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Building a new army of UK business mentors

Updated: Jul 13, 2023

Converting interest in mentoring could unlock the wisdom of over 100k new business mentors in the UK, finds a new report prepared by PolicyDepartment. The analysis draws on focus groups and a survey of more than 800 business owners and leaders conducted over September and October 2022.

two colleages in a mentoring session

The report finds that the UK's appetite for mentoring is on the rise, with 82 per cent of responding businesspeople saying they are now interested in being mentored, according to Mentoring Matters, commissioned by small business support platform Enterprise Nation, business support provider, Newable, and the Association of Business Mentors.

The report, launched on National Mentoring Day (27 October), found that this growing appetite is reflected by a broader move towards mentoring in the UK’s business advice culture. Two thirds (61%) of respondents said that mentoring's reputation among their peers and business colleagues had increased, with younger founders seeing fewer barriers to being mentored than older entrepreneurs, suggesting there is also a growing role for mentoring to play in the future.

The benefits of mentoring are obvious to most people who have had a mentoring relationship, with 66 per cent of businesses that had received mentoring saying it had helped them survive and three quarters (76%) saying it had been key to business growth.

But the report also found too many leaders amongst the country's 5.5 million small and medium-sized businesses are yet to take part in mentoring, despite a willing army of potential mentors waiting in the wings.

Emma Jones, CBE, founder of Enterprise Nation, said:

The value of the experience and wisdom that mentors can bring has never been greater as we head into more challenging economic times. With a willing army of mentors waiting to be mobilised, we must break down the barriers to ensure entrepreneurs can access this group to navigate the tough times ahead.
This report establishes the true power of mentoring on business performance and growth and tells us about the increasingly important role that having a weekly or monthly call with someone who has ‘been there and done it’ could play now and in the future.

Chris Manson, CEO of Newable, said:

Helping small businesses to grow is at the core of Newable’s mission. The Help to Grow: Management is a winning combination to encourage experienced mentors to volunteer their valuable time and expertise to support the growth of ambitious SMEs at all stages of business growth.

Chelsey Baker, founder of National Mentoring Day, said:

Mentoring is an invaluable source of inspiration and support to help businesses prosper in these challenging times. We need more mentors to keep up with the demand and we hope this report being launched on National Mentoring Day will encourage more mentors to come forward to support UK businesses.

The modern mentoring experience is overwhelmingly meritocratic, the report found. Only small minorities of respondents saw characteristics like age, gender and location as important. By contrast, life experience and relevant knowledge of business and sector issues were the top-three attributes that mentees look for in a potential mentor (chosen by 61%, 58% and 43% respectively).

The enthusiasm of potential mentees was matched by a willingness to support other businesses. The report found 83 per cent of those polled were interested in becoming a mentor. Converting the potential mentoring relationships into real ones could lead to 118,000 new business mentors and 284,000 more businesses getting support, the report said.

Younger entrepreneurs see fewer barriers to being mentored

The report found younger entrepreneurs see fewer barriers to being mentored. Only 38 per cent of respondents under 40 said cost is a barrier to seeking a mentor, compared to 58 per cent of the over 40s. Half (52%) of the over 40s claimed a lack of time as a barrier to taking part in mentoring, compared to just 40% of under 40s.

The report findings suggested that removing the barriers to mentoring is, at least partly, about addressing perceptions. For example, the financial cost of participation was more frequently cited than any other barrier (51%) - yet most (70%) of the mentoring that respondents received was free.

A lack of relevance was also a popular barrier (cited by 45%) but platforms to match mentees to mentors with relevant knowledge of their sector and business issues do exist, for example the support offered to firms on the Help to Grow: Management course.

And while taking time out of the business can be challenging, the research found that the approach to engagement can easily be tailored to need – taking place at a frequency and in a manner that suits both the mentor and mentee.

The report found ethnic minority respondents to the survey saw less barriers to being mentored than their white British counterparts. Only 39% of saw cost as a barrier, and 36% said it was a lack of time that stopped them seeking a mentor. The same figures for white British respondents were 57% and 54% respectively. Another 38% of ethnic minority respondents said that a perception of mentoring not being relevant to their business is a barrier, compared to 48% of white British respondents, suggesting firms founded by minorities are more open to this kind of support.

“She gets it”

Whitley Bay-based Lucy Hull, co-founder of art collective For the Love of the North, was assigned a mentor as part of the Help to Grow: Management course in July and they connect over weekly Zoom calls. The firm employs 11 part time staff and all its creative products are made in the UK. She said:

One of the best things about having a mentor was just to know that as a business, we're doing really well and are on the right path in terms of our plans for growth and that we have good values and a clear mission statement. What I totally love about my mentor is that she "gets it". She's a fellow small indie business owner and recognises that we can't implement every single thing at once. It's about concentrating on the areas that are relevant now and doing them well.


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