Emma Jones CBE is the founder and chief executive of small business network and business support provider Enterprise Nation.
As we head into the most challenging macroeconomic environment for decades, the UK’s small business community will need careful guidance.
Navigating unimaginable scenarios has become second nature to the nation’s entrepreneurs for all the wrong reasons.
While you might think political ups and downs create that illusive quality ‘resilience’, what has actually happened is that too many founders have simply frozen their plans, like rabbits in the headlights.
If we are going to see growth, we must urgently focus on turning this around. Small businesses are crying out for a fresh approach and a new business action plan that will stand up to whatever the next few years are going to throw at them.
It’s no surprise then, that a recent report has uncovered a ‘pent up’ demand for mentoring in the UK right now.
Mentoring Matters launched today on National Mentoring Day, found that the nation’s appetite for mentoring is on the rise. Today, 82 per cent of businesses are interested in mentoring.
Two thirds (61%) of the 823 small business founders surveyed said that mentoring’s reputation among their peers and business colleagues had increased, with younger founders seeing fewer barriers to being mentored than older entrepreneurs, suggesting there is also a growing role for mentoring to play in the future.
The benefits of mentoring are obvious to most people who have had a mentoring relationship. The survey found 66 per cent of businesses that had received mentoring felt it had helped them survive and three quarters (76%) said it had been key to business growth.
But the report also found too many leaders amongst the country’s 5.5 million small and medium-sized businesses are yet to take part, despite a willing army of potential mentors waiting in the wings.
Put off by time pressures and a perception of an unachievable schedule of long meetings over dusty desks, entrepreneurs have been facing the increasing economic pressures alone for too long.
While taking time out of the business can be challenging, those that are working with a mentor tell us they are finding a way – they are making it work at a frequency and in a manner that suits both the mentor and mentee.
A friendly face on a Zoom after dropping the kids to school is a great way to start the day or a quick call with someone who has ‘been there and done it’ on the commute ahead of a key meeting, really helps to clarify strategy and cement goals.
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The reality is that the experience and wisdom that mentors can bring has never had greater value to our economy as we dive into a new era of book balancing politics under Rishi Sunak.
With a willing army of mentors waiting to be mobilised, we must break down the barriers to ensure more entrepreneurs can access this resource to navigate the tough times ahead.
Mentoring has a very clear role to play in improving business performance and supporting growth. As a founder of a growing company myself, I’ve benefited from having a mentor over the past decade. When there are so many questions to address each day – about product, people, finances and growth – it’s vital to have a sounding board; someone with experience who can hear you out as you navigate the entrepreneurial journey.
Younger entrepreneurs see fewer barriers to being mentored. The under 40s see it as much more achievable than their older colleagues. The report suggested only 38 per cent of businesses founded by the under 40s said cost is a barrier to seeking a mentor, compared to 58 per cent of the over 40s. Half (52 per cent) of the over 40s claimed a lack of time as a barrier, compared to just 40% of under 40s.
Removing these barriers is, at least partly, about addressing perceptions. The report found the financial cost of participation was more frequently cited than any other barrier (51 per cent) – yet most (70 per cent) of the mentoring that respondents received was actually free.
A lack of relevance was also a popular barrier (cited by 45 per cent) but platforms to match mentees to mentors with relevant knowledge of their sector and business issues do exist, for example the support offered to firms on the Help to Grow: Management course.
The report found ethnic minority respondents to the survey saw less barriers to being mentored than their white British counterparts. Only 39 per cent of saw cost as a barrier, and 36% said it was a lack of time that stopped them seeking a mentor. The same figures for white British respondents were 57 per cent and 54 per cent respectively.
Another 38 per cent of ethnic minority respondents said that a perception of mentoring not being relevant to their business is a barrier, compared to 48 per cent of white British respondents, suggesting firms founded by minorities are more open to this kind of support.
The good news is the growing demand is matched with a growing willingness to become a mentor. The report found 83 per cent of business leaders polled were up for it. Now we just need them to get involved and sign up.
They could easily do that via Enterprise Nation and get training from the Association of Business Mentors as part of the Government’s Help to Grow: Management Course, a flagship programme launched by Rishi Sunak last year.
By Emma Jones
Source: This is Money