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Mentorsme.co.uk is a welcome move. The banks’ involvement is key to making it a success as they are the most common source of external finance and backing
—Rosana Mirkovic, senior policy adviser, ACCA

www.mentorsme.co.uk scheme welcomed by ACCA’s SME Committee; SMEs can benefit but expectations of mentoring’s success need to be managed carefully

Following the launch of a business mentoring scheme - www.mentorsme.co.uk - by the government and a number of UK banks on 4 July 2011, ACCA’s Small Business Committee publishes a paper that explains the reality of mentoring from the SME’s perspective.

The paper offers a number of recommendations that need to be considered during the lifecycle of a mentoring scheme, from distinguishing between what is mentoring and what is business advice, to ensuring that mentors and mentees are perfectly matched.

Rosana Mirkovic, SME policy adviser at ACCA says: 'Mentorsme.co.uk is a welcome move. The banks’ involvement is key to making it a success as they are the most common source of external finance and backing. Mentorsme has the potential to provide support and guidance, to unlock problems and create opportunities for individual entrepreneurs and for SMEs.

'But as the scheme grows and starts to operate, the people behind it – policymakers, the government and the banks - need to be mindful that there is a big difference between mentoring and business advice; they need to make sure the scheme’s approach is open and transparent so that it does not create inequalities; and they need to ensure that there is sustained support and financial backing.'

Rosana Mirkovic adds: 'Our Committee knows that mentoring often happens as a result of being in the right place, at the right time and being noticed by the right people; if this new programme is to succeed then it needs to be reminded of this important - if indefinable - aspect of mentoring.'

The SME Committee’s paper says that:

  • More clarity is needed on what is actually meant by mentoring – it is different to coaching and other types of business support, such as financial advice from a bank manager.
  • Mentoring can be a good match for the development needs of entrepreneurs – mentoring tends to fit their more informal approach for learning, but they might not make good mentors themselves.
  • Mentoring is neither cheap, quick, and it might prove hard to manage – mentoring is not a cheap and easy form of business support – there’s a lot of investment in terms of time and it can be resource intensive.
  • Mentoring relationships must pay off in the short term as well as the long term – a mentoring scheme needs to be mutually beneficial at all stages of its lifecycle. It can’t be assumed that a mentor will sustain a relationship with the mentee out of a sense of civic duty.
  • Highly structured programmes do not require highly structured relationships – sometimes mentoring happens as a result of sheer serendipity. That should be nurtured and supported. Too many regulations can stifle it.
  • Many to many is better than one to one – matching individuals with individuals in a mentoring scheme may not work. It is the SME Committee’s view that a many-to-many relationship works best, especially one where mentors are able and expected to provide references to other resources and can have their skills and experience complimented by those of other mentors.
  • Policy makers must avoid silos and ghettos when it comes to matching mentors to mentees - matching precise business functions, industries, or even race and gender – all characteristics which are more salient to policymakers than to the actual SME or entrepreneurs - can detract from the effectiveness of mentoring. It is important to select and develop potential mentors carefully.
  • Policymakers should distinguish between mentors and advisors, opportunities and problems – Business support needs to develop according to whether they are built around unlocking potential or solving problems – two distinct things. Mentoring could have the potential to address unequal opportunities, but it could also create further inequalities if access to mentoring opportunities is not uniform.