Small Business Saturday Blog

Get by with a little help from a friend

Thursday, July 27 at 11:07

By Michelle Ovens MBE, Director, Small Business Saturday 


Much as I love running my small businesses, and of course working with small businesses, it cannot be denied – sometimes it is just BLOOMIN HARD WORK! Not to start out this article with a big old moan - do not get me wrong, the ups massively out-weigh the downs - but it is nice when we can make the downs a little less difficult to handle.

It is easy to have your head down in your business for all challenges to feel like they are the whole world, and forget that actually, probably, someone else has had your problems before you. And come out the other side relatively unscathed. What is it about small businesses that we forget to ask the more experienced among us for help? Are we just stubborn? Do we want to make life difficult for ourselves? Is there a British stiff upper lip that tells us we should soldier on and it’s just not cricket to reach out for support? Or a sense that surely someone else would not be interested in my problems….

Well I say cobblers to that. I see the small business community, all 5.5 million of them, as one big supportive collaborative community that can only be made stronger and more resilient by helping each other. And I know I am not alone here! We ran a round table with Indeed last December and all the (fantastic, successful, strong, capable) small businesses around the table said what they could really do with is a little help from a friend. There is a strong and un-met desire for mentoring in the small business community that we absolutely need to tackle to be the best we can be as an economy and as local and national communities.

This basic need for a helping hand cuts across all areas of being a business owner: how to grow, financing, staffing, leadership and possibly most importantly, mental health. When working in a big business environment, it is often obvious who you would turn to for advice – HR, finance, your boss – but less so if you are the ultimate boss yourself. So finding more experienced bosses to advise you becomes absolutely critical if you don’t want to flounder or fall.

A good mentor will recognise the spectrum of needs across the business (mostly because they have been there before). More than that – they will recognise the fear and stress you feel when facing these issues, and want to help you minimise these for yourself. They will know the pitfalls and help you avoid them, much like a parent that points to the crossing sign and says, go on green. Mental health in small businesses is getting more and more focus, with the sector recognising the strain that running a business can place on individuals. If we want a strong business community, we need to recognise where we have weaknesses – and bolster them from within.

We need better mentoring in the UK – and we need a LOT more of it. I have not met a single small business that would not offer advice to others if asked. I have not met one that wouldn’t accept it if they knew where to find it. So in response to this we are starting, in a small way, to address this challenge by offering free mentoring on the Small Business Saturday bus tour this year. At each of 25 stops across the UK, mentors will be available to sit down with small businesses and discuss their challenges – and help them find a way to solve them. It might not be solved right away and there and then, but it will be the start of a conversation and a mentoring relationship that will stimulate more conversations over the coming year.

This mentoring challenge needs to be taken up by everyone with a stake in the small business sector. And since there are 16.5 million people running or working in a small business in the UK, the chances are that you or someone you live with or are related to is part of this. So – that is all of us. Whether you are a local council, government, trade organisation, media, customer or friend, think about how you can play a role in sharing your knowledge, or helping others to share theirs.

Because whether we are talking economically or socially, we could all get by a bit better with a little help from a friend.





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