It's fair to assume that when seeking advice on business, many people would turn to family, friends and trusted colleagues. 

Indeed, having a complete stranger guide you on how to run your company might not be the most obvious or welcome idea.

But for more than 30 years, such guidance is exactly what Business Mentors NZ has been providing, with great success.

“In life, as in business, you can always use a bit of help from your friends, and for many successful businesses across New Zealand, that friend has been thanks to Business Mentors,” says Business Mentors NZ chief executive Sarah Trotman.

Since its inception in 1991, the independent not-for-profit organisation has provided more than 80,000 small-business owners with support and advice.

“Recessions, the global financial crisis, and not to mention a global pandemic, Business Mentors NZ has seen it all and been there to help business owners weather those storms successfully,” Trotman says with pride.

Business heavyweights

The organisation was started by Woolrest NZ co-founders Grahame Craig and Bill Hall with the objective of building a culture of assistance. 

In the early days, support came from business heavyweights such as Sir Ralph Norris (who is still involved, as a trustee) and Sir James Fletcher.

Trotman sees the organisation as promoting a wide set of principles and values: “Business Mentors is the formalisation of something fundamental to the character of what it means to be a New Zealander – helping others succeed.”

Pairing mentors with businesses has become a sixth sense of sorts for the organisation. Mentor coordinators have an initial chat with the business owner seeking advice to find out more about what their objectives are. 

From there, the coordinators apply their keen match-making eye to search through their pool of more than 1800 mentors to create a successful pairing.

Mentoring relationship

Recently, though, technology has enabled putting the choice into the hands of the experienced mentors themselves. 

"Choose a Mentee" allows them to browse a list of business owners seeking a mentor. If a business listed on "Choose a Mentee" looks of interest to the mentor's skills and expertise, the parties are put in contact and can get started on their mentoring relationship. 

Another programme, "Virtual Mentoring", was introduced in 2020 as a workable solution to the restrictions imposed by the covid lockdowns. It remains a popular option, allowing video face-to-face meetings regardless of location.

A year of mentoring costs business owners just an administration fee of $295 plus GST. 

Each mentoring relationship is unique; how it proceeds is determined by discussion between the business owner and the mentor. 

That said, the trend is for regular monthly meetings. The relationships usually last for 6-12 months, but this can vary based on whatever works for the parties involved.

Hit by covid

The proof of Business Mentors' success is in the pudding, as they say, or, in the case of one Auckland business, in a glass of Waiheke Island vino. 

Wild Estate, also known as Wild on Waiheke, had enjoyed years of growth establishing itself as a “must visit” Hauraki Gulf destination for Kiwis as well as foreign tourists. 

At the end of 2019, owner/operator Keryn Matthews invested heavily in an expansion programme and put the business into a strategic debt. 

But only months later, covid hit, the borders were closed and the future for Wild on Waiheke was looking grim. Multiple people told Matthews, “You're done". That's when she turned to Business Mentors NZ for support.

The mentor she was paired with was Sharn Rayner, who refused to let her lose hope and held her accountable in a tough time. 

Most importantly, she supported her to stay positive, on track, and to keep driving the business.

Super grateful to mentor

Matthews marketed Wild on Waiheke right through the lockdowns, and things have bounced back massively since. She lays the secret of her success squarely at Rayner's feet, saying she wouldn’t have a business now had it not been for her mentor.

A company that has benefited mightily from Business Mentors' help, and in turn created a mentor, is Auckland-based Pure SEO. Richard Conway founded the firm in 2009 as a one-man band. 

He credits the guidance he received from two mentors, who freely gave of their time as and when he called on them, as the reason he has been able to grow his business into what it is today – the number-one search engine optimisation company in the country, with a staff of 100. 

Conway has since become a business mentor himself. 

Despite three decades of success warranting an evening of celebration, Business Mentors NZ has no intention of resting on its laurels. Ongoing evolution to meet the needs of this country's businesses remains its top priority as it looks forward to the future.