Why does Sara work with a Mentor?

Sara Hudston, who runs Watershed PR an award winning public relations agency based in Bridport, has been working with a Dormen Mentor for over 6 months. She wrote about her experiences of being mentored as follows:

Why use a business mentor? Is your business in serious trouble? Need to be told what to do? If you say yes, then a mentor is not for you.

I think mentors work best with successful businesses that want to grow, do more of the right things and explore new opportunities. These are firms who are interested in learning why they are doing well and how they can do even better.

When I started Watershed PR more than six years ago the company was only me in a converted stable in the grounds of an old watermill (literally a ‘water shed’). We’ve long since moved to much larger, more modern offices in Bridport with a staff of seven and looking to recruit again. Mentoring has played a big part in our development.

My original mentor created a string of highly profitable ventures, but was known best for founding the Centre for Alternative Technology in Wales. Gerard was a maverick who was always asking ‘why’. He was a great sounding board for ideas. He’d listen intently, question and challenge. He didn’t give advice as such, though it was part of his style to express vehement views. Sometimes we disagreed, and that was an accepted part of the debate. He never told me what to do with the business, but was very good at focusing my thoughts, recommending strategies and encouraging me to raise my sights.

My work with Gerard came to an end due to his poor health and as a result I didn’t have a mentor for a few years. In the meantime, Watershed grew, won awards and new clients, but the better we did, the more I missed having a mentor. I wanted someone with real, practical experience of business success and the time to spend with us who could help us push on to the next level.

Finding that person wasn’t easy. I wrote to various people and while they all sent back nice replies, no one made any concrete suggestions.

Finally, I heard of Dormen (Dorset Business Mentoring Programme) through a client who was already part of the scheme. Their business had really changed and grown and I was impressed with what they had achieved.

I contacted Dormen and was lucky enough to be accepted. I’ve been working with my new mentor, Phil, since March 2011 and the results have been great. Turnover has risen despite the tough economic conditions and it’s helped me develop a clearer vision of how to attain our goals.

For me, one of the most valuable aspects of having a mentor is that it compels you to spend time working on the business as well as in the business. We all know how important that is, but the day-to-day realities of running a business often mean that the strategic stuff gets pushed aside.  There’s always a client to talk to or a project that needs extra support. You can lose sight of the big picture.

My sessions with Phil are demanding and require commitment and preparation. I certainly couldn’t just waltz in for an easy, five-minute chat. Phil is particularly good at discussing the central paradoxes of entrepreneurship, such as the balance between vision (doing something new) and commitment (sticking with what you are already doing). Finding this balance poses a conundrum for creative businesses like mine, especially in the current environment.

Apart from the all-important bottom line, our sessions have also improved HR and team working. It’s important to me that Watershed is a good place to work and that good people want to work with us.

I find it amazing that more successful businesses with growth potential don’t use mentors. Dormen is a fantastic scheme and I recommend it.


Sara Hudston

Sara runs Watershed PR, a public relations agency based in Bridport and covering the South West region. Watershed melds new digital and social media techniques with tried and trusted PR to get award-winning results. See www.watershedpr.co.uk.