The IOEE Lloyds Banking Group Covid-19 Response Mentoring programme was created to support small and micro-businesses affected by the Covid-19 crisis which has impacted many businesses across all sectors within the UK. In this article we speak to Lloyds Banking Group mentor, Suraj Sridhar and Suraj’s mentee Michelle Bateman who founded Woof's Treats back in 2013 which specialises in the production of natural and healthy dog treats. Prior to 2020, Michelle depended on events, dog and equestrian shows and markets to sell products however unable to sell using her known channels Michelle decided to seek the support of a mentor. We caught up with Suraj and Michelle to find out how their relationship is going so far…
Can you explain what made you decide to get involved in the programme?
S - I decided to participate in this programme because I have always wanted to use my knowledge and experience to help businesses and people directly. Although I currently do this in my role, this opportunity has allowed me to constructively influence the strategy and performance of a different segment (smaller enterprises) on a much closer level. Given that COVID-19 has adversely impacted businesses of all sizes, the chance to help during a time of need really resonated with me. Prior to commencing my role as a mentor, I was looking forward to suggesting ideas to my mentee that would hopefully add value to his or her business. I was particularly excited by the prospect of some of them actually being implemented and coming to life, which I knew would give me great satisfaction. However, because I had no formal mentoring experience, I was unsure as to how my role would play out in practice e.g. how would I influence constructively? What techniques would I use to build trust with my mentee? etc. The training and induction programme answered many of these questions and made clear that my role as a mentee was to support but not to impose.
M- My business is seasonal and I usually work from March to December, selling my products and gifts at dog shows, markets, charity events, schools, etc both indoors and outdoors. Covid-19 brought Woof's Treats to an absolute standstill! The events I attended, were my lifeline and the events for 2020, hadn’t even begun. As the days, then months went by I realised that I had to move Woof's Treats in a different direction or all the years of hard work would be completely lost. I knew that I needed new ideas and someone to help me get back the love and passion I always felt for the business I had started and given everything to.
Tell us how you feel the relationship is progressing?
S - The initial meeting went well – my mentee and I used it to know about each other’s background and agree on a framework to catch up regularly. Most importantly, I was able to understand i) the reasons behind the formation of the business, ii) the challenges that my mentee was facing, and iii) the areas in which she needed support. This gave me a sense of direction for future meetings and allowed me to focus on certain areas versus others – Social Media Marketing and Product Placement in this case. Two months in, I would like to think that the relationship is progressing well. I feel as though the trust between us has increased, and that my suggestions and ideas are now more nuanced compared to when I started. Catching up on a weekly basis has meant that I have become familiar with the vision of the business while understanding my mentee on a personal level. Both of these have together made for more enriching conversations as the weeks have progressed.
M - It is very good. Suraj understood immediately how passionate I am about my business and has helped me to put my ideas into action which is exactly what I needed. I like his ideas too. He is a very energetic and positive person which is something I admire. As we’ve worked together, getting Woofs Treats up again, I’ve got to know him better too. What a nice person! I really enjoy bringing him up to date on what I’ve done and showing him the results. Although young, he is very wise, an excellent listener and explains so well. I feel very lucky to have his help.
Have you gained anything from the experience so far?
S I have personally benefitted from this experience on a variety of levels. It has significantly improved my ability to structure and communicate ideas in a manner that is tailored to my audience - my mentee in this case. I have realised the value of listening and processing information before speaking. Most importantly, it has increased my confidence and belief in my ideas, as I have been able to see first-hand the positive impact that they can have.
M Woofs Treats is moving further forward now on social media. I also have an account on Instagram which is attracting attention. The website has been updated according to his suggestions. Things are in a much better place now than they were at the onset of mentoring. I have learnt so much from the experience, it’s hard work BUT I’m really enjoying it now that things are moving slowly forward. I understand that Woofs Treats will follow a different and new path now and I’m more ready now for the changes.
How has being part of the mentoring programme made you feel?
S It is a great opportunity to contribute positively in an environment that is different from your daily role. The satisfaction of helping an individual and a business during a challenging time is immense, and the personality traits that mentoring develops are directly transferrable to many aspects of professional and personal life.
M Being self-employed can be lonely sometimes and finding someone who actually understands where you are in your journey and how you feel is really good. This is a great experience.