When Melitta Hardenberg launched her own consulting business, Get Fit and Focused, which specialises in employee wellbeing programs, her mentor, Richard Keeves, founder of Smarter Web Strategies and a fellow West Australian, helped her to avoid a disaster or two.
They began meeting regularly last year while Hardenberg found her feet with the business. Here’s what they’ve got out of it.
Why did you join IML WA’s mentor program?
RK: I had a bit of extra time on my hands and I thought it seemed like a useful activity to be a part of, to help share some of the things I may have learnt over the years with people who might want to learn them. It’s nice to help people who actually want to be helped. I find myself talking to some people in my commercial activities who think they want to be helped but they refuse to listen, whereas in the mentor program, people do listen because it’s part of the process.
MH: I had just started my own business and was looking for some guidance. I have always been a big advocate of mentoring – I’ve been a mentor in IML WA’s program previously and was very impressed with how they matched mentees with mentors.
What did you get out of the program?
RK: I got the opportunity to meet people, such as Melitta, who I would not normally have had a chance to meet and to be able to learn some of their issues. I think what I got out of it the most was the ability to help Melitta on a non-commercial basis – we were both doing it because we wanted to, not because someone was paying us to be there.
MH: Richard helped me avoid a number of disasters! I’d made quite a few poor decisions in setting up my business and Richard helped me avoid some really bad risks. Also, to have someone to help you navigate through challenging times is so valuable. Being a sole trader can be quite lonely so having someone who can be that voice of reason and sanity is great.
How has the mentor program helped you?
RK: I think it’s always good to help other people. Also, every time I find myself explaining something, I get further clarity on that issue myself. So, when I teach, I actually learn. With Melitta asking fresh, new questions, I’m able to see fresh, new approaches to things. I’m seeing things through her eyes rather than mine and she asked very intelligent questions.
MH: It’s certainly helped to launch my business. As a technical expert, I really wasn’t experienced in sales and marketing and Richard really helped me to focus on the areas that I felt uncomfortable in. Without that, I just wouldn’t have had the skills to build my business and to have the success that I’ve had to date. And Richard also helped me to tap into his network.
What have you learnt from your mentor/mentee?
RK: Clarity on certain issues that I was helping her to work through and some fresh, new perspectives.
MH: A lot of good business sense and to stay grounded and focused. He has got such a wonderful common-sense approach. He taught me to be a little more cautious and to spend a little more time thinking through some decisions. I tend to race at a hundred miles an hour so I think the greatest thing that Richard has helped me with is slowing down a bit.
What do you think your mentor/mentee has learnt from you?
RK: I hope that she learnt that it’s ok to question things and to think through things before engaging someone to deliver something that’s not very clear. I found Melitta was overly trusting when it came to setting up her own business. I hate seeing people being taken advantage of in that situation.
MH: Maybe he got something out of mentoring someone completely different. I’m an advocate of helping people utilise their natural talents and strengths to lift their career performance, so perhaps that’s something that Richard took away from our time together.
What advice would you give to someone considering joining the mentor program?
RK: Be realistic about what the mentee can achieve and what the mentor can provide. There are people who are happy to share their time and experience and even their wisdom to help others without expecting a specific reward.
MH: Firstly, join the program! Secondly, use it the best that you can. Don’t be afraid to really lean on your mentor. I leant on Richard quite a lot.