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Mentoring Matches: Building confidence to take risks

Mentoring Matches: Building confidence to take risks

When embarking on your first business venture, the many decisions you need to make can feel daunting and overwhelming. Working with an experienced mentor can help to guide and navigate you through those hurdles.

We caught up with Kathryn and Jessica Hickson, founders of Wye Wholefoods, on how their mentoring match with Julia Kirby-Smith, founder of Better Food Traders, has given them the confidence to make difficult decisions and take risks to help grow their business.

About Wye Wholefoods

Identical twins, Kathryn and Jessica Hickson, embarked on their business venture taking on their family’s shop, a bakery, which they adapted into a wholefoods store based in Wye, Ashford. They now retail local organic products such as nuts and seeds, preserves and dried fruits and vegetables. This enterprise combines their interest in nutrition and enjoyment of chatting with customers. They have recently celebrated their first anniversary in business.

We matched the founders with mentor, Julia Kirby-Smith. Julia founded a North London farm shop, Fridge of Plenty. She now heads Better Food Traders, a UK-wide network that supports ethical food businesses that sell locally-grown and planet-friendly food.

During their fortnightly meetings with Julia, they developed their business branding and focused on understanding their profit margins to increase their online sales and profitability.

Learning from Julia’s experience, Jessica and Kathryn have been able to explore and expand their network of suppliers. With Julia’s guidance, they have gained the confidence to approach cafes and bistros to stock their produce, a network they were initially hesitant to explore.

Kathryn and Jessica on Julia

Why did you join the mentoring scheme?

“The Growing Kent & Medway mentoring programme was suggested to us by Produced in Kent, and as a start-up business, it was a nice idea and a good opportunity to get some guidance”.

What did your mentoring sessions focus on?

“We are both passionate about our business but were a bit unsure of the direction that we wanted to go with.

“We worked on branding first. Julia helped us to focus on exactly who we are and who we want to become. That gives us a strong basis from which to build the business. The branding helps us with all aspects of our advertising, including the keywords we need to use in our marketing.

“Though we had an idea of the profit margins we wanted, it was nice to have someone who has done it all before to tell us exactly what we are supposed to be looking for.”

What have you gained from mentoring?

“Definitely confidence. We weren’t the most decisive people to begin with. So having someone to support us through the decisions and encourage us to take a few risks so we can develop further has been great.

“Getting to know Julia and building a relationship with her has improved our confidence and is something we’ve worked on a lot.  

What are your top tips for someone starting mentoring?

“Build a relationship so you get to know each other well and that will help identify the sort of things you can work on together.”

What are your plans over the next year for Wye Wholefoods?

“To keep building up stock. We have an empty room out the back which we plan to do up and start selling café style foods. That’s a massive development which we have been discussing a lot with Julia…and it’s quite daunting!”

What would you say to someone unsure about mentoring?

“I’d say definitely do it. It’s really helpful. You get a lot of different ideas that you wouldn’t have thought of before. It’s nice to have someone extra to support you through it because it’s not easy.”

Julia Kirby-Smith on Jessica and Kathryn

How have you found the experience of being a mentor?

“It has been fantastic and enjoyable to meet young, dynamic entrepreneurs.

“Learning that your knowledge is valuable in helping a new business to grow their own business mindset has been really gratifying.

“I’ve really enjoyed seeing a new business flourish and go from very very new, building up their product range, building up their business, and now beginning to think about financial planning and some of the more systems work that needs to be done.

“Your main challenge when you start out is that you don’t really know what you don’t know. So, you need someone with more experience to guide you in thinking about those challenges that will come, before you get there.”


Would you like to be matched with someone who has experience in business and who can support your business growth?

Perhaps you have valuable experience and knowledge that you would like to share with upcoming business leaders?

Sign up for our mentor programme today. Check out our Mentor Directory where you can see the brilliant experts who are supporting local businesses already.