Posted: Wed 27th Sep 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. The course also includes access to a mentor. It is open to businesses with five or more employees.
Here, we talk to Mel Archbould, one of the voluntary mentors involved with the course. Based in Chesterfield, Mel runs Cloudbusting, an organisation that offers practical support and a proven process to help small businesses grow. Here, she talks about her mentoring process and what she seeks to achieve every time she works with a mentee.
Mel, tell us about your professional background and career.
I was managing director of our family-owned engineering business for over 17 years. Based in Chesterfield in Derbyshire, we designed, manufactured and installed lifting and handling systems around the world into a wide range of sectors such as pharmaceutical, food, drinks, chemicals, packaging and woodworking. We sold the business in January 2022.
I have no formal mentoring qualifications other than the preparation training for the Help to Grow: Management Course.
What made you want to become a mentor for other business owners?
I believe the government-backed scheme is a positive offering to small and medium-sized businesses in the UK. However, it's only when businesses start to implement the knowledge they've gained that the UK economy will see and feel the benefit of sustainable growth.
I know from many courses and events I've taken part in over the years that the biggest challenge is walking back into the business and putting in place what you've learned. So, by mentoring and supporting each mentee I work with, I'm giving them a far greater chance of putting into play some of the knowledge they've acquired.
And once the course is complete, they may want to continue the support. So, building trust and seeing the benefits of working with a business mentor is a good way to test the waters.
What makes a good mentor?
Excellent listening skills are essential, as well as the ability to ask the type of questions which help dig into possible causes of conflict, challenges, ideas and so on. If I wasn't able to pick up not only on what the mentee is saying, but also what they're not saying, my contribution and support would be far less effective.
I also believe a real depth of experience is vital. I can't see the point of working with a mentor who hasn't walked in the business owner's (or the business leader's) shoes before.
Small businesses see significant development through mentoring: Become a mentor and provide 10 hours of one-to-one support. Find out more
Can anyone be a mentor, or does it take a specific type of person?
I would say no. It needs people with real-life experience, and a reasonable number of years under their belt. Plus, the vital communication skills as I mentioned earlier.
How does being mentored benefit business owners specifically?
You don't know what you don't know! Without a doubt, having a trusted and experienced person to talk to outside the business, with whom you can discuss challenges and develop ideas, is highly impactful and valuable for a business owner.
Being able to draw on their experience to help develop your own clarity, strategy and method for driving the business forward can often feel like a lightbulb moment.
You're often on the right track, but having the chance to talk around the subject with someone who understands and asks smart questions just prompts the thoughts to fall into place. It also helps to embed learning and the ways it can be implemented within the business.
And personally, what do you get out of mentoring?
I get real joy from seeing the businesses I work with through the Help to Grow: Management Course really move forward. Each month, there's a step change that the business wouldn't have seen if we hadn't had the session and joined up the learning with how it feeds into the business.
The buzz I get from seeing both the mentee and the business progress is hard to rival. After being so focused on my own business for so many years, it's a great feeling to think I can give something back to other business owners in similar positions.
I also really enjoy meeting and working with a wide range of businesses, as I get to broaden my knowledge of different sectors and expand my awareness of how they may operate.
You have a number of mentorships running at the same time. How do you manage and organise yourself?
I have four mentees, which amounts to roughly four to five hours every four to six weeks. I can manage that OK!
I enjoy the variety. If a business needs my support more intensely – say, 10 hours over five to six weeks – I may need to flex things around. But currently it works well once a month as it's long enough for the business owners to implement the changes and see results. That way, they're ready to update me and then we move ahead again.
I have a large notebook in which each business has its own section. I make notes of the key actions for my own personal benefit. Then the business owner notes their actions and relays them back to me, so we know what we expect to see for the next session. It's simple but it works.
What are your hopes for the Help to Grow: Management Course?
Linking mentoring with the scheme is essential, because it's the implementation of the learning that is key to growing the UK's small business economy.
So not only should the government continue to support the scheme, but it should also consider contracting and remunerating effective mentors who have a track record of helping to make that tangible difference.
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.