business mentor who told me to toughen up, when all I wanted was death by duvet.
So why do you need a mentor? Well, I hope my own story has provided an example of how valuable a mentor can be in any business. Over the past 17 years, I can honestly say that I have had some of the best advice and support, totally independent, practical, honest and best of all, for free. It was given without expectation or agenda, simply because my mentor wanted to give something back, he wanted to support someone whom he respected and to share the wealth of experience he had accrued over many decades in business. I can say without hesitation that without my business mentor, PCL Group wouldn’t be around today and because of how vital this relationship has been to me, I’m passionate about helping others to benefit from mentoring as well. I have mentees whom I work with closely, because it is so important to keep paying it forward, to share your experience and help nurture the next generation of business leaders.
It’s also why I’m on the Advisory Board for Women’s Business Mentoring, the first collaboration of its kind between Scottish Chambers of Commerce and Women’s Enterprise Scotland.
The programme aims to create a self-sustaining, collaborative environment where women from across Scotland, whatever stage of their business, can access a likeminded mentor who will work with them on negotiating the next step of their enterprise journey. Leading by example creates the next generation of successful female business owners and together, we can achieve so much.
Jeanette Forbes is the Founder and Chief Executive of Aberdeen-based ICT services
company PCL Group. She is a Women’s Enterprise Scotland Ambassador and
She won the Best Female Mentor UK Award from the British Chamber of Commerce “Excellence in Women’s Enterprise and Mentoring” in 2014.