In 2009 Katie Geddes set up The Dance Studio Leeds (DSL), bringing together her professional dance training and her entrepreneurial spirit. When we first spoke to Katie in 2016, the IOEE had just matched her with a mentor, Colin Kemp, through the Meet a Mentor scheme. One year on, we catch up with Katie and Colin to see how their mentoring relationship has helped to shape DSL as a business and how it inspired Katie to find that elusive work-life balance.
When Katie and Colin began their mentoring relationship, Katie was pregnant with her first child, so as well as having to look at DSL from a business perspective, Katie was also having to consider the change in her personal life, with maternity leave not far away. Katie says:
“Knowing that I was going to have to take a step back was really difficult, as I had been in control for such a long time, but Colin helped me to realise that stepping back was a good thing. I was working 50-60 hour weeks and that wasn’t going to be feasible anymore, but he gave me this great advice – to think of myself as the conductor of the orchestra, rather than being in amongst it playing a part. Colin helped me to get perspective and to let go, and a mentor can get through to you in a way that your family and friends can’t, as when it’s a business person who is telling you that doing less hours doesn’t mean you’re less successful, you actually believe them!”
Katie shared the day-to-day responsibilities of DSL, such as running the reception and organising schedules, with two part-time employees, but she took on two more members of staff in anticipation of her maternity leave; roles that have been kept on even after Katie’s return to work:
“I now have four members of staff on the payroll, which has doubled since before I had my little boy, and maintaining those roles post-maternity leave has meant that I’ve been able to balance work with family life, as well as readjusting my position at DSL. Colin advised me to ‘working on the business, not in the business’, and it really stuck with me.”
When Katie first met Colin, she was considering expanding DSL by taking on a third studio space, and the two of them discussed the financial side of things to help Katie decide her next step. Katie says:
“It didn’t matter than Colin wasn’t experienced in the dance industry – I actually think this was really beneficial, as he was able to look at DSL purely as a business, passing on his financial knowledge and helping me to improve my cashflow. Because of that understanding, I could make the decision to convert another space in our complex to create a third studio in August last year.
“We’re now able to hold bigger dance classes, activities and events, whereas we were a little bit too small for some of those beforehand. Some our clients – the dance teachers – are running more classes now, and we’ve expanded our offering too. We’ve added more ballet classes, an Irish class, an African dance fitness class, and some baby dance classes, and we have a few new ones in the pipeline too.”
Katie and Colin met on several occasions over the last year, and these meetings helped Katie to reassess what had and hadn’t worked in the past, and to set goals and objectives for the future – meetings that she felt she missed due to not having a manager – and the informal nature of the mentoring only helped Katie further:
“The meetings with Colin were very relaxed, which really put me at ease. You feel like you’re chatting to a friend. Colin was very supportive and I really wanted to do well for him too, as he was giving me his time, expertise and advice. When DSL put on a charity dance show to raise funds for Yorkshire Cancer Research in October, Colin came along to support it, which was lovely.
Having a mentor to check in with gave me discipline too. If there was a meeting looming, it would spur me on to get moving, so I could report back with what I’d done. It’s so helpful when you don’t have a manager on top of you, to have someone there to talk through your ideas with, measure how you’ve progressed so far and how to move forward. It’s been such a big year, I now have a little boy and I’ve stepped back at work, so it’s time to tighten everything with the business so it can run as efficiently and effectively as possible, and I can finally focus on being the conductor.”
Colin worked for Lloyds Bank for many years and began mentoring around 18 months ago whilst he was planning for his retirement. He did some mentoring skills training through Lloyds and volunteered to help small businesses, before being matched up with Katie – his very first mentee. Colin says:
“Katie’s biggest challenge was learning to let go of certain aspects of the business. When we first met she was quite conflicted about stepping back, and was wrestling with how she was going to manage to grow her business and have a baby, but we worked through all of this. It’s the biggest change I have seen in Katie – she became clear in her priorities, which was her family, and she developed the confidence to accept stepping back. I advised her to remember not to be working in the business instead of on it, and she really took that on board.”
Colin says that helping someone to trust themselves and to have that confidence is one of the key aspects of mentoring, and that he himself had to step back too:
“You’re trying to be a critical friend, to be someone who they can talk through their ideas and plans with, help them organise their thoughts. Very rarely do you ask a question where your mentee doesn’t already have the answer. If you ask someone what they should be doing and ‘why aren’t you doing it then?!’, they always have the answer – time, money, confidence. Katie had all the answers, all I’ve done is help her shape her own thinking.
“I think that one of the hardest things I found was trying not to dive in and try to provide answers to questions that Katie was asking. With mentoring, you have to remember that you’re not a business coach; you’re there to guide people and help them to come to their own conclusions.”
Throughout their meetings, Colin helped Katie to talk through the financial side of taking on a new studio space and expanding the business, and together they discussed the risks – what would happen if you do it, what would happen if you don’t – and Colin says that Katie was particularly dedicated and determined to move the business forward:
“We’d put plans in place for things to Katie to explore, and then I’d go back to meet her a few weeks later and she’d have tried some of those things and they’d helped – as a mentor, this is very, very satisfying. She also had the guts to take on that additional studio space, and her efforts have paid off.”
Although Katie has driven the business forward over the last year, Colin says that Katie needs to hang on to what she’s learnt as she moves into the next year:
“Katie was in a transitional period when I first met her, just about to embark upon maternity leave, but now that she’s back to work, she’s in another transitional period of sorts. We’ve talked about her picking up and taking on the parts of the business that are right for her, and having confidence in her position as the creative force behind DSL. She can have other people doing the books and covering the reception, and those sorts of administrative jobs – but she’s the artistic drive here. DSL is her vision, so she needs to make sure she still steps back from those other things and focuses on that.”
Colin now works with three mentees and will be continuing to mentor in the future:
“On a personal level, mentoring is also just a great experience. Katie runs a contemporary dance studio and I’m a 60 year-old bloke that worked in a bank, so they’re not really industries that cross paths! Having the opportunity to find out about another world is really fascinating.”