Posted: Tue 20th Sep 2022
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 the platform's first mentoring match:
Mentor Howard Lewis has many years of business experience and has joined the course to connect with entrepreneurs and business owners.
Mentee Phil Agulnik is co-owner of entitledto, a provider of online benefits calculators, and has signed up to learn more about ways to diversify his business.
Read on to find out how Howard and Phil have been getting along…
To begin, can you both give a quick summary of your professional backgrounds up to this point?
Howard Lewis: I worked in the mobile phone business for 25 years – developing, manufacturing and marketing the mobile devices – and rose to be executive vice president of Sony Ericsson.
Along the way, I lived and worked in the US, Hong Kong and France, and had my own mobile phone business called Sendo, which sold customised mobiles to global operators like Vodafone.
After 2010, I set up various other, mainly app-based businesses, and I've been lucky to have been successful. I took a year off in 2018 and decided to change direction completely – joining a UK technology company that makes artificial coral reefs and a Spanish business that makes tiny sustainable houses. I still work in these businesses and have fun every day.
Phil Agulnik: entitledto is a business I jointly own with my business partner, Steve Gibson. He set it up in 2000 and I joined in 2003. It's grown slowly but steadily and we now we have eight employees and a turnover of about £900,000.
Our business model is white-labelling. We white-label our benefits calculator to lots of organisations and supply various professional products on the top.
Phil, what prompted you to sign up for mentoring through the Help to Grow: Management Course?
My colleague Nicki, who's now our Head of Operations, did the course three months ago as part of the journey towards taking on that role. She said it was really good and highly recommended it.
For me, the commitment of time was the big thing. But Nicki said it was a good use of time. With her mentor she developed a growth plan, whereas I'm doing something a bit different.
My subject matter expertise is in how state benefits work – I have a PhD on state pensions and I used to work for DWP. But when it comes to the skills needed to actually run the business, I have no formal training. As part of my role, I can get people like Nicki to acquire those skills. But I've joined the course myself to fill a gap in my own education.
Howard, what made you want to become a mentor for other business owners?
When I had my business, Sendo, they called me 'the teacher'. We had a lot of young staff and instead of barking orders at them I thought it was better to explain clearly what we wanted to do, why and how we could achieve it. I spent a lot of time coaching people to succeed.
Over the years, I've found that if you can ask insightful questions and make people think again about what they're doing, you get better results. I thought as a mentor I could help business owners ask more penetrating questions about their businesses, and hence be more successful.
Small businesses see significant development through mentoring: Become a mentor and provide 10 hours of one-to-one support. Find out more
Phil, what specific areas were you looking for help with?
I intended to join the Help to Grow: Management Course more for the training than the mentoring. But the mentoring has been a great bonus – really, really good. I knew it would be because my colleague had done it previously.
At entitledto, we have an Ansoff matrix that covers growth, diversification, product development and market penetration. My colleague, through her mentoring, developed a whole growth plan for our business.
I'm concentrating on diversification. That covers developing new revenue streams, looking at future opportunities, developing new business models and so on.
Regarding a possible mentor, I just needed someone I could discuss things with. I had some ideas about how to diversify the business and develop a diversification plan. I wanted to run them past a mentor – someone outside the business, who can offer a fresh pair of eyes and doesn't have the baggage.
Howard, as a mentor what can you bring to a business owner like Phil?
Phil already runs a successful business and he's now looking at different growth models. I believe I can help him with that.
With mentoring, you have an independent sounding board and a person who has no vested interest in the discussion or the outcome. So you get to confide in someone who's truly unbiased and has your best interests at heart. The higher you are inside your business, the more difficult it can be to find people like that.
How have the two of you been meeting? And for how long?
Phil: We've been doing calls remotely, on Zoom or Teams. We've had three sessions so far.
Howard: Each session was about 75 minutes and I think we both felt that was enough time. I'm happy to let them run for 90 minutes but after that the value diminishes significantly.
Howard, how can a business owner get the most out of mentoring?
To be a successful mentee, you need to be open to being challenged. Like Phil, you might have a successful business, but as with many businesses you'll still have challenges. You get better results if you're open to being questioned about them and thinking through alternative approaches. The result may be the same, but at least you've considered other options and are clearer on the path going forward.
Finally, Phil, what is the main thing that you've learned from speaking to Howard?
That as a business owner, it's very useful to have a mentor who's a sounding board. I did anticipate that it would be useful, but I didn't really know how useful. It turns out it really is useful to have a sounding board!
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.