Emma Jones CBE is the founder and chief executive of small business network and business support provider Enterprise Nation.

As we find ourselves in the most challenging macroeconomic environment in decades, the UK’s small business community will need careful leadership.

Emma Jones CBE calls

Navigating unimaginable scenarios has become second nature to national entrepreneurs for all the wrong reasons.

While you might think that political ups and downs create this illusory qualitative “stability,” what actually happened was that too many founders simply froze their plans like rabbits in headlights.

If we want to see growth, we must urgently focus on changing this. Small businesses need a new approach and a new business plan of action that can withstand whatever is in store for them in the next few years.

It’s no surprise, then, that a recent report found there is a “moderate” demand for tutoring in the UK right now.

Mentoring Matters, launched today on National Mentoring Day, revealed that the nation’s appetite for mentoring is growing. Today, 82 percent of businesses are interested in mentoring.

Two-thirds (61%) of the 823 small business founders surveyed said the reputation of mentoring among their peers and business colleagues has increased, with younger founders seeing fewer barriers to mentoring than older entrepreneurs, suggesting that mentoring also plays a role an increasing role in the future.

The benefits of mentoring are obvious to most people who have had a mentoring relationship. The survey found that 66 percent of businesses that received mentoring felt it helped them survive, and three-quarters (76%) said it was key to business growth.

But the report also found that too many leaders among the country’s 5.5 million small and medium-sized businesses have yet to take part, despite a willing army of potential mentors waiting for their turn.

Daunted by the lack of time and the feeling of an impossible schedule of long meetings behind dusty desks, entrepreneurs have faced growing economic pressures alone for too long.

While taking time out from the business can be a challenge, those who work with a teacher tell us they find a way—they make it work at a frequency and in a way that works for both the teacher and the students.

A friendly face on Zoom after you’ve dropped the kids off at school is a great way to start the day, or a quick chat with someone who’s “been there and done that” on your commute before an important meeting really helps clarify strategy and cement goals.

With a willing army of mentors waiting to be mobilized, we need to break down the barriers so more entrepreneurs can access this resource to see them through the tough times ahead.

The reality is that the experience and wisdom that teachers can bring has never been more valuable to our economy as we plunge into a new era of Rishi Sunak’s book-balancing policies.

With a willing army of mentors waiting to be mobilized, we need to break down the barriers so more entrepreneurs can access this resource to see them through the tough times ahead.

Mentoring plays a very obvious role in improving business performance and supporting growth. As the founder of a growing company, I have benefited from having a mentor over the past decade. When there are so many issues that need to be addressed every day – about products, people, finances and growth – it’s essential to have a soundboard; someone with experience who can hear you out as you navigate your entrepreneurial journey.

Younger entrepreneurs see fewer barriers to mentoring. People under the age of 40 find it much more achievable than their older counterparts. The report found that only 38 percent of businesses founded by people under the age of 40 said cost was a barrier to finding a mentor, compared to 58 percent of businesses over 40. Half (52 percent) of over-40s cited lack of time as a barrier, compared to just 40 percent of under-40s.

Breaking down these barriers is at least partly about perception. The report found that the financial cost of participation was cited more often than any other barrier (51 percent) – yet the majority (70 percent) of the mentoring respondents received was actually free.

Lack of relevance was also a popular barrier (cited by 45 per cent), but there are platforms to match trainees to mentors with relevant knowledge of their sector and business challenges, such as the support offered to firms on the Help to Grow: Management course.

The report shows that ethnic minority respondents to the survey see fewer barriers to mentoring than their white British counterparts. Only 39 percent of those surveyed saw the cost of a saw as an obstacle, and 36 percent said that lack of time prevented them from looking for a teacher. The same figures for white British respondents were 57 percent and 54 percent respectively.

A further 38 per cent of respondents from ethnic minorities said the perception of mentoring being irrelevant to their business was a barrier, compared to 48 per cent of white British respondents, suggesting that minority-founded firms are more open to this kind of support.

The good news is that growing demand is matched by a growing desire to become a teacher. The report shows that 83 percent of surveyed business leaders support this. Now we just need them to take part and sign up.

They could easily do this through Enterprise Nation and be trained by the Business Teachers Association as part of the Government Development Assistance: Management Course, a flagship program launched by Rishi Sunak last year.

How to get the most out of mentoring

1. You can choose a teacher through an online platform such as Enterprise Nation or the Business Teachers Association, for example through a sector or region (or both) and set up a call to make sure the chemistry is working.

2. Set up video calls at regular intervals to anchor them in your diary. As your relationship develops, it can be more flexible to accommodate emerging issues.

3. Prepare for the meeting by bringing questions and main concerns with you. What do you want to achieve in the long term?

4. Leave your ego and prejudice behind and be open and honest about your hopes and fears about your business and current strategy.

5. Be open to feedback and act on their suggestions. Your mentor will help you succeed.

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