Posted: Mon 5th Jun 2023
Enterprise Nation is one of the small business support providers tasked with delivering voluntary mentoring as part of the government's flagship Help to Grow: Management Course.
The programme is a 90% government funded, 12-week course with a combination of online sessions and face-to-face learning, delivered by business schools. It is open to businesses with five or more employees.
Here, we talk to Martin Robertson from Falkirk, one of the voluntary mentors involved with the course. Martin takes us through the benefits of mentoring for business owners, discusses its impact on mentors, and tells us about his recent accolade at the 2023 National Mentoring Matters Awards.
Please tell us about your professional background and career.
I qualified as a chartered accountant in 1990 and started my own practice in 1996, moving 200 miles south from the north of Scotland to Glasgow. I was an auditor initially, but that bored me, so I started my practice.
I've worked with hundreds of small business owners whose sales ranged from £25,000 to £4 million. Some had no employees, some had up to 25. Some made money, some didn't.
In 2010, I read a book that highlighted a question for me: "What do you enjoy about your job?". My answer was being in front of clients, listening to and helping them. That set me on the road to coaching and mentoring.
At this point, I've mentored for nearly 1,000 hours, often pro bono while I built up my experience and knowledge. That includes with the Chamber of Commerce and the Help to Grow: Management Course.
What made you want to become a mentor for other business owners?
I realised how difficult it is to be a business owner independently. As a trusted adviser, I recognised that if I found it difficult, most business owners would too. I wrote a book called Your 60-Minute Business Transformation to share some of my experiences. But in a nutshell, I love making a difference for small business owners.
Small businesses see significant development through mentoring: Become a mentor and provide 10 hours of one-to-one support. Find out more
What makes a good mentor?
Being a great listener, being empathetic, having a broad experience of business and having the ability to ask questions that make the mentee stop and think. You also need to make sure each session is all about the mentee and that you build a good relationship with them.
Can anyone be a mentor, or does it take a specific type of person?
It'd be wrong to say that anyone could be a mentor. Still, anyone with the attributes I've mentioned above has a good chance of being successful at mentorship.
How does being mentored benefit business owners specifically?
There are many benefits, including getting the chance to:
remove yourself from the day-to-day minutiae of business
clarify the business's direction
have someone listen to you
have someone challenge your thinking
have someone tease out all the options you have, and
have a cheerleader; someone who has your back
And personally, what do you get out of mentoring?
Each meeting is different, so the skills you use change from session to session. This gives me a great chance to learn from the mentees, whether it's new skills or my knowledge of new industries or sectors.
I get an incredible thrill when a mentee has an 'Aha!' moment, when the penny drops about their challenge(s), or they see a way forward that they couldn't see before.
You recently won an award for your mentoring. Tell us about that.
I was thrilled to win the award for outstanding contribution at the 2023 National Mentoring Matters Awards.
It's unique to me because, like many at the Association of Business Mentors, I'm passionate about business mentoring and its impact on supporting small business owners. Working together can help improve small business owners' lives and the economy.
What's the best thing about being a mentor, and what's the biggest challenge?
The best thing is building a relationship with a business owner who shares their story, hopes and aspirations, and then having an impact on their future life.
The two biggest challenges are finding mentees with the right mindset to be mentored and finding the time to implement the actions identified during the sessions.
What are your hopes for the Help to Grow: Management Course?
I hope that business owners find a way to enjoy their business lives more – too many founders work too many hours for not enough money. I also hope the course raises the profile of business mentoring not only with business owners but the government too.
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.