Case Study – Mentoring


A shared interest in social media and technology led James Sutherland and Meike Suggars to embark on a mentoring relationship. Three years on, having both experienced significant growth in their personal and professional development, they share what they believe is the key to making a mentoring relationship work…


At a glance

Mentor: James Sutherland, AFA member
Business name: myonlineadvisers
Licensee: Own AFSL
Years in advice: 15 years

Mentee: Meike Suggars, AFA member
Business name: Suggars & Associates
Licensee: Synchron
Years in advice: 3.5 years


In detail

Suggars and Sutherland met at an Association of Financial Advisers (AFA) Conference three years ago and immediately connected.  After chatting about all things social media, and having realised they could learn from one another’s experiences, they agreed to set up a regular, monthly catch-up.

“Our conversations generally involve bouncing ideas off one-another, and talking through challenges or opportunities within each of our businesses,” says Sutherland.

Suggars also appreciates having someone outside her own business to keep her accountable: “Even if you do have access to a colleague with great industry experience within your own business, the challenge of being accountable to someone outside the practice can sometimes have more impact, and be a bit more motivating.”

“I find talking through processes and techniques with another person reminds me of the things I need to be doing in my own business,” says Sutherland. “For example, we (established advisers) get caught up in the business of compliance, and focusing on getting signatures on pieces of paper. Who reminds us about simple things like open-ended questions, having a pipeline, and avoiding fear phrases? Teaching another adviser about these techniques helps me hone my own skills.”

the challenge of being accountable to someone outside the practice can sometimes have more impact

Suggars has also recently taken on the role of mentor, working with 2013 AFA Rising Star of the Year Award Finalist, Kylie George (Harvest Wealth). Like Sutherland, Suggars says she also benefited from passing on her skills to another adviser:

“Talking things through with Kylie actually helped me realise how much I’d learnt in the couple of years that I’d been advising. It also helped me recognise areas in my own business on which I wanted to focus more time and effort.”

Defining your goals and objectives up front is very important, says Sutherland.  “This can be as simple as asking your mentee about what’s important to them, what they want to achieve in a month, six months, or a year from now, where they see their gaps and where they think you can help them.”

He also believes setting a regular appointment time, or agreeing how frequently catch-ups will occur, helps to keep the relationship going, especially in the early stages.

Most importantly, says Sutherland, don’t feel like you have to force a relationship. He uses the example of a referral relationship he once had with a mortgage broker to explain:

“He (the mortgage broker) didn’t like using email to communicate. He preferred faxes and said it was because his clients preferred it, too. It was really frustrating for me, because he was just not interested in technology or finding a new way of doing business. So even though I was getting a good number of referrals from him, I had to end the relationship. I think the same goes in a mentor relationship. If you’re not getting what you need, remember that there are lots of other talented advisers out there from whom you can learn.”

Suggars is also keen to stress the importance of a strong connection:

“A mentoring relationship is not going to work if you don’t like each other. Yes, you want someone who has been successful in their career, and yes, you want someone who you find inspiring and motivating. But if you don’t like them it’s not going to work. Because a mentoring relationship is still a relationship, it needs to have that foundation of compatibility. You have to have that personal connection.

“If, after the first couple of times you’ve met, you find you’re not looking forward to speaking to someone, or you don’t smile when they ring, it might be worth reconsidering that relationship and perhaps looking for someone else.”