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Mentoring Success Stories: meet Jancee and Kylie

Mentor Kylie El-Sheikh and MEntee Jancee Benci

With a growing ‘to-do’ pile and feeling a little lost, Jancee jumped headfirst into the unknown and applied for a scholarship from the Office for Women to receive a Rare Birds Mentor – and she is SO glad she did!

Jancee tell us about your business, The Party Girl World and how it came about.

It came about a little bit because of necessity. I was 24 and had two children under three and my husband worked away a lot and did long hours. We still needed me to work, but we needed it to be flexible. One day I saw a man sculpting balloons and just decided I could probably learn that. So I did and started from there!

Obviously there aren’t many parties going on this year, have you been impacted, how has COVID affected you?

When it first all started happening back in March, we basically had everything cancelled for the rest of the year. Up until that point we had been going really well. We had expanded to cover every state in Australia bar NT and SA and we’d also started licensing the brand as well and selling Party Girl branches. Then COVID came and we were literally at a standstill. The last month or so we’ve been starting to get some work interstate. Private parties are only a very small percentage of what we do. It’s more the lack of bigger festivals and workshops and activations that really affected us.

So what did you do, did you pivot the business and start doing different things?

I cried for a bit, and then I sulked for about 2 months, and then I started to pull my socks up. We did implement a few different things. We have a sister business which manufactures craft kits and we just started to really focus on the sales of those to keep us afloat. We did a few YouTube videos like ‘How to Make Slime at Home’ with some of our Party Girl staff. We’re now just finalising the implementation of our single-serve face painting service that ensures there is no shared equipment so it is safe.

It actually gave me time to do all of those things that were in the “I’ve got to get to this’ pile, that we never quite got to, so that was good as well.

It sounds like the timing for you to receive some mentoring support was really good!

Oh absolutely and honestly had COVID not come around I might not have even applied because I would have thought that I’m just too busy, and so yes it felt like it was the universe aligning. 

I knew that activity promotes activity and everything was at a standstill. I was at a loose end and I thought I had to do something, but I wasn’t really sure where to start. I was thinking even if I only got one thing out of this from a business perspective, then it’s going to be worth doing – but already I’ve got so much more than that! 

Jancee Benci, Founder The Party Girl World

Did you have any expectations coming into the program? What did you think might happen?

No expectations as such. I wasn’t really sure exactly what it was that a mentor did, or what it was to be mentored, so I didn’t really have any expectations. It was more just that I knew that activity promotes activity and everything was at a standstill. I was at a loose end and I thought I had to do something, but I wasn’t really sure where to start. I was thinking even if I only got one thing out of this from a business perspective, then it’s going to be worth doing – but already I’ve got so much more than that! 

So you’re enjoying the program so far?

Oh absolutely! Going back pre-COVID we’ve got about 35 staff across the business – there’s now a lot on hold, so we’re a much smaller team. My employees are fantastic and we have great conversations, but they are conversations between an employer and an employee and there’s a different mindset on both of those levels. So being able to talk to Kylie on a different level again – someone who’s also running a business – I have found really enjoyable.

Did you previously have a strong peer-to-peer network where you are?

No! And that’s been for no other reason than – I know this probably sounds funny coming from an events organiser and party coordinator – but I’m not a particularly social person and I find myself very much outside my comfort zone, especially in business situations outside of behind my desk.

Can you please share with us some of the things that Kylie has been taking you through?

The business has been going for about 16 years now and the way that it is structured, with its systems and its website, was at capacity in terms of where I could take it. So we’ve been looking at some really large issues that need to be tackled that are underlying it all and will affect so many different aspects of the business once we get to the end of the process with them. There’s been a bit of a systems overhaul, we’re looking at our website, and a big focus of mine for the long term is to have the licensee sales to the point where I’ll come out of Party Girl as a coordinator and our office will just be a support crew for the branches. 

One of the things that Kylie has really helped me with – and to be honest I’ve had to learn this in general – is to not take things too personally when receiving positive criticism. It’s one of the things Kylie has pointed out that has really helped me to see and understand different points of view. When she reviewed the website, she noticed I was using a lot of negative language, instead of focussing on the positives. There were lots of ‘no’s and ‘never’s and those sorts of things which I’ve been working on to change. I feel like it’s brought a much more positive vibe to it. I’ve also now noticed even with my clients that I use a lot of absolute language – even though it’s not necessarily negative. Funny thing – I also use that language with my 16-year-old son and that’s not working either! It was interesting to see that part of my personality was crossing over into the business as well.

I was probably also getting a little bit too comfortable with some of my responses to emails. Kylie pointed out one day that I type how I talk and I thought ‘you know what, I do!’ And so we’ve been able to change just little small things like that which I think will all add up in the end.

Particularly with regards to the licensing sales – one of the struggles I’ve had is that in the first 6 months when we started selling the brand, we sold 5 licences across Tasmania, Victoria and New South Wales and we were trucking along nicely and then, of course, COVID. But there was one thing I was finding: I was getting a huge amount of enquiries, but the information I was delivering wasn’t connecting. I knew that was a problem and so Kylie and I are working on my wording and document formatting to fix that. I want to be able to sell to every 24 or 25, or even 35-year-old mum who is looking for extra income and have that flexible work – because that’s a really good ‘feel-good’ aspect for me – I love Party Girl and other people can love it as well! But also trying to get across the message that although you don’t require a background in marketing and you don’t need experience running events or a business, or even face painting, that at the same time it is a professional outfit. I was getting a lot of comments about it being a multi-level marketing scheme, but it’s not. However the copy I am sending out makes it sound like it is. So that’s one of the things I’m working on with Kylie and I really appreciate that.

Looking ahead to 12 month’s time, you and Kylie are finishing up and having your final meeting, what are you hoping to have achieved? What are the goals that you’ve set for yourself?

The main goal is to increase the licence sales, but also giving the image of the company from a professional point of view a bit of an overhaul. Certainly changing the language of the company, there’s a website overhaul happening and also some systems that I’m hoping to have in place by the end of the 12 months. So far we have been working on all of those simultaneously, so it’s not job, tick, job, tick, it’s a continual process.

The other thing she’s helped me with so far is connections. Sometimes I will know what needs to be done, but have no clue who to reach out to who does that type of thing or how I would find them. With her help I’ve found someone who has been amazing at helping me with the marketing and social media and setting it up so our team can eventually take over. It’s a pretty huge overhaul, but it doesn’t seem that scary anymore, and it’s not all sitting on my ‘to-do’ pile on the side, it’s actually in progress.

It’s a pretty huge overhaul, but it doesn’t seem that scary anymore, and it’s not all sitting on my ‘to-do’ pile on the side, it’s actually in progress.

Jancee Benci, Mentee

It sounds like the program has already had a big impact on your business.

Yes, one of the great things that Kylie has been able to do is help me to identify the issues that needed to be worked on in the business. I knew there were a lot – but it was literally just a pile – she’s been able to identify precisely what it is about that part that isn’t working. She’s actually shared personal experiences with me to assure me that it’s not just me, it’s about the process and others have been through it. That’s been very reassuring. She also lets me work at my own pace, so I don’t feel too pressured. It’s not like it’s totally left up to me, she has had a lot of input, but she understands that there is a lot going on and that’s been very helpful too. She’s very honest and she’s very motivating, which to have as part of my weekly or fortnightly discussions has been so positive for me.

So Kylie, that’s some pretty lovely feedback! How long have you been doing one-on-one mentoring?

We started 2 1/2-to-3 months ago, so this is actually new to me. As a CEO and executive I have always trained and mentored my own staff, but I have never officially mentored anyone outside of my immediate circle.

How are you finding it?

I love it, it’s really good. At first I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to bring any value or have any impact on Jancee’s business, and I wasn’t sure why they matched us, because I’m in healthcare. It’s completely different. But as soon as we met and started talking, we could see within the first 5 minutes that we both aligned and I definitely had some skills I could bring to the table and help her to expand. I’ve got a lot of experience working throughout Australia with different markets and can point her to where she can target and start selling all over Australia. We also get along really well and share the same values, the same approach to things and outlook, and I could see that she needed a bit of help but was just so busy. She just needed someone to come along and say ‘oh wow your business is fantastic, now let’s just shake it up and get it going.’

That’s good feedback for us actually, because part of our strategy with the program is to match on skills and personality rather than industry. We knew it would work!

I’m really impressed actually, because I’ve been to a couple of the Coffee Catch-ups and I’ve met some of the other mentors and the matches they have and I just think ‘wow that is the perfect match for you.’ I couldn’t think of a better mentee for that person to help and they have had some really great outcomes actually. I don’t know how you do it, but the matches are really spot on.

I’m really impressed actually, because I’ve been to a couple of the Coffee Catch-ups and I’ve met some of the other mentors … I don’t know how you do it, but the matches are really spot on.

Kylie El-Sheikh, Mentor

The biggest difference I’ve found between training and mentoring my own staff and mentoring someone externally is that when people are working for me – I used to say ‘with me’ but now realise they are working ‘for me’ – I would mentor them and mould them towards what I wanted to do. But mentoring somebody outside of your business – I’m not mentoring her in order to get her to do something I want her to do, I’m giving her the skills and encouragement and the foresight to do something that SHE wants to do. Within her time and within her ability, and just give her the resources. It’s actually so nice to work with someone who is so competent you can just give them a handful of tools and they can run with it. It’s a whole other level of mentoring. Anyone who already has their own business has got that get up and go, so that’s half the job done.

Would you say it’s impacted how you now deal with your teams internally?

Absolutely yes. I think I give more autonomy now. It’s very eye opening. Having your own business there are things that you’re going to be quite pedantic about and specific about certain outcomes, but I’ve certainly begun giving them more autonomy.

I’m really enjoying it! Jancee and I have a lot of fun when we catch up and we’ve always got lots to talk about. Plus it’s exciting to see each step and that things are progressing. I’m 100% confident that by the time we get through this process, my personal goal is that Jancee will be able to sit back, with all of those licences running, and she will have passive income and she won’t have to stress. That’s a fantastic outcome I reckon!

If you would like to receive more information about becoming a Rare Birds Mentor, or about us finding you the perfect match to take your business and professional development forward, then contact the team and one of us will be in touch: [email protected]