My mentor helped provide clarity to get my voice out there
After experiencing multiple miscarriages, long-time fitness coach Christiana Johnson saw an opportunity to provide better support, not least from employers, for couples who had also experienced miscarriage. Be the Business mentor Sarah Clout helped her to focus, and to articulate her vision in a way that would appeal to the corporate sector.
“I experienced miscarriage three times, and I naturally went online to find out what help there was in coming to terms with it,” she recalls. “In 2021, I created an online hub – a safe space where couples could share their experiences and maybe get some answers.”
The response from couples made her realise that she could turn this into a business, with three distinct strands. One element would focus on the women/couples themselves; another would be giving healthcare professionals a better understanding of how to talk to patients about miscarriage (“they often use confusing terminology”); and the third element would be helping employers to provide appropriate support to employees who have lost babies through miscarriage.
But she was unsure how or where to start, so when she found out about the Be the Business mentoring scheme, she believed it could be just what she needed.
I had so many ideas and so many questions, that I needed help to focus and prioritise
Seeking a sounding board
“I was really passionate about helping other couples, but I had so many ideas and so many questions, that I needed help to focus and prioritise,” says Christiana. “At the very least I was looking for a sounding board, but I also wanted someone who’d worked in a corporate environment to help me make inroads there.”
In Sarah Clout, Christiana got this, and more. A strategic communications and engagement leader, Sarah has had extensive experience in the corporate world, and run her own business as an independent consultant. She had also suffered miscarriages herself.
“As soon as I met Christiana in our first mentoring call, I knew her calm, empathetic and genuine demeanour was perfect for this important work,” says Sarah. “I understood and admired what she wanted to achieve. But the face of the business she needed to present to the world wasn’t the one I saw on her profile, and we spent a lot of the mentoring relationship getting that right.
A great training ground
Sarah came back to the UK in mid-2021 after a decade of living and working in Australia. She’d secured a full-time role with a blue-chip employer, but was also looking for a board role and business-oriented volunteering experience. She joined Women on Boards, and through them was introduced to Be the Business, who asked her if she would be interested in mentoring.
“Be the Business is a great training ground for people like me who are keen on joining a board, and I also love the idea of supporting small businesses and entrepreneurs, so it felt like a really good combination,” says Sarah. “I’d got lots of experience, but not necessarily in the areas where Christiana was working, but when Be the Business explained how the mentoring programme works, and that it is about providing a sounding board as much as anything else, I was more than happy to do it.”
The two women met, on Zoom, nearly every week for three months, finishing their formal mentoring relationship last November. They focused closely on telling Christiana’s story in a way that would resonate not just with individuals, and groups, but also with employers. As Sarah points out: “When you’re appealing to employers you need to articulate very clearly who you are, what you do and what you offer.”
Feeling the fear and doing it anyway
Christiana admits: “I had been hesitant about telling my own story.” She explains: “I had people very close to me who believed it should remain private – it was like hanging my dirty linen outside. But that just didn’t feel right to me, and I spent a long time debating whether or not to do it. When Sarah came along, she challenged my thinking, showing me similar stories from people in other countries. I concluded that I had a voice, and, if I was going to help others, then I had a job to do using that voice. I really needed someone to force me to do it, and that’s what mentoring has done for me: it ripped that Band-Aid off.”
By the end of the three months, Christiana had a clear idea of what her business, Moving Forward Post Miscarriage, was, and where she wanted it to go. Part of the work she did with Sarah was to learn how to turn down opportunities and invitations that would distract her from the direction she had set. She also had a clear verbal and visual articulation of her business proposition on LinkedIn.
A platform for growth
What Christiana has not yet done is venture into the corporate sphere. But she has a very good reason. She recently became a mother, so life has been extremely busy. “Our child and home life have been my priority,” she said.
The new addition to her family has also required some flexibility in the mentoring sessions – which has also involved extending the mentoring beyond its formal three-month term.
“We’ve finished our formal mentoring relationship, but Sarah and I are still in touch,” says Christiana. “That’s the beautiful thing about mentoring: it’s not ‘we’re done and goodbye’, but ‘we’re done, but I’m over here if you need me’.”
She has developed a short PowerPoint slide deck to present to corporates, and Sarah is going to introduce her to contacts in her company and elsewhere to test this out. Other things too are on Christiana’s agenda for this year: she will develop a website (“I wanted to concentrate on one platform before I moved to another,” she says), and she will accept invitations to give talks where these are aligned with her vision for the business.
“Sarah has helped me gain clarity so I can get my voice out there,” she concluded.
The benefit for mentors
Sarah says that her first mentoring role has been “a 100 per cent positive experience.” Despite a demanding job with a young family, the hour a week she devoted to mentoring Christiana was, she says, “very manageable.” She believes the training she’s had from Be the Business about how to be a successful mentor and coach will stand her in good stead for the board roles she is seeking – and she’s already sitting on two Be the Business boards.
“It’s great to feel you are supporting others who are starting out,” she concludes. “Small businesses are the backbone of the economy, so having the opportunity to help and encourage them is rewarding all around."
location: East Midlands (England)
business size: 1-9 People
business type: Health & care services
Tips for a successful mentoring relationship
(1) Both mentor and mentee need to be clear in their expectations (2) You need to be transparent with each other (3) Give honest feedback
(1)Make sure at the start that the match is right (2) Both mentor and mentee need to listen, be open and be prepared to share and hear a lot of feedback (3) Be respectful of each other’s time and ideas