Mentors can put the spark back into your business
While business mentors and coaches were perhaps seen as an American fad in the past, they are fast becoming a popular solution for Irish business owners in need of help and encouragement. As well as having extensive experience and expertise, mentors and coaches offer an outsider's perspective and support.
Michael Shinnick, owner of The Business Practice, has been a mentor for the past ten years. An accountant by profession, Shinnick has experience in investment management and asset management. He says that there is no problem he hasn't seen.
"When I meet people first, I usually get them to give me the good, the bad and the ugly of the business. I have seen it all at this stage. It can be quite a consolation when people realise that they are not the only ones."
Shinnick says that it is important for business owners to keep the spark alive in a company and venture outside of their comfort zone.
"I come across a lot of business owners who have just lost their mojo. I try to get them excited about the business and fall in love with it again. They need to stretch themselves, try different things and get enthused about their business. Their team do too; a team that is just trundling along is a bad reflection on the business owner themselves."
Establishing and following a business plan is essential for success, according to Shinnick.
"A lot of businesses have no plan and are just going from day to day and week to week. It's a bit like the film Groundhog Day. Business owners often tell me they are 20 years in their business but for many, that mean one year photocopied 20 times. There needs to be a plan that tells you what the company's direction is," he says.
Shinnick says that businesses are now realising that they need to move beyond survival mode and up their game.
"There is a real degree of frustration out there no, as businesses feel beaten up by the economy," he says. "However, business owners are definitely beginning to get stuck in again and are looking to make a difference. The cost cutting has been done and everyone is down to the bare bones now. It's about people realising that if their businesses are to improve, they need to improve."
Barry Brennan, a mentor with Mentors.ie, has been helping businesses to thrive since 2011. With over 30 years of progressive marketing, commercial and general management experience, Brennan says that the continued support a mentor offers a business is what attracted him to the profession.
"Consultants are sometimes accused of writing a report, issuing recommendations and then leaving. However, mentors do the analysis, provide the insight and then stay with it. We work very closely with senior functioning heads and stay the whole way through the plan for the hand holding and the support."
According to Brennan, the nature of his assignments has changed since the recession.
"Over the past four or five years, most assignments were based on survival, with many companies treading water or downsizing to survive. Now, it's about preparing for growth. Marketing departments and sales teams have to be just as effective and efficient as before, but with less. It's about still being creative and aggressive but more efficiently now."
Brennan says that business owners need to have a clear idea of what their customers want.
"I find that company decision makers are often removed from their marketplace and their plans are based on woolly assumptions as a result. Decision makers need to stay very close to their target market and their customers. It's an old cliché but one that is often not practised."
Times of change within a company can often progress smoother with the help of a business coach. According to Pamela Fay, business coach and owner of Business Performance Perspectives, the approach of a coach is different to that of a mentor.
"I feel that the role of the coach is to ask the right questions, raise the client's awareness about what is going on around them and to be a support. While mentors offer the been there, done that experience, my role is more about helping people to find their gut instinct and answers to their problems."
Fay has been working as a business coach since 2008, following a career in marketing and performance management work. She is also involved in both the diploma and MBA coaching programmes in UCD and says that the ethos of these programmes is the same.
"A lot of coaching is around unlocking someone's potential and making sure that they are happy. People who are happy in their jobs will stay longer in a company and be more productive. My work and the UCD courses focus on helping people to understand themselves and their emotional intelligence better," she explains.
Simply having someone to talk to, who can provide an objective opinion, is one of the main benefits of working with a business coach, says Fay.
"A coach is someone you can go to who is not your partner or your best friend but to whom you can talk about work and receive support from. We plan for other things in our life, such as buying a house, but we often don't take the time to look at our life in work and think about what makes us happy."
According to Fay, business coaching has become increasingly popular over the years. She says that it can help keep employees connected.
"Coaching has become huge. Ten years ago, when someone talked about having a coach, it was remedial. Now, very successful business people have coaches. With things like hot desking and people working from home, it can be a challenge to keep everyone connected. Through coaching programmes, people can communicate and understand what they are being asked to do in work. There is a journey in business now, towards a shoulder to shoulder approach and it's much better."
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