Running your own business is rewarding, but it’s no secret that it can be tough.
The stark reality is that 20% of small businesses fail in their first year, and the number of SMEs in the UK has dropped from 5.9m in 2020 to 5.5m in 2022.
However, SMEs remain the beating heart of the UK, making up 99.9% of the UK’s business population. While owning a business can feel like a lonely experience, the sheer volume of hugely successful SMEs in the UK means no one should be alone: there is a wealth of advice and lived experiences to tap into.
In order to unleash this, the UK government launched its Help to Grow: Management Course. It offers thousands of SME owners, leaders, and senior managers 12 weeks of leadership training by business schools. It also provides access to a one-to-one mentorship from experienced vounteer mentors.
Mentors can play a crucial role in the success of SMEs: 92% of small business owners with a mentor agree that it has directly impacted the growth and survival of their business, while a massive 89% of small business owners that don't have a mentor wish they did.
Simply, small businesses need you, and they need your experience. But why should you mentor? Two SME owners tell us about the many critical benefits they’ve received from mentorship..
Drawing on experience
Becky Shepherd, founder of social media agency Swwim, had previously worked for large creative agencies and had learnt a lot through being supported by company leaders. She knew that receiving formal mentorship could take Swwim to the next level.
“When running your own business, suddenly you’re on your own, and I found that quite difficult,” she says “I was looking for focus. I had lots of ideas and good intentions, but without having anybody to report to, I struggled to refine my thinking and prioritise my actions.”
For the Love of the North, a series of stores that celebrate all things northern, is run by owners Paul and Lucy Hull. While they had the experience of mentoring small business founders at the start of their journey, they had never received their own mentorship. This is where the Help to Grow:Management Course came in.
“We were both very aware that our business had huge potential to grow,” says Paul, “but there are so many different areas where growth can happen, and neither of our backgrounds involved that experience of growing a business. There’s also not that much help around for businesses at this point in our small business journey.”
The perfect match
For the Love of the North was partnered with a mentor who has strong experience in the retail space, while Swwim was matched with a similar digital agency.
The role of the mentor is to offer direction and advice. From accountability to connections, and from being a sounding board to implementing best practices, the ultimate aim is to help SMEs achieve sustainable growth.
“I think mentorship is really important,” says Paul. “Often the best way of learning and receiving advice is from those who have been on a similar journey to yourself and can pass on their experiences of what works, what doesn’t work, and also to challenge you and push you out of your comfort zone.”
Both businesses say they have already implemented changes since the mentorship, with new processes, branding, and clearer mission statements. “I’ve pushed myself to be a little bolder at times when I lacked confidence,” says Becky. “I’ve also made the decision to refine our service offering, allowing us to focus on what we’re really good at. I’ve realised now that external input is so crucial to success. I think mentoring is hugely beneficial for providing clarity, guidance, and crucial accountability.”
Rewarding the mentor
Mentoring isn’t a one-way street. It’s not only the mentees who are learning from the experience, but mentors also naturally reassess their own ways of working throughout the process. Mentor and mentee learn together.
“It helps the mentor on their journey as it can raise questions that could be relevant for them, or things they may not have even thought about,” says Paul. “I also really think it’s a great validation of all their hard work in building their business that they can use their experiences to help others.”
Want to help SMEs to succeed? You can sign up here. Volunteer mentors for the Help to Grow: Management Course can be anyone with a minimum of five years’ experience working in a business at a senior level or equivalent working closely with a small business. The time commitment for an individual mentor is 10 hours over a period of 12 weeks.