Business management

Meeting your match in a mentor

When Ella Mesma and Emily Rider were brought together by the Rose Review Female Entrepreneurs Mentoring Programme, neither could have predicted how well matched their business visions would be.

“My sister works for a London-based hedge fund, and I started to notice that she was quite rounded at the top of her spine from long hours spent at her desk. I thought, if her workplace had a yoga scheme, that would have helped. Especially in the corporate world, where the pressure of deadlines is felt more heavily, there is such a need to make sure you are remembering to prioritise your physical and mental health. I wanted to create a service to empower employees to look after their bodies and minds without compromising productivity.”

Mesma’s background is in dance – she is director of the Ella Mesma Company diaspora dance theatre, even featuring in the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony (“as a dancing Dalmatian!”) – and she has taught yoga to individuals for over 10 years. “But I’d never taught yoga in a corporate environment before, and I wasn’t really sure where to start.”

After spending a few years developing her offering, Mesma set up Business Yoga as a limited company in January 2020. “We had a team of 11 ready to go out and teach – and then coronavirus hit, the country went into lockdown, and we had to rethink all of our plans.”

Reaching out for a helping hand

Mesma shifted her focus to offering classes online, but, having never worked in the corporate arena before, she felt she needed outside insight to help her get the business off the ground.

“A friend encouraged me to look at NatWest’s website to see what help there was for business founders, and I found out about the Rose Review mentoring programme.” This government-backed scheme, which is currently being piloted by Be the Business and NatWest in the Leeds City Region and the West of England Combined Authority area, is a free mentoring service specifically for female entrepreneurs.

Ella had all of the building blocks of a great business, she just lacked the confidence in how to go about selling her offering

Emily Rider, mentor

After applying to the programme, Mesma was given a choice of five potential mentors that matched her business needs. She chose Emily Rider, head of client funding at Hitachi Capital Franchise Finance – and for Mesma, the connection was instant. “When I met Emily, I just thought, ‘That’s my person.’”

Rider has a strong background in business finance and franchise lending for businesses of all sizes and from a variety of industries. “Seeing so many businesses struggling throughout the pandemic really made me want to do more to help,” she says, “and I’ve always worked with mentors myself and found them to be invaluable, which pushed me to sign up.”

Rider agrees that the connection between herself and Mesma was instant. “We both truly believe in workplace wellness, and the fact that Ella was looking to launch her business into the corporate world was ideal, as that’s exactly what I’m interested in.”

The pair are so well matched, in fact, that once, when chatting about weekend plans at the end of a session, they realised they were both booked on to the same interior design course. “The connection is a bit spooky at times!” Rider says.

Setting measurable goals

Now nine weeks into the 12-week programme, with Rider’s help, Mesma has made great progress in taking the business where she wants it to go.

“I had a list of things I wanted to get out of the experience,” she explains. “I’d never created a five-year plan; I’d never carried out a SWOT analysis; I knew I wanted help with finance; and I wanted to develop my customer journey. Emily and I have been working our way through this list – I’m now completely clear on my customer journey and pricing, and I’m looking into hiring an administrator so I can focus more on the creative side.”

“Ella had all of the building blocks of a great business, but she just lacked the confidence in how to go about selling her offering,” Rider says. “When we started working together she didn’t have any clients, and the first one she reached out to – a law firm – knocked her back. I encouraged Ella to go back and ask them for feedback – and they ended up becoming her first client.”

My ambitions for Business Yoga now aren’t just national; they’re international. The idea that we could have teams around the world is really exciting

Ella Mesma, mentee

“Emily’s corporate experience has been invaluable,” says Mesma. “That world was very alien to me, so having that stamp of approval from someone who knew it well was really reaffirming.”

Both women say that confidence has been a key issue for them in the past – and Rider believes this is particularly pervasive among women. “I’ve always suffered from imposter syndrome, largely because I work in a male-orientated industry, and it can be difficult when you don’t have role models above you that are women,” she says. “That’s why I value the opportunity to mentor others: I firmly believe that if someone has helped you up the ladder, you should turn around and do the same for someone else.”

Feeling the mutual benefit

Mesma now has a clear vision of where she wants to take Business Yoga – which the pandemic has actually been helpful in shaping. She’s honed her signature 23onMe concept: targeted yoga sessions that can be done from your desk and take up no more than 23 minutes of your day. “And we’ve taken a whole area of the membership online permanently. Because of that, my ambitions for Business Yoga now aren’t just national; they’re international. The idea that we could have teams around the world helping to normalise putting well-being at the heart of the workplace is really exciting.”

From Rider, Mesma says she’s gained “unshakeable belief in myself, the company, and my ability to help people”. From Rider’s perspective, as well as being motivated by Mesma’s “great attitude and real drive”, she’s been thankful for the opportunity to develop her own coaching skills. “When you’re looking at your own business, it’s very easy to get bogged down in the detail. Mentoring someone whose business I didn’t know the ins and outs of has helped me gain that wider perspective.”

And when their 12-week programme is finished, Rider says she’s sure she and Mesma will keep in touch. “Ella is going places, and I can’t wait to see it.”

Heather Waters, enterprise manager at NatWest, adds: “We know that business mentoring has a vital role to play in supporting enterprise as we come out of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Alison Rose Review of Female Entrepreneurship revealed that many women have struggled to identify appropriate mentors and role models, which can prevent them from launching a business. Our mentoring programme with Be the Business aims to address this issue; we believe that having the right mentoring opportunities will help even more women succeed, and this will in turn support the economy post the coronavirus pandemic.”

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