Although you may not know it many people already have a mentor. A lot of the time these are informal relationships, more akin to friendships, that might entail a work colleague or business acquaintance offering sage words of advice.
It can even be a more formal arrangement where someone pays a business mentor or coach, or attends a mentoring course or workshop – last year the BPIF launched its own peer mentoring programme to help new print apprentices develop.
Regardless of the form the mentoring takes it’s clear that it’s a valuable personal development tool that can help shape and strengthen the business leaders of the future in any industry sector.
So what’s the best way of taking advantage of the benefits that mentoring offers?
There are a number of people in the printing industry who mentor individuals or who themselves have benefited from mentoring. One person who fits the bill is Stuart Kellock, owner of Label Apeel. He has a few mentors that he has forged relationships with over the years and who he regularly checks in with.
“I’ve built up a group of people over the years and I don’t really think of them as mentors,” says Kellock. “I’ve got one business advisor I’ve known for about 25 years who is a friend and confidant who I can go to any time. I’ve got a guy who is an accountant who I regularly meet up with for drinks and he will mentor me. I’ve also got friends who are counsellors and are more psychological mentors. I look for people who have got adjacent skills – accountants, marketing people and those sorts of things. I don’t want another label printer to speak to. They will just tell me what I already know.”
The conversations he has with the group of mentors he’s assembled are typically informal discussions that take place over lunch or a coffee. Kellock sees mentoring as an ongoing process rather than just reaching out to people for advice when he encounters a problem that he is struggling to overcome.
“You only seek out help when you’re really in the mess, which is probably the worst time to seek out help,” he says. “You have to try and use mentoring consistently and not when you’re only at the bottom and you have nowhere else to go. Try to do it from a positive perspective rather than survival perspective.”
The other thing he thinks that people sometimes get wrong when seeking out a mentor is they purely seek affirmation for their own ideas rather than approaching someone who they know will challenge them.
“The people you want [to mentor you] are people who know you well enough to tell you to stop being a plonker and to rethink your strategy and your thought processes and pull your socks up,” adds Kellock.
Another print industry member who wholeheartedly believes in the power of mentoring is Helen Edwards, founder of East End Prints. Edwards has both acted as a mentor, undertaking portfolio reviews for artists and for friends, and she has also undergone lots of mentoring herself via interactions with business and personal coaches as well as attending leadership courses for entrepreneurs.
“I recently attended a three-hour intensive mindset training course at a hotel for women in leadership positions with 300-400 people,” says Edwards. “I’ve also undergone one to one mentoring. The last one I did was with a trained hypnotist who hypnotised me to find my ‘spirit guide’. I’m quite a sceptic and I found it a bit cranky to start with, but it was really interesting and took me in a different direction. It’s so powerful you can’t ignore it.”
She says that there are lots of different mentoring options available to individuals from face-to-face meetings with business coaches/mentors, through to Zoom webinars, conversations via email and even Facebook groups, where individuals can share their experiences and advice. Like Kellock she says the reason many people seek out mentors is because they’re stuck, but she thinks mentoring should be an ongoing process.
“I don’t think people should seek out just one mentor,” says Edwards. “You need different mentors for different things going on in your life at the time. For instance, at the moment I’m getting some HR mentoring for gaps in my knowledge.”
Simon Biltcliffe, CEO of Webmart, is another big believer in the power of mentoring. In addition to signing up for the BPIF’s mentoring programme and being an ‘entrepreneur in residence’ with the business group Connect Yorkshire, which helps companies in the county to prosper, Biltcliffe also acts as a mentor for a number of different individuals he has encountered during his career, including former Webmart colleagues.
Quite a lot of mentoring he undertakes is done over the phone while he is in the car driving to meetings. In addition, he regularly meets up with people for a coffee, beer or lunch to talk through their issues.
“Mentoring doesn’t have to be named a mentoring session – it can be whatever you want it to be,” says Biltcliffe. “The key is it has to have honesty, transparency and trust. Your role [as a mentor] is to be a critical friend. The critical friend role is quite critical – no pun intended – in that you are a friend so you’re doing it for the other person’s best interest and you have high regard for them as a person and you like dealing with them, and you’re also critical in that you’re contextualising and challenging.”
He believes that mentoring works best if there is a personal chemistry between the different parties taking part in it. Biltcliffe also thinks it helps if the person doling out the advice has some kind of understanding of the role and/or industry of the person they are mentoring.
“If you don’t understand the role they’re doing and if you don’t understand their industry or marketplace, it can be more challenging and it takes time to understand the dynamics so that you can offer better advice,” says Biltcliffe.
He adds that mentoring isn’t solely about the sage words of wisdom that you offer someone. It’s also about using your own business contacts to help connect people to individuals who can support them and also steering them towards other resources that might be useful or of interest to them.
“I saw someone recently who I have seen for six or so years who is from the vintage clothing sector,” says Biltcliffe. “He’s a really nice guy who is doing really well now and he just needed a big of guidance. He bought me a meal and we had a chat about how things are going and what his issues are. I introduced him to a book called Traction, which I strongly recommend to most people. I also tell people about interesting podcasts, so it’s not just bits of advice every now and then.”
Biltcliffe doesn’t charge for his time. He simply gets a kick out of helping other people as too does Anne Smith co-founder of Touch Graphic, who also acts as a business coach/mentor at Amyas Coaching. In her “past life” Smith was a director of nursing in the NHS and became a Level 7 ILM accredited executive coach and mentor. Smith – who founded Touch primarily to help young people get into work – says that mentoring can take many different forms.
“I live in Cardiff, but I coach and mentor people in Canada,” says Smith. “Thanks to Skype and FaceTime, you don’t have to be in the same room as someone.”
For her, mentoring is all about making people’s lives better and making them feel valued. “I think mentoring is a way of life,” explains Smith. “It’s a mindset. I like to think that the people I mentor and coach will put the practices [I teach them] into place in their own life, so anyone they interact with will also use the skills and techniques I’m sharing with them.”
She adds that a good mentor and coach brings out the best in people. Whether that’s enabling them to “find the answer inside them or allowing them the space to actually voice that thought,” says Smith. “It’s allowing people the space to be and to grow and to make mistakes. It’s equally as important for people to recognise that you can learn as much, or even more, from a mistake as you can than doing things right all the time.”
Smith believes that mentoring is an incredibly powerful tool and that everyone should seek out their own mentor or coach to ensure they are able to – in Bob Proctor’s words – bring out that inner talent and ability that many of us don’t always see in ourselves.