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Being mentored by some of the North East’s most successful business people is proven to unlock business growth

Aspirational businesses owners from across the North East are accelerating their growth thanks to mentoring from some of the region’s most successful business people.

Fulfilling the North East’s strategic economic aim of creating 100,000 ‘more and better jobs’ is reliant on more businesses making the jump to their next level of growth. Many businesses in the region have a turnover that typically fluctuates between 750k and £1.5million with few breaking through to the next stage of growth. This scenario can be driven by many reasons; some decide that this is the right level for them and accept that some years are better than others, whilst others aspire to grow but for various reasons can’t quite make it happen.

Having access to a mentor who has walked the path and has proven invaluable in helping businesses owners to reach their next level of growth. The North East Growth Hub’s Mentors offer their time voluntarily and are motivated by altruistic endeavour, giving back and making a positive contribution to the North East economy.

They have all experienced the pleasure and pain that comes with scaling a business, they’ve got things wrong and made mistakes and got things right and achieved success. It’s this insight and learning from experience that when passed on has enabled other business owners to short cut barriers and accelerate results. Mentees have typically benefited through:

  • Improving their leadership style
  • Developing a more sustainable business model
  • Accelerating their growth
  • Developing better business skills and planning
  • Achieving better sales and lead generation.

Quality of experience is key. We take great care in selecting suitable mentors and mentees and go to great lengths to ensure strong, trusting and effective matches are made.  It would be great to think that this could be facilitated by a clever database, however, experience shows that a great match can only be achieved by gaining a good understanding of the business and the motivations, interests and personality of both mentor and mentee.

If you are interested, email us at [email protected] to book your space.

May I end by saying a big thanks to all our mentors and mentees – you are amazing! Thanks for helping others reach their full potential.

Colin Bell, Business Growth Director, North East Local Enterprise Partnership.

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Scaleup and grow: North East LEP seeks entrepreneurs for mentoring programme

Entrepreneurs looking to grow and scale their business are being sought for the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP’s) Growth through Mentoring programme.

Six months after launching, a bank of experienced North East business leaders are ready and waiting to act as mentors for business owners keen to learn from others’ experiences.

Companies experiencing rapid growth or rapid growth potential need to learn to cope quickly with changing demands, but many find it hard to develop their managerial and leadership talent while their organisations are growing so fast.

It can also be lonely at the top and having someone to talk to outside of the business, that recognises and understands these challenges, can be invaluable.

The programme is led by North East LEP Mentoring Co-ordinator Helen Lee, who matches mentors with mentees based on each person’s individual skills and experience.

Helen said:

The programme is off to a great start with mentors actively working with North East businesses with high growth ambition.  Importantly, all the mentors we’re working with have first hand experience of growing and scaling business. There is a phenomenal range and depth of experience within our pool of mentors and the pool is growing.  If you are the leader of a growing business and would like to be matched with a mentor, we want to hear from you.

These mentors can help people to gain the skills and knowledge required to scaleup their businesses, which is vital for the growth of the regional economy and an important part of the North East LEP’s Strategic Economic Plan for the North East.

Pamela Petty, ex Managing Director of family-run business Ebac, is participating in Growth through Mentoring as a mentor and has been matched with Sam Wass, from the Great British Meat Company. Pamela added:

I’m really passionate about the North East, and feel that if I can help grow the economy by sharing my experience then I should.

I love people that are passionate about what they do, so working with people like Sam is a pleasure.

Sam Wass, Director of the Great British Meat Company, has benefited from Pamela’s background in manufacturing and selling online. The company is an online butcher, which has taken a traditional business diversifying into digital retail. As a result, they are currently on target to increase revenues by 50% this year.

Sam said:

After just one session I knew I had a good and positive match and in fact we’ve already honed in on an issue that we are likely to focus on.

It really helps when there are lots of comparable experiences, and your mentor has the same mindset as you – for us that’s in terms of manufacturing. I’m looking forward to continuing with the programme and seeing where this dedicated support takes the company next.

More details are available on the Growth through Mentoring webpage.

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Both sides of the story: the mentor-mentee partnership

One of the first business owners to be matched with a mentor through the North East LEP’s Growth through Mentoring programme is Lucy Batley, Co-Founder and Creative Director of full service creative agency JUMP. Lucy was partnered with mentor Alan English who has extensive experience of working with scale-up businesses internationally.

We caught up with Lucy and Alan to find out what the experience was like for each of them.

The mentor: Alan English

My background is all about working with startups and scale-ups and I’ve worked with companies in Singapore, Hong Kong, Silicon Valley and Colorado.

Now I’ve returned to the North East I wanted to help people in my home region. I’m based here now and found it easy to fit in an hour or two here and there to volunteer as a mentor.

Working with Lucy was an absolute pleasure. We got on like a house on fire and got right down to identifying the challenges and opportunities of running a business.

We met three times in total: one introductory meeting and then three mentoring sessions which lasted between two and two and a half hours each time. That doesn’t sound like a lot of time but two hours is plenty – you can be quite fast paced and have quick results. We covered a massive amount each time we met and we also made sure that we identified the topics we wanted to cover in future sessions.

As a mentor, I asked a lot of questions about the challenges Lucy faced in different areas. I drew on my past experience not just of what’s worked for me but also what hasn’t – the good, the bad and the ugly!

I volunteer for a range of mentoring programmes as I enjoy it and get a lot out of it. It’s satisfying to be able to share what I’ve learned through my career – one of the upsides of getting older!

The mentee: Lucy Batley

 The mentoring process was definitely the right thing for me. It was very bespoke and entirely useful.

I think it worked because of the calibre and expertise of my mentor and the speed of getting to the heart of the problem. I’d originally identified some challenges I wanted to discuss, based around new business and sales, and we identified and honed in on specific areas very quickly.

Alan has mastered the art – and it is an artform – of listening, honing in on the important issues, interjecting at the appropriate time, asking the right questions and using his experience to offer intelligent and thoughtful insights.

In terms of business impact, we’ve already seen a notable change within the senior management team – we’re now looking for value within every client opportunity.

The mentoring process provided me with the assurance that a lot of what we are doing is right and the experience has given me the confidence to change the things that aren’t working so well.

I’d encourage other business owners who want to grow their organisation to find out more about the Growth through Mentoring programme; it’s a great way of developing the knowledge you need to scale up.

If you would like to get more involved in the Growth through Mentoring programme, please email [email protected]

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Mentoring success for North East company Blue Kangaroo

Since Blue Kangaroo was founded 10 years ago, the creative agency has secured contracts with clients including Disney, Pixar and Lucasfilm, resulting in a period of rapid growth for the business.

Blue Kangaroo works with global entertainment brands on product design, packaging, brand development and retail concepts.

The company’s growth began following a business trip to the USA three years ago, after Managing Director Jason Knights identified a number of opportunities to work directly with the head offices of USA-based clients including Disney.

Jason told us more about why he believes that working with a mentor can add value and benefit a business:

I’m a huge advocate of mentoring. Running a growing business can be a lonely place to be. When you start to see growth it can be a big jump to reach the next level and that’s when you need the support of people who can help and advise you.

I’ve worked with the same mentor for 10 years now and we speak nearly every day. We’re good friends and although we work in completely different industries I can still turn to him for advice when I need it.”

It’s important to find a mentor who you trust and can be open with, but once you’ve found that person it’s invaluable to have someone who’s not involved in your business day to day but who can give you the benefit of their opinion and experience.

I honestly think everyone should give it a try.

If you’ve got the experience of growing a business and are thinking of being a mentor, do it,” said Jason. “It’s just as rewarding to be a mentor as it is to grow your own business.

The North East LEP aims to increase the number of business in the region which make use of mentoring through its recently launched Growth through Mentoring programme. The programme matches business owners with experienced mentors who can help guide them through the journey of scaling up their company.

 Find out more about how mentoring could help you grow your business.

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First business mentor appointed to new Growth through Mentoring programme

The North East LEP’s new Growth through Mentoring programme has recruited its first high growth mentor.

Andrew Silver, a prominent North East business leader, will be paired with a business leader from a North East company who has ambitions to scale up their organisation.

Andrew said:

I’ve had the benefit of being mentored myself during my career and I know the value of having someone external to your organisation, who has the experience of growing a business themselves, on hand to offer advice and guidance.

The North East has a high predominance of SMEs and making sure that these businesses are able to access guidance through mentoring is hugely important.

Growth through Mentoring has been launched as part of the North East LEP’s drive to support companies to scale, helping to create more and better jobs and drive economic growth in the region.

Research has shown that, in the UK, only 22% of SMEs receive mentoring, despite its proven success in improving a business’s likelihood of experiencing growth.

Andrew continues:

I have a track record of leading businesses through periods of accelerated growth as well as developing senior managers to meet their full potential. I know that, by acting as a trusted adviser, a mentor can provide a useful sounding board, ensure the business avoids common pitfalls and help keep it on track.”

It’s also about networks – as a mentor, I can introduce my mentee to a wider network of people. I may not have all the answers myself but I probably know others who do.

So what makes a successful mentor-mentee relationship?

As a mentor, you have to be really good at listening and hear what your mentee is not saying, as well as what they are saying,” said Andrew. “You also have to understand that you are there to question and share insights and to help them apply the conclusions of the conversations and ensure there are clear KPI’s to measure performance.

From the other side of the relationship, a mentee should go into the process with an open mind, ready to learn and be clear about what they are hoping to get out of it. Have some milestones in mind – if we set out on this journey, what do you want from it?

I have two sons who are at the age where they’re about to step out into the big wide world and I know how important guidance and mentoring will be in their lives. As they start their careers, I’m looking forward to getting started in my own new role as a mentor with the North East LEP.

Find out more about the Growth through Mentoring programme.

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Want to scale your business? Think franchise.

Colin Bell, our Business Growth Director, discusses the advantages of franchising your business.

Some of the world’s most scalable businesses are franchises. When the formula is right they can scale at a phenomenal rate. So if at the top of your new year’s resolution list is ‘grow my business’ then learning lessons from franchisors could help you to devise a scalable business model.

So what can we learn from franchises?

  1. In most franchised businesses, increased revenue has a marginal impact on the franchisor’s costs base. Accountants are likely to call this high operating leverage and investors like high leverage because as the business scales, they can see margins increase in parallel. However for the franchisor, the opposite is often true: as they expand, their costs increase at a higher rate hence the franchisor has moved the costs increase from them to the franchisee.
  2. Franchisees provide investment capital. In most franchised businesses, franchisees purchase the franchise upfront; so without incurring much cost the franchisor receives a cash injection that can be used to further expand and invest in their business.
  3. Franchisors build it once and sell it many times. To develop a franchised business at some point, the franchisor has made the decision to break from the day to day and to begin working ‘on’ rather than ‘in’ their business. This enables them to figure out why customers buy from them, what is it that they do that adds most value and then refining and structuring the business model in such a way that they can easily educate others (franchisees) on how they too can build a successful business based on their model.
  4. Franchises attract highly engaged talent. Franchisees have invested significantly in the franchise and unlike employees they can’t just walk away and get a new job. The result is that they are likely to be much more engaged and motivated than a branch manager appointed directly by you.
  5. Franchises can result in reoccurring and predictable revenue. Franchisors normally receive a predictable and reoccurring revenue stream from franchisees through both royalties and the purchase of materials. As well as contributing to the bottom line, reoccurring revenue can be used to cover operational costs.

Key questions to consider:

  • How can you develop a model that means when sales increase your costs don’t?
  • How can you develop a model that is cash flow positive – receives cash upfront before incurring costs?
  • How are you going to release the time required to work ‘on’ your business rather than ‘in’ it?
  • How are you going to truly engage and motivate your people?
  • How can you lock customers in and generate predictable reoccurring revenue streams?

Research has shown that 71% of business leaders felt that they would be able to grow their business quicker if it were easier to find mentoring and a professional support scheme locally and they worked effectively (source: Scale Up Institute: Scale Up Review 2016) and the North East LEP want to help make that happen.

We have recently launched our Growth through Mentoring programme, where we match experienced leaders who have grown a business themselves, with ambitious SME owners who have the drive and ambition to grow their business.

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North East LEP appoints Mentoring Co-ordinator to help drive business growth

We have appointed Helen Lee to the new position of Mentoring Co-ordinator, to help lead a new mentoring programme for businesses with high growth potential.
The ‘Growth through Mentoring’ programme is being launched as part of the North East LEP’s drive to support companies to scale, helping to create more and better jobs and drive economic growth in the region.
Colin Bell, Business Growth Director at the North East LEP, said:

The North East LEP recognises the importance of supporting businesses to scale – growing businesses are central to the health of the region’s economy.
One of the key barriers which business leaders face when it comes to growing their business is the ability to develop leadership skills and access to mentors who have experience of successfully scaling a business themselves.
Growth through Mentoring will bring business leaders from high growth potential companies together with these experienced mentors.

Helen will typically work with companies that have been operational for at least two years, have 10 or more employees and have the aspiration to significantly scale their business. She will be leading the drive to get high quality business mentors in the region on board, to provide the mentoring services to high growth potential businesses and therefore bringing business leaders and experienced mentors together to help boost business growth in the North East.

Helen Lee said:

Mentoring has a key role to play in achieving the North East LEP’s aim of creating more and better jobs for the area. It’s been proven to help companies grow and prosper, and yet only a small proportion of business leaders currently work with a mentor.

Helen, who has previously worked at Newcastle College, and as a Business Development Manager with organisations across the North East, will be the first point of contact for North East businesses who want to find out more about how mentoring can help them grow.

Research has shown that 71% of business leaders felt that they would be able to grow their business quicker if it were easier to find mentoring and professional support scheme locally and they worked effectively (source: Scale Up Institute: Scale Up Review 2016) and the North East LEP wants to help make that happen.

To find out more visit our Growth through Mentoring page, or contact Helen Lee.

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The Power of Mentoring

Behind every business success story you will find great people, something our region prides itself on having in abundance. A quick visit to any ‘about us’ web page and you’ll discover the business leaders, directors, managers, supervisors, shareholders, grass-roots operatives and customer service teams that drive the business forward, but it’s often the people not named here that are having the most impact.

The relationship between an entrepreneur and their mentor is perhaps the most important of all, something backed up by almost half of the Entrepreneurs’ Forum members citing a mentor or coach as their key source of business advice; after only their accountant and the Forum itself.

It is reassuring for business people, as it is for professionals in any field, to be able to draw on the experience of people who have been there and done it all before. While success in business, especially in the early phases, comes down to the drive of the founder and their team, mentoring can help entrepreneurs avoid pitfalls and see opportunities as they arise and the business grows.

There are many different kinds of mentoring arrangements, some formal and some informal, some free and some paid for. These can take the form of a cup of coffee and a chat from time to time, or a more structured, planned programme, and can come into place by chance or by the individual actively seeking a mentor.

The kind of advice provided by a mentor varies from person to person, and depends on circumstance. From strategic advice, and ideas about motivation and management, to financial control and international marketing, no business subject is off topic.

As with any relationship, that of the mentor and mentee only works when both parties are committed and play their part. The Entrepreneurs’ Forum Mentoring Charter expresses that a mentor should act as an altruistic, wise friend, offering advice and counsel and providing constructive feedback. It defines the role of the mentee as someone who asks questions, listens to the answers and recognises the value in not leaping to the defence of all their own views and actions; being open to the mentor’s suggestions, but also responsible for their own decisions and development.

As an organisation we were proud to name James Robson of Alexander Jewitt & Co. our Mentor of the Year, at the North East Entrepreneurial Awards. This award celebrates the importance of people who offer their time altruistically to support their peers, helping them to overcome the barriers to business growth. James joins Alastair Waite, who won the inaugural award in 2015, in our hall of fame.

As a business support organisation, we run regular mentoring drop-in sessions for our members, which allow them to spend an hour with an experienced mentor, confidentially discussing challenges faced in their businesses. Some of these sessions provide one-off support that allows an entrepreneur to triage an issue or take on an opportunity, and some result in long-lasting, mentoring relationships and friendships.

I’m really encouraged the North East LEP sees the value of mentoring as part of its effort to support businesses to scale in the North East and I am keen to support this as much as I can through my new role as Business Growth board member.

Mentoring is a two-way process and there are no guarantees but, whether it’s a long-term relationship or a specific answer to a specific question from an entrepreneur who’s been through the same experience, the impact of having a brain to pick, an ear to listen and a push in the right direction can be business changing.


Gillian Marshall, chief executive at the Entrepreneurs’ Forum