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Mentoring for (sm)all business growth by Brian Chernett

Brian Chernett

Brian Chernett

On November 15th, 2010 at the start of Global Entrepreneurship Week, Business Secretary Vince Cable announced “a new 40,000-strong network of business mentors and called on more businesses to join up.”

According to the announcement, he “wants to see as many business people as possible sign up to mentor new and growing businesses. To make it easier for people to get the mentoring help they need, the Business Secretary outlined the Government’s plans for a new single network of mentoring providers. This network of experts will help start-ups, growing companies and businesses seeking financial mentoring.”

Business Secretary Vince Cable said: “The best people to advise new entrepreneurs and existing businesses are those who have already started and run successful companies. Mentoring is a very effective way of promoting start-ups, higher productivity and growth amongst established businesses, so I am delighted to announce this new network.

“I also want to encourage more businesses to sign up and offer their support and guidance. We need as many successful mentors as possible to guide the next generation of entrepreneurs and businesses.”

As the founder of a highly effective network of business groups where mentoring and coaching are amongst our key toolset, I understand the power of business mentoring and applaud the Government for taking this initiative.

The Academy for Chief Executives has been offering business support for 15 years. Our toolset includes not just mentoring but coaching, advising, even, when the occasion requires it, instructing or helping business leaders and entrepreneurs.

The announcement doesn’t detail how the service will be delivered. That will need to be developed. A good mentoring service of the sort that Vince Cableseems to be proposing needs people with experience of making start up and early stage businesses work. They will need to understand the specific requirements in each case as every business had different needs and know how to choose the right tool for the job. In particular, they will need to understand the key difference between coaching – where the the solution comes from the person being coached – and mentoring – which is much more about giving advice and guidance from experience of similar business needs. Both have their place for developing businesses.

Despite the announcement of 40,000, in my view, it isn’t really about quantity but much more about the quality of the advice. Training of the mentor group will be important and there will need to be quality control, too.

The Academy as a business is ready and willing to help with this initiative. As an experienced coach and mentor in my own right, I’m also ready to support in any way that I can. If we are to grow the country’s economy our of the position we currently occupy, significant business growth is needed and that should be driven by business people.

The Academy has proven experience of doing precisely what the Business Secretary is seeking. In the Birmingham Enterprise City High Growth Project in 2008/9, sixty individuals took part in the project and 40 of those contributed to the project evaluation, independently undertaken by the University of Birmingham. The evaluation report noted a number of benefits “as a direct result of participation on ECHGP”:
• 25% of participants claimed to have taken on extra employees
• 60% of participants had increased their turnover (15% by more than 10%)
• 80% of participants had engaged in new markets
• All respondents claimed to have increased networking activities as a result of their participation and several reported that this had “opened doors” to new market opportunities
• Specific improvements in marketing capability were reported. The report enumerates these against recognised critical success factors in marketing.

In tomorrow’s article on this site, one of the participants, Jonathan Hemus, relates how he built his reputation management business using the mentoring he received in the ECHGP and how he subsequently appeared on BBC Newsnight as an expert in his field.

The Government announcement is a great start to providing support from business, for business to fuel the recovery. It is now up to business to make it work. We need to be wary of quantity approaches obscuring the need for quality as developing businesses takes time and requires skill. The UK needs and deserves that we do that.

Brian Chernett is founder of The Academy for Chief Executives (ACE) – He has 43 years’ experience as managing director of private and public companies, including subsidiaries of Booker Bros McConnell, the Landmark Group, and several other major companies. Find out more at
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