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 first blog, we speak with ABM Mentor Brenda Etchells about her mentoring journey and how professional business mentoring can make a true impact on SMEs. Brenda also recently graduated from the ILM Level 7 Certificate in Coaching & Mentoring, which is a nationally recognised qualification for professional business mentors. In this interview, Brenda shares some her top tips for mentors embarking on the ILM7 journey and how the ILM7 accreditation changed her mentoring approach.
Why did you become a business mentor?
To be honest with you, I didn’t set out to be a business mentor. I worked for 30 years in financial services. I had a lot of different roles, from graduate up to being a strategic planning manager and then, like a lot of people, I thought well, let me take my skills and see if I could go self-employed and become a consultant.
I went self-employed, not long before COVID hit. I started networking and found myself supporting a lot of small business owners. Despite thinking I’d work with big businesses as a consultant, I found that smaller businesses get a lot of value from this kind of support.
I initially didn’t class myself as a business mentor, but I think that’s what I was doing. So, over a four-to-five-year journey, I moved from being a strategy consultant to becoming a business mentor.
After you realised that you had a knack for business mentoring, what steps did you take to pursue mentoring as a professional profession?
It really began with meeting Gary King (ABM Director). I met Gary at a co-working space where we got chatting about what I was doing, and he told me that I should think about joining the ABM as a business mentor. My initial response was that I don’t think I’m a business mentor. But he convinced me otherwise. So, I joined the ABM.
I think that’s when I started really thinking about my professional standards as a mentor and how to move from being a consultant towards becoming a professional business mentor. That’s one of the reasons I’ve now done my ILM7. It gave me further confirmation that I’m a good mentor, why I’m good and how I can be better.
In your opinion, what’s the impact professional business mentoring can have on the growth of SMEs? And do you have any examples from your mentees?
Yes, so much impact for different clients in different ways!
One of my clients who I’ve been working with for a couple of years now is very typical of somebody who needs business mentoring. She knows her craft but lacked the confidence to know how to run and grow her business.
She’s a lingerie designer. A really, really talented lingerie designer. When I met her, she was working out of her mum’s garage. It was just her and her sewing machine. She simply couldn’t grow the business because she was literally limited by space. But she was very eager to grow. Within six months of working with her, she was in her own fully equipped production factory in Nottingham with additional staff, and lots of brands keen to work with her. I think she just needed a confidence boost to get her over the line as she was scared to take that step – and the risk.
I think that’s where business mentoring comes in. It can help so much to have somebody to bounce ideas off. I never said, ‘You should do this!’, she made those decisions for herself. But I believe that I helped her have the confidence to make informed decisions and weigh up the risks. Sometimes you get too stuck in your own head to contemplate the potential consequences if you don’t take the needed actions to grow.
Moving on to the ILM programme: What was your overall experience with ILM 7 and what motivated you to even pursue the accreditation to begin with?
I debated it long and hard, often thinking if I really want to be doing another qualification?!
However, I knew that by doing the ILM7 I could add immense value to my mentoring service. Also, it happened a couple of times that I’ve pitched for jobs and they required me to have a professional accreditation. I also knew a few other mentors who did the ILM7 pilot and came back saying that they’ve learned so much.
So, I thought do you know what, I’m going for it!
Would you say the ILM7 programme was worth it?
Oh, 100%! I’m so glad that I’ve completed it. Looking back now, I should have never hesitated in the first place. Even though it is a big investment, it helped me to professionalise my mentoring practice and cemented the mindset that I am a professional business mentor.
What would you say were your main takeaways from the ILM7 course?
I think for me it’s the whole experience, especially better understanding the end-to-end process and journey of business mentoring.
I knew I was good at the actual face-to-face mentoring bit, but I wasn’t contracting formally with my clients. Very little of the front-end stuff was happening, nor the back-end feedback, review or reflections. I was doing the middle bit, but not the first bit or the last bit.
So, I think by doing the ILM7 I was able to really professionalise my craft.
Talking about professional standards in business mentoring, could you evaluate a bit more about how your processes changed after completing the ILM7?
Of course! First of all, I never fully considered working to a professional code of conduct, which was a big learning point for me. For example, the concept of establishing boundaries with a mentoring client.
You also learn a lot of different tools to incorporate in your mentoring conversations. I’m not a huge fan of using tools for the sake of using them, but at least I know I’ve now got them in my repertoire if needed.
How do you think your new qualification is going to impact your mentees?
I know that my clients are now getting somebody who is experienced, qualified and is continuing to learn. So, in the end they are getting a better mentoring experience. From a commercial perspective, this also allows me to confidently charge more for my services.
This means that I hopefully will be attracting more of the right clients, who understand the value of professional mentoring for their business.
It should be win, win really.
What are your plans now that you got the ILM7 to continue your professional development as a mentor?
I’m continuing with supervision through the ABM. I’ve always had my own mentor anyway, so I’ve now got them and a supervisor. I’m also planning to reread all these wonderful ILM7 books I’ve got sitting on a bookcase!
Also, I want to continue to learn from fellow mentors through peer-to-peer sessions. Every time I go to one of those sessions, I come away learning. So, it’s just constantly being with other mentors and sharing best practice.
Do you have any advice for prospective students of ILM7 to make the most out of the ILM7 programme?
Don’t go into it thinking it’s easy. It’s a lot of work.
My main advice would be to use your fellow cohort to keep each other motivated throughout the programme. For example, we set internal deadlines for each assignment and held each other accountable. This really helped with time-management and motivation!
On a practical level, be methodical about how you approach the final assignments. There’s three assignments and I did them sequentially. Whereas if I wrote the final reflection assignment as I was going through the different stages of the programme, it would have made it much easier.
Those are some fantastic tips, Brenda! You have been a core ABM member for several years now. It’d be great to know how your ABM Membership provided value to you on your mentoring journey?
I definitely get value from being an ABM Member in terms of being able to access events like Mentor Motivation and the Regional Discussion Groups.
Obviously, I now also access my supervision through the ABM, which is a fantastic way for me to further develop my skills as a professional business mentor.
Also, the commercial opportunities and partnership benefits that I can access as a member are brilliant. For example, your recent IoD collaboration is a fantastic opportunity for me commercially.
I think you are doing a great job in communicating the message: If you’re thinking of a business mentor, the ABM should be your port of call.
Thank you for that feedback. To finish up, what’s next for you on your mentoring journey?
Next for me is to try and get a few more clients. I want to get more PR or speaking type gigs where there’s an opportunity just to go out and talk about business mentoring and to promote the impact it is having for business growth.
Otherwise, I just want to focus on being a damn good business mentor.
That sounds like a great way to end our interview. I wish you all the best on your journey to being a ‘damn good business mentor’.
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