What exactly is a mentor? According to The Macquarie Dictionary it is ‘a wise and trusted counsellor’. Way back when, Mentor was the friend of Odysseus and the guardian of his household while he tripped off to Troy to see Helen (you must remember the wooden horse story? Don’t worry, it doesn’t matter!)Back to more recent times. The Australian Businesswomen’s Network www.abn.org.au administers a five-month mentoring program for women who currently run their own business. Suzi Dafnis, (pictured) the ABN’s National General Manager, co-ordinates the program for the Sydney CBD area on behalf of the NSW Department of

State and Regional Development. The Department itself organises regional programs around the State. The program is a NSW Government initiative only. If you’re outside NSW contact your local Government to ascertain what’s available in your area.The NSW program, which has been running for four years, and was initially piloted in response to research showing many were women starting their own business, but not experiencing the same business growth as their male contemporaries. The program matches women who are just starting their own business with women who have been successfully operating their own business for four or more years.

The matching process is achieved through a needs analysis. As Suzi Dafnis explains: “The mentorees say ‘these are the areas that I’m really strong in and these are the ones that I’m really weak in’ and then we match them up with someone who has the skill set to match their short-term goals and the areas where they’re weak.” Age, background, personality and industry sector are not part of the equation when finding a match. It is regarded as a relationship that has to be around the outcomes that have been identified by the mentoree.Applicants for the mentoring program, both as mentors


and mentorees, do not need to be a member of the ABN and do not need to be from any particular industry or profession. To be eligible as a mentoree applicants must be in their first two years of business and must derive 80% of their income from their business. Dafnis stresses that the program is not for women who have a business ‘idea’, but is to help those already trading to develop and improve their business.”At the end of the five months some mentorees say ‘thank you very much and goodbye’, and some go on to keep in contact with their mentor for years afterwards,” says Dafnis. The commitment to the program, however, is for 20 hours one-on-one and to achieve set objectives during that time.

Successful women are actively encouraged to participate within the program as mentors. High calibre businesswomen, including recently Maree Lowe, winner of the Telstra NSW Businesswoman of the Year Award and Director of computing company AIS Solutions, are approached and are usually receptive to the idea because they value the networking opportunities it offers them, as well as to their potential mentoree.

Selena Mazuran, founder and owner of FBI Fashion College www.fbifashioncollege.com.au) participated as a mentor to freelance graphic artist Charl Parris. Both enjoyed the experience and felt that it was worthwhile and rewarding. Mazuran believes that after five years of running her own business, she is qualified to advise on the realities of establishing and running a small business.

Charl Parris describes the first meeting of mentor and mentoree as a little like a blind date: “You don’t actually know who you’re going to be matched up with. The process is a bit ‘oh my God, is this person going to be right for me?’ but Selena and I didn’t have any teething problems at all.”

Mazuran and Parris ‘went back to basics’ and looked at what Parris really wanted to achieve. Together they prioritised and structured Parris’ business so that she could operate in a balanced and systematic way.

“The most important thing I learnt is that you can’t do everything at once and that timing is everything,” says Parris. “I found it very supportive and even after the program Selena said she would continue to be my mentor for as long as I wanted. I do ring her up on occasions for advice and she’s always got time for me.”

Seven years ago Sue Ismiel (pictured) was working in a private hospital as a medical records officer, today she operates a company that manufactures a market-leading hair removal product, Nad’s www.nads.com.au)

Recently Ismiel’s business success was recognised when she was awarded the Ethnic Business Award for a business with a turnover of less than $5m. Remarkably, Ismiel began her company with no traditional business skills; she succeeded because of her personal belief and her self-confidence. A personal philosophy she aims to pass on to her mentoree, Katrina Hemingway.

“The major weakness in Katrina that I noticed was her lack of self-confidence. She had every other tool that a businesswoman could need, including education and knowledge,” recalls Ismiel.

“I hadn’t been in the workforce for eight years,” explains Hemingway. “I used to be a sales rep and marketing manager for IBM, but spent eight years rearing two children. The youngest has now gone to school and I felt I wanted to do something for myself. I wasn’t the tennis-luncheon set.”

Hemingway (pictured) now runs Gift Search www.giftsearch.com.au, a gift buying service for busy executives. She recognised the program as being well-rounded and good value for money. “For a thousand dollars, of which the Government pays $500, you receive 20 hours of mentoring time with a mentor carefully selected to meet your needs.

As a mentor, Ismiel has a wealth of practical knowledge and experience to share, but she has also gained from the experience herself. She has met inspiring and successful women and has given her own self-esteem a boost.

As Ismiel and Hemingway approach the end of their mentoring partnership, they believe that their relationship has turned from being one that was initially very instructional to one that is now very co-operative. “I feel enthusiastic about Sue’s business and often give my own suggestions, whether she likes them or not, but she listens and I feel like I’m giving something back to her as well,” concludes Hemingway.

During the five months that each program runs, mentorees and mentors participate in a number of training sessions and presentations on subjects relevant to running a small business, as well as spending time together in one-on-one sessions. In order to monitor the success of the program, and because the program is subsidised, the NSW Government has put in place formal evaluations. Participants complete a detailed questionnaire at the end of the first, third and final month of the program. At the end of the program there is a formal graduation at which all participants are presented with a certificate to acknowledge their involvement.

Lynnette Dorn, the Department of State and Regional Development’s Women in Business Manager is more than happy with the results the program has achieved. Most recently 59% of participating mentorees claimed an increase in their business turnover; 16% increased their staff level and 95% believed that they had increased their business confidence and skills.

For further information on the Small Business mentoring program, contact Suzi Dafnis at the Australian Businesswomen’s Network www.abn.org.au on (02) 9923 2899 or through abninfo@abn.org.au, Or Lynnette Dorn on (02) 9338 6704 or email lynnette.dorn@business.nsw.gov.au.