My Superhero: What My Mentor Taught Me About Business

I have been thinking about my mum, Mary, a lot lately. Thankfully, she is still alive at 81 and even though ageing and more fragile, she has still retained a sharp, focused mind and sense of humour.

Until she retired, mum was a successful businesswoman – quick with numbers, stylish, kind, a fabulous cook, a generous loving mother to four children and she had an innate talent for entertaining people and building relationships.

Growing up, I used to think she was a Superwoman, especially watching her juggle family and business. One thing I know for sure is she is definitely my hero.

Here's what she taught me about business and life. You can read about the key lessons here.

1) Focus On Customer Service Above and Beyond Anything Else

My mum would always put people first, and she taught me that people and relationships are what really matter.

Take care of all your customers, especially your repeat customers. Call them if something that would suit them arrives in the store. Be generous and give gifts – throw in a belt or accessories with a purchase. Service first.

2) Selling is Really Building Relationships and Caring About Your Customers

Mum was attentive and a good listener. She cared about her clients and many became friends.

She was a master at persuasion and influence. I watched her help people make buying decisions with warmth and humour. Her clients felt this and they cared for her too and would buy her gifts, like flowers or books.

3) Upselling, Cross-Selling, Referrals and Trust

Mum would effortlessly help her clients to buy their entire wardrobes at the start of the season.

Mum would call to inform them of new arrivals she had put aside, because she knew what would suit their shape and complexion. The special treatment meant that her clients trusted her opinion and didn't need to buy clothes that didn't co-ordinate with the rest of their wardrobes.

There was local store owner across the road, who mum referred clients to and he reciprocated. He loaned her a few pairs of high heels in different colours to help clients get a visual feel of a complete look for their wardrobes. This resulted in more sales for the shoe-store owner and referrals to mum from him.

4) There Is Always A Way To Succeed

I remember a time when my early events were a success for the speaker I represented – with over 400 people in the room. And yet, the project resulted in my company only just breaking even. I was upset, having given this my all, with months of hard work, worry and stress. Mum's words of wisdom were: "It's the first time, give it time just consider what you've learned.”

Simply put, mum always supported and believed in me which inspired me to believe in myself.

5) First Impressions Count

My mum owned and operated upmarket clothing boutiques. The presentation was pleasing to the eye, from window displays to neat racks of clothing organised by size and colour. They were inviting.

Mum would change the racks of clothing around every week to freshen the look of the stock and give it "newness". Crushed clothing would be steam-ironed, the shoulders of light clothes covered in a protective plastic. Great care was taken in the presentation.

I learnt to apply this principle to my business, by asking, "How can I freshen up my website, live events or online offers?" I also paid attention to the look and feel of my website, which is like a shop front. I encourage the team by brainstorming with them about how we could make the presentation of our events inviting and appealing, from the setup of the stage to the back tables being neat, organised and free of clutter.

When greeting clients at events, I paid attention to how I looked. When I dressed well and professionally, I felt comfortable. For many years, I greeted my clients with a warm smile, either at the registration tables and as they entered the room.

I assisted a few of the speakers we represented who were style challenged, by taking them shopping to buy a beautifully cut suit, shirt and stylish belt from a top menswear store.

6) Prosperity

My mum is known for her generosity; sometimes she was generous to a fault.

Mum taught me that wealth comes when you are enjoying what you do. For her, work was fun – she would laugh and joke with her team and clients and still got the job done.

When I reflect on our events, the most treasured memories for our team and myself were when we celebrated, partied or shared dinner at the start or the end.

7) Pioneer of Trends

Mum was at the forefront of the next wave of trends in her industry. She opened the first shop of its kind back in the 80's for guys and gals – a floor for each. This was very innovative for the time.

In part, this can be attributed to her love of international travel. Mum and I travelled while I was in my teens and in my early twenties, to exotic countries. Most of the trips were work-related, to buy clothing for my boutique from France and Italy.

We brought back ideas, from interior design to names and themes for businesses.

In my late twenties, I would travel to the US to seek out the very "best of the best" educators in NLP and personal development to bring to Australia, to help people to change their lives.

8) The Importance of a Mentor in Business

The early experience of having mum guide me in my first business, a clothing boutique, meant so much that I knew I needed a mentor when I started my first events business. I wanted to give myself the best chance for success.

My second mentor was a wonderful man who asked me tough questions. I recall him saying: “Event promotion is not an easy. When it goes well, it's due to the speaker and when it doesn’t, it's the promoter’s fault.” He continued, “If you just want to hang out with speakers, then go to their events.”

Of course, my motivation was and still is to inspire people to grow.

My mentor encouraged and supported me when I was stuck or needed advice.

In more recent years, when I experienced some adversity, I attracted another skilled and caring mentor to guide me through, which was a major miracle.

My mentors are still in my life today and are cherished friends, whom I am eternally grateful for.

I enjoy mentoring business owners myself now, as a way to pay it forward.

9) Invest In Yourself, Never Stop Learning and Be Flexible

Mum encouraged me to attend university, even though it meant leaving home and living on campus at a university in Sydney. This experience had a profound impact on me, because I developed a love of learning. I enjoyed uni, especially the friends I met, the fun parties and shenanigans.

One of the most memorable experiences occurred a decade later.

In my thirties, my mum and two younger brothers joined me in a personal development programme in Maui, Hawaii. The highlight of the event for me was that, at age 60, my mum climbed a 40-foot pole, jumping off and catching a trapeze. This was a metaphor for me about overcoming obstacles, reaching the top and taking a leap of faith.

The four of us were all on different teams, but could look across to the other teams and see when it was mums turn to climb and jump. As mum climbed the pole, tears were streaming down my face. My brothers had tears of pride in their eyes too. She climbed with such agility at age 60, it's like she had the flexibility of a monkey.

I learned that with a positive mindset you can overcome obstacles and just go for it in spite of your fears. The experience and metaphor have stayed with me and when the going got rough in business, I would look at the photos and see myself at the top of the pole about to jump off.

When it was my turn to climb the pole, my self-talk was: "Onwards and upwards you can do this." And so, I made it to the top.

Yes, I was fearful because once I made it to the top, there was only room for one foot, and the pole swayed in the wind.

It didn't feel stable.

Then, gathering all the courage I could muster I jumped and took the leap of faith.

Many times in my business and life, I've called on this experience and the emotional state of courage, when I face major decisions. Often my decisions have worked out and sometimes not, but I'm far richer for the experience, the learnings and playing full tilt in life.

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About the Author Karen Corban

A visionary entrepreneur, Karen founded Universal Stars (formerly Universal Events) in 1993. Her mission is to inspire people and companies to grow, through bringing them live events featuring more than 100 of the world’s top speakers on business and
success. A graduate of UNSW (Bachelor of Arts in Sociology and Psychology), her passion is to educate and inspire people to be the best they can be. Karen delights her clients with her unique blend of enthusiasm, inspiration, charm, care, wisdom and generosity.

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