A healthy and safer approach to starting a new business venture

Susan Rhodes knows her stuff when it comes to health and safety. She has been a health and safety consultant for 15 years and her business, Smart Safety Solutions, has provided advice and support to a wide range of companies.

With huge legislative changes sweeping New Zealand’s business environment after the Pike River Mine disaster, companies are increasingly being asked to set in place improvements in health and safety in all workplaces.

In this environment, Susan saw an unfulfilled need for an online tool or ‘app’ for contractor induction and management. The problem? Though her knowledge of health and safety in the workplace is extensive, Susan had never developed software and had no clear idea where to start.

“So I had my idea, now I needed a sounding board to refine it into a product and to know if it was going to be viable.

This is where Business Mentors New Zealand enters the story.

“I needed someone who could take an objective look at what I was proposing and to ask the right questions. I was aware of Business Mentors and they were really my first point of contact when I looked for help with this project,” she said.

Susan made contact using the Business Mentors website and things quickly took shape. Mentor Paul Petersen began working with her to test and validate the idea.

“I needed a sounding board to refine the idea. In a general way I knew what was needed but didn’t know how to make it happen. I needed help to engage some expert software development,” she said.

Paul took her through a ‘lean start-up’ process which required her to step outside her comfort zone as part of a process of validating the idea.

“It made me consider many things I hadn’t thought about. Things like going out and talking to people in business – finding out what they want in Health and Safety and how much they are prepared to pay for such a product. The process forces you to own every aspect of your idea.”

Through the process, Susan was also working in her business full time and catching up with Paul over breakfast for regular update meetings.

Mentor Paul Petersen’s business background equipped him well to help Susan progress her idea toward a finished product. He owned a logistics company for 12 years, later consulting and then establishing a sales assessment, recruiting and training company.

He joined Business Mentors’ ranks of volunteer mentors two years ago.

Paul says the start-up mentoring process helps people understand what they need to do to move from their ‘great idea’ to a fully functioning business or product.

“In my view a start-up is not a business, it’s an idea looking for validation. Susan needed to test her idea with clients and establish the steps needed to make the idea reality. I was delighted to help her complete that journey.”

Through the mentoring process Susan was able to confirm her target market, understand product development process and find the right expert help to create her product.

“It isn’t possible to be an expert in everything. The key to being successful in this was to find the right help to create the finished product, and to understand how the sales process would work. These things were challenging and development took more time than I had expected, but I think that is part of every great idea.”

Susan says the process has been immensely valuable. Her advice to others considering similar ventures: take hold of the fear, go out of your comfort zone and push ahead.

Anyone interested in registering for a business mentor or finding out more about Business Mentors New Zealand should visit www.businessmentors.org.nz or call 0800 209 209.