My 30 Year Apprenticeship

October 30th, 2014

Children LearningI’m 52 and started work at 17 leaving school with a few ‘O’ levels – hardly classed as a high achiever, but then studying geography at A level didn’t seem logical when I wanted to go into business rather than geology or teaching.

But I didn’t stop learning and 30+ years later I still haven’t stopped learning.

My 30 year apprenticeship continues unabated but now I have a role I love; as a business coach working with business owners who are going places and have recognised that they need a little help.

Sam Carpenter, who wrote the foreword to my book is always learning too. His personal story is full of learning for others but also very neatly demonstrates that if you think you know it all you’re dead in the water. Keep learning about everything!

Every day I learn something. I seek a solution, hear a challenging thought or perspective and ask questions to discover something new.

But working with business owners and management teams of high growth businesses isn’t as easy as just turning up and asking lots of questions and then reflecting it straight back to the person who told you, albeit in a different way. A successful business coach is absorbed by the owner, the business, their markets, challenges, problems, goals, successes and failures – you become as involved, as connected, as engaged and dare I say as passionate as they are. But you leave the emotion at the door – business owners have plenty already!

To make a real difference to business owners and their companies and be a successful business coach I have to take all of my 30+ years of learning, knowledge, skills, experiences and T-shirts and use it to coach success.

There is no one size fits all here – no standard checklists or boxes to tick – everyone is different.

As a coach you don’t tell them what to do although that would be an easy solution. It just doesn’t work in the long run. Self-discovery, buying into your teams’ ideas and learning by doing is what makes the real difference – having it done for you means you’ll always need to have it done for you!

And part of the 30+ year apprenticeship is my black book. As a client said recently “I can always rely on you to refer me to excellent suppliers that make my life easier”.

I know that the reasons I love my work and I’m good at it is all down to those 30 years. So, if you were an apprentice for your current role what would you be learning now?

If you’d like an insight into my 35 year apprenticeship then my book, The Grown-Up Business has lots of answers.


Shirley Mansfield is a highly experienced business coach and Master Problem Solver. With over 25 years’ experience, she founded CoachSME in 2011 to work with business owners to maximise growth, and she is still trying to reduce the 14 handicap! Keep up to date by following me on Twitter.