Celebrating Business Mentoring: What makes a good business mentor?
As part of our celebrations leading up to 2023 National Mentoring Day, this blog series showcases some of our ABM Member’s achievements and contributions to professional business mentoring.
In this second spotlight, we speak with ABM Mentor Hilary Fearn about her mentoring journey and how professional business mentoring can make a true impact on SMEs. Hilary shares her insights on what makes a good business mentor, the importance of reflective practice and how completing the ILM7 programme has supported her on this journey.
Image: ABM Mentor & ILM Graduate Hilary Fearn
Hilary's Mentoring Journey & How to Structure a Mentoring Session
Let's start by discussing your journey into business mentoring. What led you to become a business mentor?
I've spent over 40 years working in small and medium-sized businesses, and run my own business. After steering my business through different stages, including really difficult times, and growing it to a certain level, I decided to sell it. After the sale, I felt compelled to share my knowledge and help others facing similar challenges, particularly other business owners. I simply had learned too much to not do anything with that knowledge!
So, that's what led me down the route of business mentoring – wanting to help people.
How long have you been working as a mentor?
I started in 2020, right before the pandemic. I began by volunteering and gradually transitioned to paid clients. My background is in construction, and my very first client was a lady who owned her construction company, which was a great experience. We’re actually still friends now.
And that’s another great part about being a business mentor, you often form these strong friendships and bonds with the people that you work with, especially because your mentoring relationship is based on so much trust.
Absolutely, having a high level of trust between a mentor and mentee is crucial. What are your other key elements that make up a good business mentoring session?
Trust and confidentiality are essential in mentoring. In my mentoring practice, I ensure that everything shared is confidential, and I create a non-judgmental, supportive environment. I want to encourage my mentees to share their challenges, fears and insecurities whilst knowing that our conversations are fully confidential.
Maintaining professional standards whilst doing so is essential. I’m always being very open with my mentees that the purpose of a mentor is not to tell them what to do – I'm not a consultant after all! But encourage them to reflect on their own journey. I’m here as a sounding board for their ideas with no judgement or skin in the game.
In the end, the mentee is the most important person on the room. I’m here to focus on their success without any personal agenda.
The Difference Between Mentoring and Coaching
What are the main benefits of having a mentor, and can you share a success story?
One of the significant benefits is helping individuals overcome their challenges. For instance, I had a client who was petrified of numbers and finances. This is something I find is quite common amongst business owners and senior leaders. Despite being high up in an organisation or even running the company, they don't understand the financial aspects, but they don't want to admit that to anybody because it's embarrassing.
This is where working with a business mentor who can give them the confidence to face these challenges as well as help them with the understanding of the numbers and how they can use them to run and grow and plan their business, can be super beneficial.
So, back to my example, once I’ve started working with her on the financial elements of her business as well as her confidence, she was flying! She started forecasting, took control, and achieved remarkable growth.
You mentioned earlier that there’s a clear difference between being a mentor and a consultant. Could you elaborate a little more on that?
Of course! Another client of mine approached me because she felt unsure about the direction of her business. She basically wanted me to tell her what to do next. That’s when I explained to her that I am not a consultant, who solves problems on her behalf. Instead, we started getting to the bottom of her challenges and fears by asking the right questions and creating an actionable plan.
Gradually, she realised what she wanted to do and where she wanted to go. It was like a light bulb moment one day and she just went ‘Oh, this is what it’s all about!’. I didn’t tell her what to do but provided her with the relevant tools and a safe space to share and reflect, giving her the confidence to make those decisions independently.
You’ve touched on the importance of reflection and accountability. What strategies do you employ to keep your clients moving forward?
During my mentoring sessions, we create actionable plans and review progress of those agreed steps in the next session. I ask about any barriers they faced in implementing these steps and help them make necessary adjustments. I believe that active reflection and accountability in business mentoring are essential as both help in finding clarity.
And this goes both ways! As a professional mentor, I also need to be committed to reflect on my practice and actively pursue to be better. This is partially why I decided to pursue the ILM7 qualification as well.
The ILM7 Programme: How it Positively Influenced Hilary's Mentoring Practice
Talking about your ILM7 qualification, what motivated you to pursue this qualification?
I pursued ILM7 to gain credibility as a mentor and expand my knowledge. There are so many coaches and mentors out there that do not have any professional qualifications and it was important to me to gain a certain level of credibility for my practice, so that I can provide the best possible mentoring experience to my clients. I’ve honestly learned so much about professionalising my mentoring approach and hope that this will help me to bring even more value to my mentees in the future.
What were your main takeaways from the ILM7 course?
One of the main takeaways for me was learning about the art of active listening and making observations. A lot of the time, clients would chit-chat about their days going fantastically despite their demeanour telling a different story. That’s where I needed to learn how to ask difficult questions and challenge their answers in a professional way to get to the bottom of things. The ILM7 taught me how to ask those open questions whilst maintaining a safe environment for my clients to open up and share their challenges.
Also, the ILM7 turned out to be a great personal reflective exercise. I realised that sometimes I need to put my ego aside and empower clients to make their decisions. Instead of providing them with the answers, so that I get to feel accomplished in having helped someone. It needs to be the client who comes up with their own solutions and I’m here as a helping hand with tools, suggestions and experiences at their disposal.
So yes, continuous self-improvement and the importance of reflecting on each mentoring session are some key takeaways of the ILM7 for me.
For mentors considering the ILM7, what advice would you give them to make the most of the experience?
It’s hard work! You need to be sure that you can allocate the sufficient time to complete the course, as there's a substantial amount of research and writing involved. There’s also a lot of practical sessions you’ll need to complete and reflect upon. As with any CPD, you'll get out of it as much as you put in.
One thing that the ABM has recently launched as well is the supervision element. So, as part of the ILM7, we receive a few hours of supervision with a more experienced mentor. I found that to be highly valuable, especially when confronted with ethical issues that come up in mentee conversations. For example, one of my clients was on the edge of burnout. What do I do? Should I be carrying on with them? Should I signpost them to somewhere else? It’s in situations like these that having a more experienced mentoring supervisor to talk to is really helpful. I've carried on with that since finishing the ILM course and am planning on continuing supervision for the foreseeable future.
Continuous Learning is Key: Why Hilary Joined the ABM
What led you to join the Association of Business Mentors (ABM), and what do you find most valuable about your membership?
I joined ABM to enhance my credibility and be part of a professional organisation. It can get quite lonely sometimes working for myself. Having this community of peers and access to events and specialised mentoring courses, such as the ILM7, is super valuable.
I think the ABM is doing a brilliant job of spreading the message about the importance of business mentoring. The new partnership with the IoD, for example, is a great step into the right direction.
But I think we as ABM members also have a responsibility to support in building momentum and getting the word out there about how we can support business owners. We all have a part to play!
Absolutely! To finish off, what are your plans for the future of your mentoring journey?
I plan to improve my mentoring practice and reach out to more clients. Learning and self-improvement remain at the core of my journey. Mentorship is such a rewarding profession and gives me great purpose, so I want to continue making a positive impact.
What an excellent way to conclude this spotlight! Continuous learning is key. Thank you for sharing your insights and experiences with us