Balance is the Winning Formula

Catherine Bell, is the Managing Director of Mearns & Company, an Edinburgh based team of financial advisers and employee benefits consultants.

Catherine, who recently completed the 2021 eVolve programme, shares why she believes ‘balance’ is the winning formula to a successful entrepreneur and the power of peer learning.


ES: Mearns & Company — what do you do?

C.B: “We are an Edinburgh based team of financial advisers and employee benefits consultants, who provide financial planning and employee benefits advice to our clients.

Since 1994 we’ve been helping to change people’s lives for the better. We help individuals with their financial planning and employers with their employee benefits.

We have been awarded the Gold Standard for Independent Financial Advice ten times since 2009.

As a team of multi-award winning wealth management and employee benefits experts, we develop strategies to help our clients to achieve their goals.'

E.S: As a business leader, what have been some of the major challenges during the past year or so?

C.B: “I think the major challenges over the past year have come as a result of the Scottish Government’s response to Covid. The amount of work that has had to go into planning and replanning, to ensure that we are meeting the ever-changing guidelines has been very diverting for us, and of course, unsettling for our team. We are fortunate in that we are in a sector that has not been majorly impacted by the restrictions, however, it has certainly impacted our business to an extent.

Because of the impact of this on other businesses too we have noticed a longer decision-making process for prospective employer clients, as their priorities have of course been elsewhere. This has resulted in a slower stream of new employer clients over the past year than we would have ideally hoped for. However, we have seen a large increase in the numbers of individuals coming to us for advice over the same period."

E.S: What have been the major successes of this period of time?

C.B: "The major successes over the last year would be that we have managed to remain operational and deliver our services to our clients despite the challenges. We have retained the majority of our team and attracted some fantastic new colleagues to our company. The business has performed well and we have managed to enjoy some time together as a whole team at a few points throughout the year which has been really rewarding considering the back drop of isolation that has been challenging for so many people over the last couple of years."

A sense of community is so important and we have worked very hard to protect our positive culture, despite our more scattered way of working now.

E.S:Are there any particular goals that Mearns & Company has set for the next few years?

"We have a five-year plan which we are part way through which involves sustainable growth targets, but our driving KPI that underpins everything we do is client satisfaction. We want to deliver an excellent level of service to our clients, and to monitor how well we achieve that we track our net promotor score, and one of our key goals is to keep that at +75 or above. At the moment it’s +85, and the benchmark in our sector (financial services) is +50. If you’re not familiar with the net promotor score, you can find out more here."

E.S: You are a Saltire Leader and recently completed the SDS eVolve programme — what were the biggest learning/takeaways of the programmes to you as an entrepreneurial leader? Was there a moment that stood out to you?

C.B “I love peer to peer learning opportunities, so when the opportunity to become a part of the eVolve cohort in 2021 came up I didn’t think twice about getting involved. Having the opportunity to learn with and get to know the other leaders on the programme was fantastic. I think that one of the best ways of learning and developing is by listening to what other people’s challenges and perspectives are and helping by collaborating to find solutions and ideas – which in turn helps us all to move forward positively.

We had some great speakers present to us during the eVolve programme and it was great to hear from and learn from them. One of my main takeaways was around time management, and separating management from leadership. This helped me to reshape the way I was prioritising tasks and evaluate more accurately what I should be delegating and what I should be focusing on. By taking a very analytical look at my own workload and categorising my tasks under either management or leadership, I could easily see where I should be spending my time. This has resulted in more development opportunities for others in the business, as I have delegated areas of my role, and by being more selective on how I spend my time in turn helps the business."

I think that one of the best ways of learning and developing is by listening to what other people’s challenges and perspectives are and helping by collaborating to find solutions and ideas – which in turn helps us all to move forward positively.

E.S: What can be learned from peers that you can't learn on your own, or from a college?

C.B “I have always found it easier to relate to practical examples rather than theory, so I find the real-life aspect of peer to peer learning a much more vibrant style of learning. I find that theory can be dry, and hard to get excited about, but discussing the real-life application provides a much more rich and varied landscape to learn from. The interactive and collaborative style of learning that comes from peer-to-peer interactions keeps me engaged. I love to have the opportunity to discuss ideas, or possible solutions, with colleagues and peers. Collaborating with peers from a variety of sectors can also bring fresh thinking and generate new ideas or concepts that I may not have thought of if I limited my exposure to my own experience or own sector only."

E.S: Do you believe there is a winning formula for becoming a successful entrepreneur? What's yours?

C.B: “I think the winning formula would be balance. In the last four years since I became Managing Director I have learned how important it is not to prioritise work over family and wellbeing. It is crucial to be disciplined about switching off from work completely to be fully engaged when at home, and to dedicate time to yourself as well. Looking after your wellbeing is vital in order to be able to give your best self to the business. I value sleep, healthy food, keeping active physically and mentally, creativity as well as dedicating time to maintaining a restful state of mind. Family and friends are so important. Balance for me is the key to being fully effective at work."|

E.S: What are some of the mistakes you wished you could have avoided?

C.B: "Prior to 2018 I was guilty of prioritising work over other aspects of my life."

E.S: Any tips you would now give yourself for when you first started in business?

C.B: "Ooh this is a tricky one. Believe in yourself. Listen. Always keep learning. Celebrate your achievements and set and monitor your goals. Make sure your life is in balance!."

E.S: As a member of the ES Community, what do you feel is the biggest benefit and value brought?

C.B: "It’s great to be part of the ES Community. I love that I am part of this huge network of such amazing business leaders from all around Scotland. It brings me opportunities to learn and to get involved in the community. I’ve had the opportunity to be mentored by some amazing mentors through ES. I look forward to getting more involved in the community in the year ahead. I always thought the ES community was out of reach for me as I didn’t know how to get involved. I’m so happy to be a part of it. In terms of biggest benefit and value, it’s got to be the people aspect. Having access to the other people in the community is amazing."

When you’re looking for new talent in the business, what are the most important qualities that you look for?

C.B: " The number one quality is a positive, can do, growth mindset. Skills and experience can be gained, but for me, mindset is the fundamental key."


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