It is with some regret that Mike Jennings, the innovator who set up and operated the mentoring service, announces the closure of the service known as Jennings Business Mentors, and formerly as Oxford Business Mentors. The service operated from 2009 to 2019.
While acknowledging the one-time support in 2014 from Oxfordshire County Council, which helped towards the marketing of the service and building the website, the cost of administering the service, and the time taken, became too much for one company (Jennings) to continue to bear.
Furthermore with the onset of Coronavirus it became apparent that the preferred face to face meetings were no longer ideal, and that the mentors have had to focus all of their attention on the survival of their own businesses.
Mike is still available by phone 07710-602206, or by email firstname.lastname@example.org, for a chat and possible signposting, and indeed some of the mentors have expressed their willingness to continue mentoring in their own right.
Mike would like to thank the following for their support during the 11 years of operation:
- The 50 volunteer mentors who gave their precious time willingly to help others who are on the same entrepreneurial journey as them, and who invariably treated their clients as equals.
- The volunteer directors of the service who also gave their time willingly in support of this service, and were there to support Mike when needed.
- Oxfordshire County Council for the belief they had in Mike to support the service.
- The very many clients who gave such glowing reports of the efficacy of the service. Without those validations the service would not have survived as long as it did.
For those that don't know, the Mentoring Service was unique, not to Oxfordshire, but to the whole country. Here is why:
- The mentors were all business owners still running their own businesses. No retirees, and no one from a corporate, professional or bureaucratic background. This meant their time was valuable, and they all had empathy with their clients. True mentoring.
- The mentors were trained by Mike to "Listen", and to "Not Fix". This is hard for a business owner, who tends to be the fixer. The reason is that Mike was clear that the business owner had to work it out for themselves, with our guidance. To tell the clients what to do is advice, and it detracts from the independence they need to continue to run their business. The side effect was that the mentors became better leaders in their own business.
- Because of the above the service was restricted to anyone who had been in business at least a year. Start-ups need advice. Beyond start-up is the "oh shit" stage of a business where a listening ear is so valuable.
- We met face to face for about 90 minutes. Some clients we met multiple times.
- There is no judgement in mentoring. It is a meeting of equals, sharing a journey. Often mentors reported how much they had learned from their clients, and how that had impacted positively on their own business.
- Mentors were allocated by location and definitely not by industry. The mechanisms of business, and the problems, are common across all industries, and we did not want to use the service for the mentors or clients to benefit financially.
50 Mentors were trained. Each a business owner in Oxfordshire. Some had just one or two employees, one had over 150 employees.
500+ clients were seen, many multiple times.
Several of the clients were not for profit organisations and in some cases the mentors took a personal interest and continued to support them as unpaid trustees and fundraisers, such as SpecialEffect, Tooleys Boatyard Trust and The West Oxfordshire Academy of Performing Arts.
It is a particular delight to note that many of our earlier clients have grown into substantial businesses in Oxfordshire, and some of those have given back by offering low cost services to the mentoring service. Some clients even became mentors in their own right.
Benefits to Oxfordshire
Mike will not make any claims. Whether a business grows after meeting a mentor is mainly due to the hard work put in by the client. Perhaps we helped them through a blocker, but it is hard to put a value on that, and disingenuous to try to do so.
Having said that we have had very many testimonials from clients saying how much the service has helped them.
It is also true to say that if a business eventually shut down, this would be due to the circumstances of the particular client, and in any event the client will have benefitted from the service by being wiser next time they decided to set out on their own.
Finally, a word about the mentors. The best thing about mentoring is the fulfilment we all got from seeing our clients change after chatting to us, and the business begin to flourish. It is indeed heart-warming, and that ultimately is the measure of the success of this service.
Final Words from Mike
It has been a joy to have set up this unique service for the businesses of Oxfordshire.
I have met many amazing business owners through this work, including the 50 mentors, most of whom I trained, and also the very many clients I helped along the way, many of them I still meet at business networking events.
It was always my hope that this service could be replicated in other regions, and indeed I came close in Buckinghamshire and in Cheshire. It seems that those that have the finances to support it are not able to visualise the true benefits to the business community, and those that can visualise the benefits do not have the finances or time to commit.
The protocols I put in place for a smooth and efficient administration are available to anyone who is interested and cares to ask.