Dancer and yoga teacher Ella Mesma spotted an opportunity to provide employees with short, targeted wellbeing interventions that wouldn’t interrupt their working day. Mentor Emily Rider has helped her develop the business skills and confidence required to launch her business into the corporate arena.
Ella Mesma trained as a dancer. She performed at the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics in London and is director of the Ella Mesma Dance Company, which tours internationally. She also began practising yoga in 2004, and has taught it for the past ten years.
As she became increasingly conscious of the mounting stress and mental health issues afflicting people at work, she realised that she could adapt her skills and experience to the “workplace wellness” environment. Three years ago she launched Business Yoga, which offers online and in-person sessions aimed at helping employees to look after their mental and physical health, but she was frustrated in her efforts to get the company to fly.
“I was a dancer,” she said. “I’d had a great career and a great life travelling the world, but I had no business head.” After some coaching, she set up a limited company in January 2020. “And then coronavirus happened, and I had to rethink everything.”
A match made in heaven
She continued to deliver online classes throughout the pandemic, but felt that she would benefit from a mentor to help her launch her service into the corporate arena in January 2021. She found out about the Rose Review mentoring programme, currently being piloted by Be the Business and NatWest and one aimed specifically at supporting female entrepreneurs.
“I was blessed to be matched up with Emily Rider as a mentor,” she added.
Emily, head of client funding at Hitachi Capital Franchise Finance, part of Hitachi Capital (UK), has a strong track record in business and finance, but she also represents exactly the kind of business – finance and legal – where Ella sees the greatest scope for her Business Yoga offering.
“Emily’s expertise in franchising is going to be really valuable too, because that’s where I’d like to go with my business,” explained Ella. “She’s also very interested in yoga and wellbeing.”
Emily herself acknowledges the strength of the connection. “We clicked immediately,” she said. In fact, they were so in tune that they realised they had both signed up to the same online interior design course. It would be easy to see their compatibility as uncanny, but the pair ascribe their perfect pairing to the quality of the mentoring programme’s matching algorithm.
A strong connection between mentor and mentee helps drive a successful outcome, as Emily acknowledged. “I’d not formally mentored anyone before, so I was slightly nervous, but our first meeting gave me the confidence that I could help Ella.”
Tackling self-limiting beliefs
Ella said that some of the early work she did with Emily was about tackling some of her own limiting self-perceptions. She explained: “For example, I cringed at the notion of ‘selling myself’. But Emily made me realise that the best way to sell yourself is simply to be yourself, with conviction – something that I had always done, without realising it.”
So far, the pair have had six one-hour weekly Zoom mentoring sessions – at 9am every Friday. One session focused on Ella’s website. “When you’re so immersed in something it can be difficult to see it objectively,” she commented. “Emily pointed out that on the first page of my website I hadn’t even explained the ‘23onMe’ concept, which is the heart of my offering [23onMe is short, targeted interventions designed to embed good practice without taking up too much of the working day]. What’s more, I’m trained in workspace ergonomics, and she pointed out that that is an additional strand to my business that I need to promote.”
Emily has noticed a significant change in Ella over the past six weeks. “Initially, I set the agenda, but she is now in the driving seat: she’s much more confident about the steps she needs to take to launch her business to the corporate world in January,” she added.
Mentoring benefits mentors too
When Hitachi Capital (UK), a supporter of Be the Business, asked its senior leaders if they would be interested in mentoring, Emily’s experience of working with entrepreneurs prompted her to sign up immediately. “Being an entrepreneur can be very lonely: they have these brilliant ideas, but maybe no one to talk to about them – nor the skills required to execute them.
“I’ve also had some brilliant mentors myself – and I want to pay that forward to others.”
There was an element of enlightened self-interest too: “I manage a team here and I wanted to improve my coaching skills.” In fact, she’s got even more from the relationship than she anticipated. “I go away and think about some of the things Ella wants advice on, and it’s making me reflect on the way I do business too,” she explained.
A confidence boost
Ella’s ambition for her business is to maintain its “intimacy” – “it’s all about people and relationships” – while expanding the offering to more and bigger companies, and she’s confident that, with Emily’s continuing help, she will be able to successfully do that. The business owner hopes the relationship will continue after the three-month programme ends, albeit on a less frequent basis. “I’d like to be able to check in with her every month or so.”
So far, the experience has exceeded her expectations. “To have a mentor of this standard – free – is like a dream come true,” she said. Not only is the practical guidance that Emily offers exactly what Ella was looking for, but she is also, she says, “very nurturing, and has my back”.
Emily believes that women tend to undervalue their talents and skills: “Many of us suffer from imposter syndrome, because there are not enough female role models. We need someone always in the background saying, ‘you’re brilliant, of course you can do it’,” she reflectd. She cites a concrete example in her relationship with Ella. A confidence-denting knock back from a company Ella was targeting made her think she should abandon her corporate ambitions. Emily encouraged her to stick to her guns and ask the company why they were resistant. That company ended up being one of the first to sign up for a 23onMe membership package.
Ella has much more belief in herself and her business now. “As a result of working with Emily I feel confident to speak, to go forth, and to thrive.”