Caroline Guillemain-Brunne says that for years she was looking for a “fairy godmother” business mentor who never showed up.
“For such a long time, I was just searching for this fairy godmother who didn’t exist. I wanted them to be of a particular age, have particular skills — but either they didn’t have the time for me, or they didn’t actually exist. I realised it was a pipe dream.”
Guillemain-Brunne is the general manager of venue first aid provider EventAid, and this inability to find the perfect person to workshop ideas with during a critical growth period for the business led to her interest being piqued by the PowerPlayers program — a “peer-to-peer” mentoring idea launched by women’s business networking organisation Business Chicks.
The specs were simple: if your business had at least $500,000 in revenue you could apply to be part of a “pack” of up to seven other entrepreneurial women who would meet monthly to share problems, work on themselves and their business.
“The process is quite structured, we have a pack and there is a maximum of eight in a pack,” Guillemain-Brunne says.
“We have a facilitator that’s dedicated to us, there’s a few things we always go through at the start to remind ourselves of confidentiality and trust boundaries. And then we genuinely share our challenges and successes as businesswomen and businesspeople.”
Business Chicks founder Emma Isaacs says the idea is to get participants to “drop the facade” and discuss what’s really happening in their businesses. Originally established in Sydney, Business Chicks has since expanded the program to Melbourne and Brisbane too.
Meanwhile, entrepreneurs say the idea appeals because in the world of constant business promotion, having a secret space to air all the day-to-day operations of your company without boring friends and family is incredibly valuable.
Guillemain-Brunne says when she eventually dropped the idea that a perfect mentor would come along for her, she started to realise the value of “tapping into all the business people in my life” and getting the expertise she needed.
However, coffee catch-ups didn’t have the security of a closed-doors workshop session.
“I was still challenged by that [drawing upon business contacts] because of the confidentiality aspect [of discussions],” she says.
Founder of Food for Health and Grain and Bake, Narelle Plapp, says she was also drawn to the PowerPlayers concept because of the lack of spaces with which to get hyper-specific about business challenges, and do this in a trusting environment.
“I felt like I needed to have a group of people to discuss the day-to-day stuff with, not just the top level stuff,” Plapp tells SmartCompany.
“And I wanted to be able to do that in a trusting environment, where we can all generate interesting ideas.”
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The groups, which are led by trained administrators who focus the discussion, are comprised of women entrepreneurs across experience levels and sectors, removing the spectre of direct competition for when business founders air their fears and challenges.
“We’ve got grandmothers in our group and we’ve got young mothers,” Guillemain-Brunne says.
The range of experience levels and backgrounds has also thrown up surprises when it comes to who has expertise in which areas.
“It’s quite interesting when I’ve tried to tap into that network, when I have asked something to the group, like, ‘Do you know a good book to read about this particular subject matter?’ I’m always quite surprised by who in the group does speak up.”
Discussing the hard yards without concerns
“PowerPlayers comes around really quickly every month, and we’re dedicating half a day to it,” Plapp says.
Plapp has been running Food for Health since 2005, and having spent the past year setting up a second business in muesli manufacturing with Grain and Bake, she says the idea of blocking out time for the peer discussions can seem like a challenge. But the program has shown the power of sitting back as a business owner and reflecting on the harder times.
“The early days and the hard yards are really hard. Working 20 hours a day, well, it’s the typical entrepreneur story,” she says.
However, taking the time to show up and discuss the good fight with other entrepreneurs has the effect of centreing your focus on your end goals.
“When I get there, it makes me sit back and be proud of what we achieved. It makes me realise, ‘you know what, Narelle? You’ve done the hard yards’.”
Guillemain-Brunne says business leaders need a network of confidants to pick up the phone to.
“It’s support for mental health,” she says, explaining her involvement in the program brought her “seven wonderful friends I can now pick up the phone to”.
“I was feeling very isolated, because my business partner moved interstate at the start of this year,” she says.
For other entrepreneurs, Guillemain-Brunne says their is power in taking time to “ensure you’re in the right headspace” to focus on future growth by stepping away from the office every now and then.
“Most good business leaders or owners are very focused on their people and their clients and their bottom line. That’s wonderful, but programs like PowerPlayers are an opportunity to invest in yourself.”
The PowerPlayers program costs entrepreneurs $599 a month for membership of the group, as well as access to Business Chicks events and opportunities throughout the year.