Albuquerque, NM (June 28,2010) - Diane Barrett has called upon Jennifer Craig’s help many times in the past 14 years.
After Barrett opened Diane’s Restaurant in Silver City with a loan from WESST, Craig, a regional manager with WESST in Las Cruces, paid her a visit.
She found Barrett working hard, and most of her employees outside on a smoke break.
“She helped me fire almost all of them that day,” Barrett recalled.
Barrett was a pastry chef who didn’t anticipate being an entrepreneur. She had never fired anyone. Helping her do it was one of the many ways Craig has mentored Barrett over the years.
“I don’t think, in the first year, I made a single decision without calling Jennifer,” Barrett said. “And I still do.”
Launching a small business can be exhilarating, but also terrifying. The stress and isolation can take a toll, and mentoring is one way to help business owners deal with that, say small business experts. Women business owners say their mentors have pushed them to take plans off the shelf and make them reality, to believe in their own abilities and to take risks. Many say their mentors have been a crucial catalyst for their success.
“It’s another set of ears and another shoulder to lean on,” said Leslie Hoffman, vice president of lending and client services with ACCIÓN New Mexico • Arizona • Colorado, which implemented a formal mentoring program in 2008 for anyone who has ever had an ACCIÓN loan.
The organization has more mentors than mentees right now, Hoffman said. Sometimes it’s difficult for business owners to think beyond the fire they’re putting out, she added.
And with women business owners, it’s more difficult to separate their businesses from the other pieces of their lives, said Agnes Noonan, executive director of WESST. Despite the strides women have made, they still carry much of the responsibilities of home and children too, she said.
“There are a lot of other factors impacting women in the business development process,” she said.
But women business owners tend to be more open to getting help, said Cynthia DeMers, a former adviser for the Santa Fe Incubator and an executive coach.
They also tend to be more open to incremental growth, Craig said. That’s important, because many mentors run into fears by business owners about growing too big. Many men feel it’s all or nothing, Craig added, but she has found success walking women business owners through a process of growth.
“If we help them step by step, as they grow self-esteem and self-recognition, they suddenly grow into a bigger operation than they thought they could do,” she said.
Johanna Tighe, who owns the Johanna Tighe Agency selling Farmers Insurance in Albuquerque, has mentored many people over the years, and encourages them not to be hesitant.
“You don’t want to look back and say ‘Dang, I should have done that,’ because there will be regret there,” she said.
There is no strict definition of mentoring, and it’s more art than science, say many experts.
But it’s not about telling a business owner what he or she should or shouldn’t do, said Marie Longserre, executive director of the Santa Fe Business Incubator.
“It’s a lot of helping them decide what works for them and their business by listening and asking questions, giving them examples and options to make connections,” she said. “We’re really here to help them achieve what they want.”
Here are three examples of how New Mexico women business owners are working with mentors.
Restaurateur Barrett trained as a pastry chef, eventually working at the Ritz-Carlton in Maui before returning to New Mexico. When she moved from Santa Fe to Silver City, she couldn’t find a job.
So she launched her business with a $5,000 loan from WESST. Part of Craig’s role was helping her understand the financial aspects of her business.
“I said ‘You’ve gotta know the bottom line,’” Craig said. “So it was a lot of hand holding over the years.”
Barrett steadily grew her operation, eventually buying its building. Today, her two sons work with her in a fine dining restaurant with 43 employees.
Last year, she got another loan from WESST for $30,000, and remade her third dining room into a casual eating space with wine and appetizers to adapt to the slowing economy. She has also opened a deli and bakery across the street.
Barrett said she most likely would not have made it without Craig’s mentoring.
“I didn’t know enough,” she said.
Paying it forward
Yashoda Naidoo has had several mentors since launching her first Annapurna’s World Vegetarian Cafe eight years ago.
Now she is mentoring Paula Whisenhunt, who started medical transcription firm StatIQ Solutions with her husband in 2003, through ACCIÓN’s mentoring program.
“She has this ability to hone in on what I need to focus on,” Whisenhunt said. “When my husband and I first started this business, I would have killed to have this.”
Whisenhunt has been trying to streamline her processes, and Naidoo had good suggestions for breaking the task down into manageable chunks.
Naidoo’s own mentors, including DJ Heckes, owner of EXHIB-IT! Tradeshow Marketing Experts, have been invaluable, she said.
“I tend to have great ideas and mull them over in a room,” she said. “DJ is the one who makes me take action.”
Naidoo said she doesn’t know the specifics of Whisenhunt’s industry, but she can help her take action and become a leader.
“I need to help her be working on her business rather than in her business,” she said.
But she’s also getting ideas even as she coaches her mentee.
“I’ll be talking to Paula and it’s like an idea will come into my head and I think, ‘We could be doing that ourselves!’”
Taking the next step
After Caroline Seigel launched 20th Century West Art Appraisal Inc. in 2004 in the Santa Fe Business Incubator, she reached a point where she needed to hire someone.
Enter DeMers, a former adviser at the incubator. She asked Seigel which part of her appraisal processes she needed help with.
If Seigel hired an employee, what would that person do?
“I can’t describe how challenging this was,” Seigel said.
“You get busy with something, and you don’t think about all the steps that go into a process.”
Mentees know what they need, but mentors can help formulate a plan, DeMers said.
“My clients know the answer,” she said. “I just need to ferret it out of them.”
Often, business owners, especially women, have trouble letting go of parts of a business, or delegating, DeMers said.
Seigel now has a process and procedure manual for things like creating inventories, editing digital photos and using her database, though she is still tweaking it.
“She really helped me get ready for growth,” she said of DeMers.
Reprinted from New Mexico Business Weekly - by Megan Kamerick, NMBW Staff. Find original article here.
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