Mentoring Through a Crisis | NAWBO
 
DJ Heckes

Nearly every woman business owner needs a mentor to teach, advise and motivate her—especially in challenging times like the current economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

DJ Heckes, NAWBO-New Mexico member and owner of EXHIB-IT, serves as a mentor to Hilary Lentini, president of NAWBO-California and owner of Lentini Design & Marketing in Los Angeles. Both women own marketing firms, making them a great match. Equally qualifying, DJ has first-hand experience in surviving financial challenges. She made it through the dot-com crash and five years of the economic recession, which started for her in 2009.   

While Hilary had already established Lentini Design as an award-winning contender in the marketplace, she wanted to bring it to the next level. At last year’s NAWBO National Women’s Business Conference, she shared her goal with DJ who offered to mentor her. “It turns out that was a pivotal conversation that changed my business’ future,” Hilary recalls.

This past November, she spent two days with DJ one-on-one creating a mini strategic plan. Hilary was making strides toward her goal until COVID-19 hit. The sudden impact was so severe that she coined the term #smallbusinessarmageddon on Facebook.

“When this initially started, DJ and I spoke often,” shares Hilary. “We strategized about the best approaches to make it through this crisis, and how to poise our businesses to grow again once the economy starts back up.”

During a recent call with DJ, she shared the concern that she may need to lay off staff due to economic challenges created by COVID-19. They discussed issues like furlough, shared time and the consequences of unemployment claims. “Having a mentor to discuss all the options with is a true blessing—especially with the additional stressors small businesses are facing,” says Hilary. For now, she’s weathering the storm.

Of course, she’s not alone. DJ is pivoting during this crisis as well. She has suffered a loss these past two months, borrowed against her line of credit and refunded over $65,000 to customers from cancelled show orders. She suffered a 78 percent loss of revenue in March 2020 alone, and anticipates things to get worse during the current non-essential business shut down.

However, DJ was able to keep her employees who banded together to reduce costs and develop a new business model for EXHIB-IT! With a goal to go 100 percent e-commerce by end of April, her team is changing roles. Her designer created templates for online sales, and DJ taught herself WordPress to update product pages and pricing information online—something she previously outsourced. She also invested in a VPN earlier this year for a remote employee—an expensive but valuable tool she’d like to expand on.

“I want to take advantage of this time by investing in my people and working as a team,” she says. “Our goal is to make it easier for consumers to buy once this crisis ends.”

It’s that kind of determination she advises all NAWBO members to maintain.

“We need to lean on each other, share best practices and look at new ways of doing business, whether it’s forming an alliance with a like-minded business or merging,” she says. “Now is the time for NAWBO sisters to mentor one another, come together and think strategically.”

Hilary Lentini

A Good Match

DJ and Hilary first met at a NAWBO National event where they became fast friends and enjoyed “talking shop”—so much so that DJ offered to mentor Hilary.

During Hilary’s one-on-one mentoring session last fall with DJ, they did a deep dive together. They reviewed Hilary’s profit and losses, developing a mini strategic plan and dashboard. Next, they updated Hilary’s mission, vision and core values. Finally, they looked at Hilary’s annual revenue goal and broke it down into realistic quarterly goals.

“She personally taught me how to deeply read my financials,” recalls Hilary. “I’d read them for years, but didn’t know how to use them as a predictive tool. By working with me one-on-one with my actual business’ data and financials, she showed me how I could grow my firm beyond what I’d already done.”

When Hilary returned to Los Angeles, she put her mini strategic plan into action, confident with DJ available via email or phone, if needed. Each month, she sends DJ her dashboard to review during a face-to-face video call—something that’s much needed in the current economic state.

The mentorship has been invaluable to both parties. Having DJ as my mentor is a testament to the #NAWBOcommunity,” says Hilary. “My gratitude to her knows no bounds.”

DJ offers similar sentiments, “I offered to mentor Hilary because she’s smart and extremely talented, and I love to watch people grow. If I’m able to offer my expertise to make a difference to other women business owners, especially now, it’s worth it.”