Posted: Wed 16th Aug 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 Cara Bell is a retail specialist and former retail buyer, who supports small businesses and brands with their product, sales and marketing strategies.
Mentee Emer Gillespie is the director and designer at Spark & Bell, a handmade lighting business based in Portslade, East Sussex.
Cara, can you give us a summary of your professional background up to this point?
Cara Bell: I'm a retail consultant and coach, and founded my business Bidili Retail two years ago. I work with entrepreneurs and brand founders who want to scale their businesses and sell to retailers. I also help corporate brands to grow their profit and sales.
I have 20 years of experience in retail buying, developing and sourcing products for major UK retailers including Harrods, Paperchase, Disney and Waitrose. My experience includes end-to-end retail strategy, licensing, sales and private-label product development.
Emer, please tell us about your business.
Emer Gillespie: Spark & Bell is a handmade lighting business. We're a team of 10 based in a workshop in Portslade. There, we manufacture, test and package all our lights on-site to order. We're mainly business-to-consumer, but we have a growing business-to-business programme.
What motivated you to become a mentor for other business owners?
Cara: I'm passionate about helping small businesses sell to retailers. I could really see the impact of the coaching and mentoring I was doing, and I was looking for a way to pay it forward. So, volunteering for the Help to Grow: Management Course was a perfect match for me.
I knew that I enjoy helping other people succeed and I thought it would be a really positive experience. Over the years, I've been fortunate enough to have the support of mentors and it has helped me greatly.
Being a mentor for the Help to Grow course was a chance for me to make a meaningful difference and positively contribute to someone's entrepreneurial journey.
However, I also knew I would learn as much as I was giving. Mentoring is a two-way street and I've met and learnt from some fantastic business owners as a result. It's been a win-win.
How did you discover the Help to Grow: Management Course?
Emer: I first heard about the programme through the Brighton & Hove Chamber of Commerce.
What areas of your business did you need help with, and what kind of mentor were you looking for?
As far as the type of mentor goes, I was looking for someone to talk to about issues within the business, who would then help me troubleshoot and resolve those issues and provide overall guidance on good practice in business.
Small businesses see significant development through mentoring: Become a mentor and provide 10 hours of one-to-one support. Find out more
What do you look for in a mentee? Why did you choose to work with Emer?
Cara: I enjoy working with creative people who are passionate about their business – that's what I was looking for in a mentee. Emer is super-creative and loves the world of lighting. Her business offers a fantastic collection of lights and has sustainability at its heart.
I was so inspired by her journey so far and all she'd achieved already. I could see she was extremely motivated to take her business to the next level.
How much potential do you think Emer's business has?
Cara: Emer's business has huge potential. She's combined her creativity with her passion for sustainability and community to create outstanding lighting with a unique aesthetic that brings spaces to life.
My sessions with Emer focus on the Help to Grow growth action plan and cover a variety of challenges from stock management and brand strategy through to leadership and staff engagement.
Our sessions gave Emer an opportunity to reflect on her next steps and decide how best to apply key learnings from the Help to Grow: Management Course.
What makes a good mentor, and do you think anyone can do it?
Cara: In my opinion, being a good mentor isn't about telling someone what they should do. The main attribute a mentor needs is to be a good listener.
I always give my full attention to actively listening in my sessions to quickly grasp the mentee's goals, aspirations and concerns. I think listening is the best way to get that mentor-mentee relationship right.
Honestly, anyone can be a mentor. It does help if you share a similar background to the mentee or understand their industry. But I believe effective mentoring isn't based on age, expertise or status.
Anyone can do it because mentoring is about listening, adding a different perspective and sharing experiences to support another person's growth and development. Whether young or old, experienced or novice, anyone with a genuine desire to support and uplift other people can become a mentor.
How regularly have you met with Cara?
Emer: We've met remotely every week over 10 weeks.
How does mentoring business owners benefit you?
Cara: Mentors themselves get all sorts of benefits from mentoring, from networking opportunities to seeing fresh perspectives. Personally, I get a huge amount of satisfaction from it.
In terms of my own personal growth, mentoring has given me an opportunity to validate my communication skills and a sense of fulfilment that motivates me in my own business. It's broadened my experience with clients at different stages of growth in their businesses, from which I've taken learnings to other areas of my work.
Being a Help to Grow: Management Course mentor has inspired me to get more training myself, and doing the ILM Level 5 as a foundation degree qualification in coaching was a perfect opportunity.
I've loved it! I've met some fantastic like-minded coaches from different backgrounds because of this course which I wasn't expecting, and it's been totally amazing.
What are the main benefits of mentoring for business owners like Emer?
Cara: There are so many benefits, but they're slightly different for everyone and depend on the situation. I think the biggest benefit a mentor can offer is encouragement and inspiration, so the mentee can take steps to overcome their obstacles, grow personally but also grow their businesses in new ways with new confidence.
Growing a business can be lonely. Having a mentor means you have access to a fresh perspective and eyes on your problem or obstacle. You can learn directly from the experiences of someone else who has walked in similar shoes to you.
For business owners, the mentor-mentee relationship is a safe and supportive space without judgement outside of their usual business or working environment. The mentee can discuss scenarios and ideas and make their goals a reality.
Finally, what are the main things you've learned from your mentoring with Cara?
Emer: I've learned how to delegate so I'm working on the business and not in the business. I've also learned the importance of having people on the team with the right skills, to improve the general running of the business and not feel so overwhelmed.
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.