Posted: Mon 20th Feb 2023
Enterprise Nation is one of the small business support providers delivering voluntary mentoring as part of the government's flagship Help to Grow: Management Course.
Ninety per cent subsidised by the government and delivered in collaboration with industry experts and experienced entrepreneurs, the 12-week course provides a combination of online sessions and face-to-face learning, delivered by business schools. It's aimed at senior leaders of small and medium-sized businesses with five or more employees.
Mentorship is a crucial element of the course, with mentors providing insight into business processes and management, acting as a personal sounding board, facilitating networking, and encouraging creative thinking.
Senior business leaders who want to pursue mentoring can match with a mentor through the Help to Grow: Management Course platform. Once connected, they have access to 10 hours of one-to-one support.
In this blog, we talk to one of our recent mentoring matches:
Mentor Chris Dunn has decades of experience and supports businesses with strategy, sales, marketing and much more.
Mentee Caroline Constantine is the managing director of Right Directions, a company that provides health and safety, environmental management and quality management consultancy to various sectors, including sport and leisure.
Read on to discover how the pair's mentoring relationship has blossomed over the past 10 weeks…
Chris, can you take us through your professional background up to this point?
Chris Dunn: I worked for 28 years in commercial roles of increasing seniority at medium to large companies serving both B2B and B2C markets.
During that time, I was based both in the UK and internationally in various industries, including electronics, chemicals, inkjet and laser technology, home appliances and heating and ventilation.
Nine years ago, I realised a lifelong ambition of setting up my own company, Chris Dunn Consulting Services Limited. My focus has always been on business development and change management programmes that generate long-term growth and create lasting value.
These days, I support businesses in some key areas: business strategy and development, change management, sales and marketing strategy, customer experience management, and aftermarket and service development.
Caroline, can you tell us what your business does?
Caroline Constantine: Right Directions is primarily a health and safety and quality management consultancy for the leisure sector. We mainly support local authorities and private leisure, gym and fitness clients with their day-to-day operations, health and safety, audits and so on.
We're based in Hertfordshire, have been trading since 2004 and have grown organically in that time. I have about 25 full-time employees, most of whom are former leisure managers, so they know what they're doing.
What were your reasons for joining the Help to Grow: Management Course?
Caroline: The pandemic hit the leisure sector hard. And it has yet to recover due to the cost of powering and heating big warehouses full of trampolines, swimming pools and things. So, the sector is still massively struggling.
One of my staff found the advert for the Help to Grow: Management Course and signed up for it. She said it was brilliant, so I decided to do it as well.
Through the mentoring, I wanted to find out whether I'm doing a good job as the managing director of the company. What I'm doing well, and what I'm doing not so well.
I thought a business mentor could take an all-round look at me in terms of how I manage the business, from people retention and client management to finance, business planning, marketing and all the rest of it.
Why did you want to become a mentor for other business owners?
Chris: Running my own small business over these last nine years accelerated my own learning and professional development. It also allowed me to truly appreciate the day-to-day challenges of the leaders of the six million SMEs that power the UK economy.
One of which is having access to 'go-to people' from outside the company who can act as a sounding board for issues and opportunities and offer independent guidance and feedback.
Having mentored within large organisations and for the Cambridge Judge Business School, I realised that I could put my own mentoring skills to effective use in supporting small and medium-sized companies.
Small businesses see significant development through mentoring: Become a mentor and provide 10 hours of one-to-one support. Find out more
As a mentor, what do you look for in a mentee? And what made you decide to work with Caroline?
Chris: I look for a senior person who's committed to both personal development and business development. Over the years, I've found that business growth is correlated to personal growth. Moreover, if you work on business and personal growth in parallel, you grow quicker in both areas.
So, in looking for a mentee, I was keen to match with a person who had very good self-awareness and clearly articulated their expectations in terms of what they needed to get out of mentoring to be able to drive the business forward.
Fortunately, Caroline found me through the Help to Grow: Management Course platform. We had a long conversation over a Teams call and found that her aims were something that I could help her with.
It's also vital that you can build an open and trusting relationship. It was clear from our first conversation that the 'chemistry' was right for both of us, and, as a result, we committed to weekly sessions in the period from November 2022 to January 2023.
How did Chris analyse you and your performance? Were you surprised by what came up?
Caroline: There were days when I smiled at the end of the session and days when I buried my head in a glass of wine! He pulled me apart and spat me out a few times – in a nice way. He understood me very quickly in terms of my personality and how I work. He identified which bits of my personality were good for the company and which bits weren't so good.
I'd sent him loads of information prior to our meeting – profit and loss, staff surveys and so on. He said he'd never seen a client retention rate like mine. And he hadn't ever seen such good staff survey results. So those were the real positives, that I manage a good company.
The negatives are my marketing, my business planning, my objectives and the way I feed them down to the wider team. I was running the company by my gut and not my brain.
How much potential do you think Caroline's business has? What did you hope to help her with specifically?
Chris: Caroline has an established business with an extremely loyal customer base. The pandemic had an adverse impact on Right Directions, as it did with many such businesses, and demand contracted as a consequence.
Working with her team, Caroline has led a strong recovery over the last year or so and is now positioned to grow beyond its size pre-pandemic.
During the course of our mentoring sessions, Caroline has grown in confidence in her undoubted abilities as a leader and is currently putting in place a robust business plan to drive substantial revenue growth in 2023.
I'd like to feel that our work together over the last three months has given Caroline the confidence to make the changes she's identified to increase productivity and profitability while maintaining the highest standards for her customers and employees.
You've had 10 mentoring sessions with Chris. What changes have you been able to make to your business as a result?
Caroline: I've completely changed a number of things. My business planning process, my staffing structure and the way we look at clients and how much money they make us. We're starting to scrutinise every penny, basically. I haven't got as far as the marketing and the sales yet, but that will come in time.
With the staffing, I had 11 people reporting to me before. But through the conversations with Chris, I realised how inefficient I was in saying the same message so many times. I have four operations managers, and I've made one of those the head of operations. He's instantly taking five of my staff off me, and they'll all be reporting to him.
As MD, I'll be liaising only with him, and that's quite a big change. Letting go has been hard. But the reception has been really positive because everyone here loves the company, and they want it to be financially secure. And yet it's always on a knife edge.
How has mentoring Caroline benefited you?
Chris: You walk in your mentees' shoes and see life from their perspective. You help them to learn and grow, and in so doing, you learn and grow yourself.
You develop new relationships, often with people younger than you or from a different background. You have the satisfaction that comes from giving back and paying forward.
You help people to become better at business, develop their skills and contribute more to the wider economy. And you support them in developing better relationships and stronger organisational cultures.
When you help mentees, they tell other people. And this, in turn, leads to new enquiries for your own consulting, coaching and mentoring services.
What are the key benefits of mentoring for business owners like Caroline?
Chris: It can be lonely running a business, particularly if you happen to be both the managing director and the major shareholder. Having a mentor is to have a confidant, a critical thinker and a trusted adviser.
In my experience, mentees tend to highlight the following benefits:
Developing focused goals
Hearing constructive criticism and an alternative point of view
Being helped to think more critically and act more strategically
Being held to account for actions and outcomes
Developing a healthier work-life balance
Being encouraged to invest in personal and professional development
Enjoying increased networking opportunities
Finally, what's the main thing you've learned from meeting with Chris?
Caroline: The biggest one is to make sure I'm steering the ship, not mopping the deck. There's a lot to be said for standing back and looking rather than getting involved in the minutiae. That's really quite key.
The next one is to not have too many people reporting into you – have a clear staffing structure. And the third one is that you don't need everyone to know everything. Just make sure your communication is good.
People need to know what their roles are and how they make a difference towards the end goal. They should be clear on exactly how they fit into the bigger picture.
Want to help a small business grow?
Being a mentor goes far beyond the rewarding feeling of 'giving back'. Mentors gain a range of personal development benefits from the experience.
Become a voluntary mentor for the Help to Grow: Management Course and commit 10 hours over 12 weeks to support businesses with their growth action plan. Sign up today
The national mentoring element of the Help to Grow: Management Course is being delivered by a partnership of Newable, Enterprise Nation and the Association of Business Mentors on behalf of the Department for Business & Trade.