Without the mentorship of Warren Buffett, Bill Gates’ career would look very different. The same applies to Steve Jobs with Mark Zuckerberg, and Freddie Laker with Richard Branson. There would be no Gordon Ramsey without Marco Pierre White, no Bob Dylan without Woody Guthrie, and no Oprah Winfrey without Maya Angelou.
History is full of notable mentor relationships. By offering a helping hand and sage advice to people who want to make a difference, it makes a fundamental impact on the world.
No successful business will have prospered without support along the way, which is why the UK government launched the Help to Grow: Management Course in August 2021. It offers SME owners, leaders and senior managers 12 weeks of leadership training provided by business schools. It also delivers access to one-to-one mentoring from an experienced volunteer business mentor.
The Help to Grow: Management Course is an effective and rewarding way for experienced senior leaders to not only positively influence an SME, but also to learn something about their own leadership in return.
“I truly believe that SMEs are the lifeblood of the economy,” says mentor Fiona Minett, a PR coach and expert, and founder of Boss Your PR. “Their resilience and flexibility through the pandemic period really showed this. There is no doubt that the current climate is challenging, but I do feel enthused by the signs of entrepreneurial spirit and the tenacity of the SME community. A huge part of this is down to the surge in female-led SMEs.”
Minett founded Boss Your PR to make PR accessible to all female entrepreneurs, regardless of their budget or the size of their business. “To me, as a female entrepreneur, it’s important to champion female entrepreneurship in all its forms,” she says.
Nathan Lomax is a director and co-founder of Quickfire Digital, a Shopify Plus and bespoke development e-commerce agency. While travelling in his late teens, he didn’t know what he wanted to do for work when he returned to the UK. So he reached out to more than 300 people on LinkedIn, offering his services. One man came back and offered him weekly mentorship, for free. This continued for three-and-a-half invaluable years.
“I’ve always had mentors in my life and my journey,” Lomax says. “We would never be where we are without mentors. And I would have never gotten to this point without that leg up. So I’m really keen to give back, and Help to Grow: Management Course is a brilliant programme that I’m hugely honoured to be a part of.”
Mentorship isn’t telling people how to do things differently. It is offering support, a new perspective, direction, advice and encouragement. At the heart of the mentoring programme is helping SMEs achieve a sustainable, long-term future.
Minett has mentored businesses at all stages, from ideation and start-ups through to established SMEs looking to grow. Through Help to Grow: Management Course, she is currently working with a bespoke jewellery brand who are looking for support with their PR and marketing strategy. Lomax is mentoring a social media agency, and helping them explore which is the best vertical fit for them.
“There are best practices I abide by when it comes to mentoring,” says Minett. “By listening and remaining objective as a mentor, you avoid projecting your opinions and experiences in a way that will force mentees in any given direction, with the aim of allowing them to find their own best path forward.
“For me, it’s about pointing out opportunities and potential pitfalls, asking the right questions, listening to the responses and opening up a mentee’s thinking and perspective on their own business and corresponding entrepreneurial journey.”
Learning is a two-way street
Both Minett and Lomax say that by helping SMEs to problem-solve, they naturally end up applying the same processes and methods in their own businesses; mentorship, after all, is a two-way learning journey. Mentor and mentee grow together.
“I’d encourage anyone that’s in a position to be a mentor, to bite the bullet and give it a go and give something back,” says Lomax. “This whole world revolves around reciprocity, and you’ll be amazed at just how much you’ve learned, and you’ll be amazed at the relationships you can build.”
“It is, perhaps selfishly, an incredibly rewarding opportunity,” says Minett. “Becoming part of someone else’s business journey, getting to know them, and working with that mentee to amplify their business’s success and impact is a truly incredible process.”
Want to help SMEs to succeed? You can sign up here. Volunteer mentors for the Help to Grow: Management Course can be anyone with a minimum of five years’ experience working in a business at a senior level or equivalent working closely with a small business. The time commitment for an individual mentor is ten hours over a period of 12 weeks.