I-Construct Mentoring Teaching Wallpaper Creator To 'Be Bold'?

Published 6th October 2021 by Charlotte Porter
Louise Altman creates traditional hand-made wallpaper for unique spaces. We spoke to Louise about how I-Construct mentoring is helping her, and how it could help others like her.

Q. I-Construct: Where did you hear about I-Construct?

A. Louise Altman:

“I did a presentation to my local arts group about what I'd like to see in our local area because we don't have any support, venues, initiatives, or mentors. One of the people attending the webinar said I should contact I-Construct. I wasn’t sure if I would get into the community, so I sent an email and then connected with Sian who told me more.
“It's an absolutely brilliant initiative.”

Q. I-Construct: How has your I-Construct mentoring experience been so far?

A. Louise Altman:

“I can't stress enough that having a mentor has had such an impact on me. I feel quite emotional about the connection I made because it’s given me confidence I didn't have before. It's given me loads of ideas to spring from and heaps of directions to go in. I'm working my way through masses of new business ideas, and I'm so glad that I found out about the scheme.”
“Everybody on the mentor list is a professional and I’m sure they would have all had something to offer in terms of mentoring. I chose to work with Derek because I read that he'd worked on huge building projects and seemed like he was the best person for me to speak to. I thought he would know the most about supply chains and how building projects work. I was a bit nervous. I hold people who have got a lot of experience in high regard – you just don't want to make a twit of yourself. Sian, my facilitator, said, ‘He might give you homework’ and I wondered, ‘what is he going to give me to do, am I going to know enough about the building sector?’.
“Derek was so brilliant. When we started, I told him everything. He asked lots of pertinent questions and was very thorough. To start with we had lots of calls in a short space of time because there was a lot to get through, but now we've started spacing the calls out. Since then, we've gone from strength to strength in solving the things that come up for me.
“I'm trying to make the best of having Derek’s time. I go to him with questions, and for his advice. He remembers what I've said to him and is very engaged. I get the impression he’s genuinely interested, and I like to think he enjoys our chats too. After our conversations, he sends me a fantastic overview of what we've spoken about. Now I ask myself, ‘what would Derek say?’ when I’m making decisions.
“The single most valuable thing Derek’s taught me is to, ‘be bold’. I think it's such a good catchphrase. It really boosts my confidence. He’s taught me that business is a two-way partnership and not to be afraid to ask questions in principle. He's given me some contacts, and I don’t think he would have done that if he didn't believe in my work. Now I think, well, if Derek thinks my work’s okay, then I‘ve got the confidence to call this or that company. He’s like a teacher you never forget because they believe in you. I really enjoy the mentoring, and I imagine I'm going to be a bit lost when I don't have Derek at hand anymore.”

Q. I-Construct: How should I prepare for a mentoring meeting?

A. Louise Altman:

“I think the most important thing to be able to do is to describe your business in a nutshell (or your idea or your plan, whatever it is that you want help with). You should be able to describe it efficiently so that people understand what it is. It's like a tagline on your website. Describe what you do in a simple sentence, what problem are you solving? Then you need to be able to elaborate on it because your mentor's going to ask you loads of questions. But there’s no pressure from them at all. If you don't know the answer, it's fine, it shows up the gaps in your knowledge and that’s a good thing. Just try to know yourself.
“When you've talked to your mentor, you're going to have things to do. Of course, it's up to you if you do them, but they're so useful if you do. So, you need to make space for them. It’s also really good to have your costings, and other things at hand, because then you can get to start to work with your mentor and drill down straight away.”

Q. I-Construct: How has working with a mentor impacted your business so far?

A. Louise Altman:

“Derek encouraged me to review the costings of everything to do with my business and helped me examine my pricing because my pricing was too low. I’d underestimated how long the process took me. For example, when I’m packaging an order. it doesn't actually take the minute I thought it did, it takes half an hour.
“I’ve been featured in Essex Living Magazine, in English Home magazine, and a few other magazines lately. Derek suggested that I could go and buy loads of interiors or associated publications. I went to the store, and I bought a whole load of interesting publications, which was exciting because I never allow myself the luxury of buying magazines. Then I started to contact some of the writers in those publications, and they picked up my story. This is an ongoing process. There’s a lot of sectors that might be interested in my work from different perspectives.
“Derek and I have been talking about getting my wallpaper printed by a wallpaper manufacturer. I wanted my product to remain hand printed, but Derek and I found a compromise between my wish to stick to my values and handmade ethics but to be able to scale up so I’m not constantly hand printing orders and can concentrate more on design, which I love. I'm in talks with some high-end wallpaper printers about reproducing my wallpaper so that it still has that hand-printed feel. I’d continue to create the hand-printed wallpaper for the clients that wanted it but scaling up a little might make my wallpaper more accessible and budget-friendly.
“Derek and I also looked at my potential audience, from architects to builders, and identified who might be interested in what I do.
“Derek's been helping me where to go for advice around whether to stay self-employed or register as a business. Although he doesn't have the answers for those things, because sometimes they're a personal choice, he's pointed me in the right direction. He tells me all the contacts and associations that might be useful.
“I've also been creating a business plan. Listing all my to-dos with dates for completion. I found it useful because I could spend a lot of time talking about all the things I want to do, but not doing them. Moving things on, however incrementally, is very important.” 

Q. I-Construct: Can everybody benefit from having a mentor?

A. Louise Altman:

“I am now a huge mentoring fan. I think a mentor can help at any stage in a business. I think it's important for people to understand we can still learn at any stage in our lives or work.
“At the moment lots of people are offering mentorships in different capacities. I just had a free hour with a PR lady. She really helped me with what interiors journalists look for in a story and when they look for it. She literally dumped her PR brain on me for an hour. It was astonishing how much I got from the session because she gave me all these tips about social media, how to connect with people, where to find them, when it's best to contact, how to contact, how to stay in touch with them. She was brilliant. It was like someone picked me up and put me in a PR whirlwind and dumped me at the other side. There was so much information imparted to me - I've got a year’s worth of planning work to cover all her suggestions.”
“I’m now a positive advocate for mentors. Because it doesn't matter what you do, it can help you sound out what you want to do, where you're trying to go. It helps you build the roadmap to get there. Someone like Derek is a person to guide you along the way, to light the path ahead. He has the experience and expertise to help.
I know some diehard businesspeople who are stuck in their ways, they can’t see the wood for the trees. It can be a bit of a psychological rut. Someone like Derek could help unpack any resistance and help with what the next steps might be to make a positive lasting change.
“It's not just about what you know, or what you've done. It’s also about taking the time and listening to somebody else with a fresh perspective. Whether you’re new to business or are an experienced hand, a mentor can be the next step to improvement and growth."

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