Jackie Jenks, Enterprise Mentoring Manager, Lloyds Banking Group
Aiding the development of SMEs needs to be a key priority for the UK, particularly if our economy is to bounce back from the effects of the double-dip recession. It is essential, more so now more than ever, that we support and nurture our country’s growing businesses in order to encourage and aid economic regrowth.
As an organisation, we provide more than traditional banking facilities like loans, credit cards and overdrafts – indeed our support extends way beyond the more obvious financial packages.
Enterprise mentoring has been a key initiative for us since the introduction of the national mentoring scheme in 2011 and we have seen encouraging results amongst the businesses we have worked with so far.
About the mentoring scheme
The mentoring Scheme was set up in conjunction with the Business Finance Taskforce and the British Banking Association, with the overall aim of helping the economy return to sustainable growth by training industry professionals to impart their own skills and experience onto entrepreneurs. As part of this, we work with a number of mentoring organisations including Business Innovation and Skills and the Small Firms Enterprise Development Initiative SFEDI amongst others, through which our trained mentors are partnered with enterprises seeking support.
Mentoring in Practice
The mentoring process is really simple. Volunteers from across the banking industry sign up to become an enterprise mentor and receive training which allows them to gain the relevant skills and experience needed to effectively support a business.
Following that, they are then paired with a business in their area and organise regular meetings and discussions with the business leader where they can review any issues the business is faced with, aim to answer any questions the mentee has and use their own skills and experience to provide guidance and support which will ultimately aid the business’s development and growth.
The mentoring scheme also includes several business events that span across the country including conferences where members of the local business community can learn more about the scheme, partake in interactive workshops as well as sign up for mentoring support.
Our volunteers have also run activities in Universities and schools, sharing information about the banking industry with the next generation of potential business owners, as well as actively meeting current business leaders at industry events to discuss the benefits of mentoring with them directly.
One example of a business that has benefitted from mentoring support is award-winning language services company, Veritas.
Based in Swansea, Veritas Language Solutions provides translation, interpreting and consultancy services to a wide range of companies, charities, universities and government departments in the UK and internationally, including Nokia and the Red Cross.
In early 2012, the company founded by Sharon Stephens and another graduate from her home town became a finalist in the Lloyds TSB Enterprise Awards. Her company was recognised for its outstanding 500 per cent increase in turnover growth in its first three years. A component of the prize was access to a dedicated business mentor.
For Veritas, this involved regular meetings between the management team and the mentor, Martin Lewis from Lloyds TSB Commercial Banking, to provide guidance on specific areas of business management and finance as required.
Throughout this mentoring support period, the business has continued to increase turnover and introduce new services. Its newest addition, Veritas Talk, allows users to translate short conversations in real-time between 157 languages, is available 24/7, 365 days a year, and is already proving popular with business and medical customers.
Sharon Stephens, managing director of Veritas Language Solutions, said: “The help from our business mentor has blown us away in terms of opening our eyes to the scope for our services, both for traditional translation and interpreting services. We are also working with companies to provide cultural training to assist them in their aim of successfully expanding into new overseas markets.
“Having benefitted immensely from the support of a mentor myself, I am now involved with local education projects and business events to share our experiences with others and to help encourage the next generation of entrepreneurs and businesses.”
It is fantastic to see businesses like Veritas gaining so much from the mentoring scheme, but what is also great about our involvement is the benefits we have felt internally as an organisation.
Since our involvement with the initiative began, there has been a substantial increase in enthusiasm and self-development amongst our mentors. Many of our mentors have banking as a core skill as well as their own areas of expertise – from IT and sustainability to HR and business development – so their experience in providing financial support and guidance is extensive and mentoring gives them the opportunity to play to their strengths and really add value to the businesses they are helping.
The regular meetings allow mentors to gain an on the ground experience that provides an insight into all aspects of running a business. They can throw themselves into an organisation completely unlike their own and gain a deeper understanding of how that business works and hear about the aims and ambitions of their mentee.
Furthermore, not only are our mentors required to utilise their knowledge and skills in banking to support their mentees, but they also often have to adopt a role completely different to that of their day job. Many mentors are used to spending a substantial part of their time listening to business owners talk about the strengths of their businesses, particularly when they are wanting to borrow money and it is their job to draw out the risks and discuss the challenges in order to make a measured assessment and recommend the appropriate financial products.
Mentoring, however, is quite the opposite – all the risks and issues are established straight away and it is the mentor’s job to discuss the strengths, and break down the weaknesses allowing the mentee to define their own way forward.
Since the scheme’s inception, over 420 employees from within the bank have signed up to become mentors – making up 40% of the total number of volunteers across the entire programme and as part of our continued involvement with the scheme, we have contributed to the development of two new mentoring qualifications including the Level Five certificate in Enterprise Mentoring, created in conjunction with SFEDI and the Continuing Professional Development course, also launched with SFEDI and Business Mentors South West (BMSW).
Several of our mentors played instrumental roles in devising the content and format of these training courses based on their own understanding of working with mentees. Yet the skills gained through the training programmes are not just useful when it comes to a mentoring relationship. In fact a big proportion of volunteers have expressed how useful the training programmes are in developing their own leadership skills and how it has allowed them to enhance their roles as internal mentors for other employees looking to develop their careers.
We’ve also heard from many who have gained a new sense of pride and invigoration that they can now bring to their roles and a large proportion of mentors have said that being able to interact with business leaders in a completely different way from that of a banking perspective has helped them to get an insight into the challenges and the realities which are facing the country’s enterprises.
This is something that they can transfer back into their everyday jobs, and ultimately helps us as a bank to better understand our customers, and be able to tailor our services to ensure we are meeting the needs of the UK’s businesses.
It is clear to see that mentoring is an effective way to help support SMEs at all life cycle stages from start-ups and businesses looking to grow through to established companies, and there are many tangible benefits for business leaders and mentors alike.