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Why choose Lean

Phil Key

Without a doubt, you have been hearing a lot of stuff about Lean. The methodology was developed for manufacturing, adapted for construction, eventually making its way to software development and is currently gaining popularity in marketing.

The explanation behind its success is simple.

Lean is a flexible framework with a variety of methods for managing an organization like Kanban, Hoshin Kanri, PDCA, and others. They complement each other and allow you to achieve greater results both combined or applied independently.

However, the real power of Lean is engraved in the culture that comes with the methodology.

Here are 5 reasons why your team should embrace it:

Lean Encourages Problem-Solving

The essence of Lean is learning by solving problems. Therefore inspiring your team to seek continuous improvement is vital for getting the most out of the methodology. There are different ways to start with continuous improvement, but the most important thing is your team members to take ownership of their work.

 

As a manager, you can aid them by providing each person with the liberty to make decisions to some extent concerning their part of the work process. Feeling the empowerment, your team will be more eager to show their value and look for ways to improve your process.

They will be able to solve small problems on their own without having to consult you and therefore achieve greater efficiency of their actions. On the other hand, you won’t be bothered with trivial issues that your team is more than capable of solving on their own and will be able to focus on more important tasks.

Lean Principles Help Your Team Stay Focused

Among the greatest benefits of the Lean methodology is the fact that it allows your team to work with great efficiency and reduce lead times. They can do it easily by focusing on the tasks at hand and only pulling new work when they have the capacity to process it.

A good way to encourage this way of working is to visualize your process and display the tasks of each member so there can be an absolute transparency. The typical tool for this purpose is the Kanban method.

With its help, you can map each step of your workflow on a Kanban board and consistently track the progress of the tasks that your team is working on.

Kanban discourages multitasking and with its help, you can apply limits to the amount of work that can be in progress simultaneously. This way your team can remain focused and avoid switching context more often than necessary.

Lean Boosts Collaboration

Achieving continuous improvement is a collective responsibility in Lean. As your goal is to deliver more value to your customers in a shorter time frame, your team needs to improve together and collaborate effectively.

 

Embracing Lean will help you get rid of the silo mentality that impedes effective collaboration and encourages team members to share information. By taking ownership of the process, your team members will feel more responsible for the successful delivery of value to your customer and collaboration will become more natural as they will be eager to help each other in resolving problems.

This, on the other hand, will save you time from putting down fires and micro-managing joint initiatives.

Lean is Great for Cost Reduction

Embracing Lean will help you optimize your budget too by getting rid of any unnecessary activities, stocks, and expenses. Minimizing the waste in your process will result in delivering value to your customer at lower cost for your company.

Your team members will be more eager to suggest innovations that can further improve your process and lower the operational costs. However, for this to happen, you need to create a safe environment that doesn’t punish failures but encourages continuous improvement.

Lean Results in More Satisfied Customers

Arguably the greatest benefit of the Lean methodology is that it leads to more satisfied customers. By removing the waste from your process and improving operational efficiency, you will be able to increase the quality of your products and services and create a balance between the demand and supply.

This way you will be able to deliver more value to your customers at the right time and avoid overproduction.

In conclusion, it is fair to say that Lean is great both for your company and your customers. An important part of adopting the methodology is embracing the mindset that comes with it. It takes time and effort but without it applying any of the Lean methods will bring you just a fragment of the results you are hoping for.

The four vital ingredients of business success:

Phil Key

It’s one thing to get your business off the ground and turning a profit. It’s quite another to pursue growth and maintain a successful position in the market. As one challenge is overcome, more will inevitably take its place. Competition has gone global, customers have more choice, regulations are getting tighter, and technology is advancing faster than ever.

 

A good idea, a clear gap in the market, and a truly innovative product or service are all fundamental prerequisites for any promising new business – but they don’t guarantee long-term success. No company will be able to stand the test of time without first investing time and money into core business functions.

In many ways, building a business is a bit like baking a cake; without mixing the flour, milk, sugar and eggs together correctly, your recipe will fall short. To achieve long-term success, business leaders must strike the right balance between these four key ingredients:

1. Product development

Once your business concept has been refined, it can be developed into a product. This product is inextricably linked to the wants and needs of your target customers. As such, it needs to be under constant review to ensure that it’s consistently adding value to your customers’ lives.

You must listen to what your customers tell you about your product and be open to making improvements or adding some new flavour to it in response. The market is your main source for ideas on how to develop – and differentiate – your product successfully. If you don’t take its feedback on board, your fresh business idea will soon turn stale, and you’ll lose customers to your competitors.

2.Human resources

Your staff are just as important as your customers. Their attitude, work ethic, skills and experience all contribute to the success of your business because they are the business. A key business objective should be to ensure that any potential conflicts are resolved smoothly, personal development goals are supported, KPIs are monitored, and value-adds such as team-building initiatives are encouraged.

Investing in the right workplace technology, such as video conferencing, task management and customer relationship management (CRM) systems can help maximise collaboration and communication within and between teams. Make sure your staff are happy and your business will have a far greater chance at success.

3. Customer service

Your customers need to be front of mind at all times, across all levels of your business. The best salespeople realise that relying on the product alone is not enough to guarantee a sale or inspire repeat business. You need to provide a consistently incredible customer experience that builds meaningful, positive and, ultimately, long-lasting relationships.

The customer service process begins before the sale, carries the customer through the sale, and then stays with them even after the transaction has been finalised. Do this well and they’ll keep coming back for more cake. Loyal customers are the greatest competitive advantage your business can acquire.

4. Sales and marketing

With a desirable product or service on the table, committed support staff in the office and satisfied customers in the market, your cake is ready to bake. It’s the perfect environment to drive sales and increase your revenue, which is, of course, your overarching goal.

By empowering your sales and marketing teams with the right technology, they’ll be able to take a more proactive, intelligent and efficient approach to selling and communicating to customers. With specific data-driven software in place, they will gain valuable insights into customer buying behaviour, manage sales pipelines more effectively, and eliminate any communication blind spots that could derail a sale or relationship. The old-school approach to sales and marketing – one that relies on limited insight and gut instincts – is no longer sustainable. Data, and using it correctly, is now the key to delivering the best customer experience possible.

Long-term success comes as a result of putting time and effort into establishing your core business functions and staying true to your customers’ needs.

The difference between Angel Investment and Venture Capital

Phil Key

When it comes to financing your startups, shows such as Dragon’s Den can make you think it’s all about impressing investors and winning millions of pounds off the bat. In fact, investment comes in all shapes and sizes. Investment in the tech sector has already reached £459m this quarter, but if you are seeking to bring an investor on board, what are the options for you? Here’s a look at the difference between the two main kinds you might be considering – angel investment, and venture capital investment.

Angel investment

An estimated £850m per annum is invested by angels annually in the UK, making them a really significant source of funding for the UK’s startups.

Put simply, an angel investor is someone who puts their own finance into the growth of a small business at an early stage, also potentially contributing their advice and business experience. They might be a wealthy, well-connected individual who’s taken a personal liking to your product, a group of angel investors who club together to fund startups, or even a friend or member of your family who’s decided to put some money in.

Angels make their own decision about the investment, and in return for providing personal equity they take shares in the business. The amount they invest is flexible – it could be a small amount to get you off the ground, or a larger amount. While they can provide insight and advice about your business, their job isn’t to build up your company.

Venture capital

Venture capital funding is a whole other level. For a start, rather than individual investors, winning venture capital usually involves a whole firm – investors, board members, and people whose job is to generally help your business develop.  Venture capital firms are made of professional investors, and their money comes from a variety of sources – corporations and individuals, private and public pension funds, foundations.

Those who invest money in venture capital funds are called ‘limited partners’; those managing the fund and working with individual companies are called ‘general partners’, and these are the people who work with the startup to ensure that its developing.

The job of venture capital firms is to find businesses with high growth potential. The firm take shares and have a say in the future of the company and its running, and in exchange for their involvement venture capitalist firms expect a high return on investment. After a period of time, often years, the venture capitalists sell shares in the company back to the owners or through an initial public offering, hopefully making much more that what they put in.

Venture capital usually deals with very large amounts of money – rather than seed funding, it can be multi-million deals. And while more and more startups are winning venture capitalism investment, with the sums involved and the risk of investing in a startup, businesses a bit further down the line might be more likely to gain the trust and money of venture capitalists.

Key differences between angel investment and VC investment

Amounts invested

Angel investors will put in a variety of amounts, but as it’s generally seed funding you’re not looking at the kind of figures that VC investment deals with. As a general rule, groups of angel investors might go as high as £1 million – but VC firms are unlikely to invest less than £1 million. Because so much time and effort goes into brokering a VC deal, it needs to be worth the company’s while.

While the concept of too much funding might seem ridiculous to cash-strapped startups, with great funding comes great expectations, which is a lot of pressure to put on a fledgling business. You have obligations to your investors, and overvaluation of your startup can have serious consequences down the line.

Who they invest in

Angel investors specialise in early-stage businesses, while VC firms are generally more unwilling to invest in startups unless they show really compelling promise and growth potential (though this is changing as the startup scene continues to flourish). While incredibly exciting startups in key industries might be able to win VC funding with little track record, most businesses will have to demonstrate that they can walk the walk, not just talk the talk.

Involvement

Angel investors might have valuable advice for you, but ultimately they can be as hands-on or hands-off as you want. They will have equity in your business but will not have a seat on your board – unlike with VC investment. Agreeing to VC investment means committing to bringing more people into how your business, people who have a say in how it’s run and whose job it is to help your business reach its potential. While this can be a huge positive, if you’re at an early stage it might be overkill, and you might not have the flexibility to pivot or change focus – too many cooks can spoil the broth, so to speak.

Timescales

VC firms need to evaluate their involvement with you – due diligence, research, and all the other aspects that help them decide if investing in you is a smart business decision that will see them reap a big return. This all takes time. On the other hand, angel investors can make quick decisions, as they’re often working alone or have a personal interest in the business.

Motivations

The job of VC firms is to find the best businesses, help them, and then make a lot of money. For angel investors, their motivations might be different – to help less experienced businesses within their sector, for example (though making a return on investment is also a factor, of course!)

Get the Virgin StartUp Business plan

Government Grants - Everything you'll need to know

Phil Key

One option to help fund your business is to try for a government grant. However with over a thousand grants to choose from, where do you even start? This guide helps to break it down.

What is a government grant?

A grant is a sum of money awarded to your business from the government that you don’t have to pay back. It’s awarded to your business to assist in its development, often for a specific purpose.

Is it right for my business?

The pros of a government grant include that it’s non-repayable – you don’t have to return the money, or pay interest on it. You’re also not giving away equity in your business, as when winning investment.

However, there are some really important things to consider.

The process of applying can be incredibly time-consuming and complicated; can you afford to sacrifice this time?

Grants and awards are very competitive, so if you’re banking on winning one to develop your business idea it’s best to have a plan B

Often criteria for the grants can be very niche; this can make it difficult to find one that you’re eligible for, and lead to you tweaking your idea. While changing your business isn’t necessarily a bad thing, if you’re doing it just to win the grant you should think twice

A grant is unlikely to cover all your costs, and you might be expected to match the grant with your own funding

Grants often come with conditions which state how you’re allowed to spend or allocate the money – so be aware that it might not be as simple as just receiving a lump sum.

Grants are rarely allocated for just ‘starting a business’ – they will always be to contribute to a specific project or aim

Best areas for winning grants

There are some areas where grants are more readily available than others – does your business fit into one of these areas?

Energy and environment

With improving the world around us and saving energy a priority, there are schemes available for businesses creating products that will help save the world. There are also grants available to businesses that seek to become more environmentally-friendly, even for such small changes as improving insulation in your premises or office. Check out this page on Green Wise Business to find out more about what’s on offer.

Exports

Improving trade links for the UK’s businesses is a key element to driving the economic recovery, so if you’ve been thinking of exporting there’s useful help from UK Trade & Investment to get you off the ground.

Innovation

It’s a no-brainer really – to keep the UK competitive in a rapidly-evolving global tech market, we need to encourage the most innovative businesses to keep inventing. There are some fantastic opportunities out there for exciting tech businesses, so check out Innovate UK for up-to-date listings of the best opportunities.

What do you need to apply for a government grant?

Every grant will have different requirements, but you’ll always need:

A business plan. Crucial for the body granting your loan to assess your business and see how the money will help you achieve your aims, a great business plan will help you stand out in the competitive world of winning grants and give you the best chance of being chosen. You should tailor your business plan to each grant application, the way you would a CV when applying for a job.

An idea of how the money will be spent. You don’t have to know how every single penny will be spent, or to have the exact costs of everything, but you’ll need to have an idea of where the money will go. Research in advance as to where the hypothetical budget would go, and note allocate rough amounts. For example, if the grant is to help towards the marketing costs of a new campaign, you could set aside £200 for Twitter ads, £500 for Google Pay Per Click, £400 for real-life printing and distribution costs…you get the idea. Try and be as detailed as possible – again, this will give you a strong case for being selected.

Check your eligibility

Whether or not you are eligible for a grant will depend on various factors, such as:

Business size and classification. The grant might only be available to a Limited Company, for example, or to a business with a certain amount of employees.

Grant purpose. Do you have a clear idea of what the grant will be used for?

Location. There will be regional grants available. Bear in mind that different locations are likely to be more competitive than others, such as London.

Industry type.  Many grants are industry-specific.

It’s not just money

When people think of grants they automatically think of FREE CASH. But, there are many non-cash grants available that can help your business, such as connectivity vouchersfunding towards employee costs, or innovation voucher schemes.

One fantastic resource for small businesses is the growth voucher scheme. This government programme gives businesses with 249 or fewer employees strategic advice on everything from cash flow to technology, and there are vouchers up to £2000 on offer towards the cost. For smaller businesses the Small Business Charter programme can help you grow, including getting you onto a free half-day workshop work £500.

Finding a grant

With literally hundreds of grants out there, how can you find the right one for you? A good place to start is the government’s own finance finder. This will help you filter by business size, industry, and the kind of support you’re interested in.

As well as nationwide grants, the directory also contains local grant providers facilitated by the government’s Regional Growth Fund – a £3.2bn initiative dedicated to helping startups in different parts of the UK develop, ongoing until 2017. The full list of providers can be found here.

And don’t forget that while we’re not a government grant, the Virgin StartUp Loans scheme is one backed by the government, allowing us to offer lower interest than many business loans.

Grants in the EU

If you’re looking to expand out of the UK, small business funding doesn’t stop at our borders! This interactive map shows the EU-funded grants available for different countries and regions. If expansion is on your to-do list, make sure to check out the Enterprise Europe Network for more support and information on EU grants available to you.

 

 

Top Five Tips to Get Your Business off the Ground

Phil Key

 

What does it take to run your own business? It’s the age old question that many budding entrepreneurs ask. The considered answer would be that you need to possess a good amount of business acumen and organisational skills, believe in your product or service and have great understanding of your target market. Don’t be discouraged or overwhelmed by what lies ahead, it’s easy to get flustered and swept away with the excitement of it all. Just remember to use your nous, stay grounded and work to your goal. What’s fundamental to the success of your business is the business idea itself – it’s the most important component of them all.

The entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well, with many people considering that their gem of an idea offers up the perfect opportunity to start their own business. For some the lure of being their own boss is tempting, with more and more people opting to leave the confines of employment to attempt their very own venture. There is a lot to consider if you head down this route. Knowing where to begin is perhaps the most difficult and daunting. “If you’re an entrepreneur and want to start a business, start small,” says Theo Paphitis (theopaphitis.com), successful businessman and panellist on the hit BBC show Dragon’s Den. 

Commitment and motivation are two of the biggest drives to making a business work, as you’ve got to be prepared to put the time in and graft yourself. “...'what are you putting into this?' So many people say to me, 'I'll do this part time'. Well, I've never met a successful part-time entrepreneur,” says James Caan (blogs.iod.com/2012/08/17/start-your-business-james-caans-top-10-tips/), entrepreneur and former Dragon’s Den panellist who sat alongside Paphitis.

Starting your own small business requires good planning from the offset in order to fully achieve your objective. Take a look at our round-up of all the things you should consider to best prepare for the road ahead...

Be Clear About Your Business Idea

  • Research, research, research! Seeking advice, from someone you trust or with organisations such as the Citizen Advice Bureau and the http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/startingup/ workshops, is a great way of evaluating and developing your idea further. Sometimes just one piece of valuable advice is all the momentum you need. 
  • Target market: who are you aiming to market to and why? Understanding your target market sounds like an obvious suggestion, but you’ll be surprised as to how many people just plough in there without a strong idea of their core market and before testing the water first. “The mistake that frustrates me most is people spending far too much time perfecting the idea and not enough testing it with the market,” says Caan.

 

  • Select a suitable business name that is appropriate for your business model and offers something unique to the industry you’re stepping into. Whilst you might be entering into a competitive market, the way you present yourself will pay dividends.

Location, Location, Location

  • Sourcing a good location to establish your business can be a struggle. For some, working from home or running an online business provides a simple solution, but finding an office or premises is no mean feat. Whilst finding the right location, with the right environment is important you needn’t let it overshadow your overall business plan and idea process.  
  • Register your company name by contacting the HMRC to inform them that you are either a sole trader, setting up a business partnership or that you wish to register as a limited company. If you’re setting-up an online business, don’t forget to check the domain availability of your chosen company name.
     

Solo Project or Team Effort?

  • Are you going to do it alone? Would seeking a co-founder to share the responsibilities be beneficial to you? It may be worth finding someone who has a different skill-set to you, to help balance one another out. 
  • Are you prepared to manage a team of people? To successfully run your business you’ll require patience, order and control. Are these attributes you possess, or will you need to recruit someone for the role? Do you even require a team of people or is this a solo enterprise? ...just because you have a good business idea that looks like it’s going to work, it doesn’t mean you’ve suddenly acquired staff-management skills,” says Paphitis. 

What are my financial targets?

  • Are you able to fund the initial outlay of the business yourself or will you need to seek financial support? Why not consider the option of pitching to investors for funding? Business Angels, Dragon’s of the business world, offer investment opportunity for start-ups seeking financial aid. Business and Enterprise Minister Mark Prisk said: “Business angels play a crucial role in supporting new and growing businesses...”
  • “The variety of businesses that are receiving this funding reveals the range of skills and exciting opportunities that are being created today. It is absolutely critical that ambitious small firms can access the finance that they need to expand and grow.” (http://news.bis.gov.uk/
  • Accounting and tax: make sure you have registered with the HMRC and are equipped to do your own accounts. If you are able to, financially, it might be beneficial for you to hire an accountant. By deciding on the legal structure of the business and who will be responsible for the money side, you can ensure that the business finances are correctly managed.

Preparation: From Paperwork to Planning

  • In the initial period before your business launch you should work on your financial planning, write both a business and marketing plan along with a break-even analysis so you are aware of your profit/loss forecast and cash-flow.
  • A business plan helps you better understand your business, brings clarity and order so that you can turn your seed of an idea into a viable business. “Your business plan journey should traverse the seven Cs: a good plan is clear, crisp, concise, consistent, coherent and credible. But above all it is convincing, particularly in its assessment of risk. Its raison d'être is to convince your backer. Remember all seven Cs but especially the last,” says Vaughan Evans, author of FT Essential Guide to Writing a Business Plan: How to Win Backing to Start Up or Grow Your Business.
  • Prepare paperwork such as insurance, permits, and licenses for both your business and product/service. Does your idea need copyrighting? Do you need a patent for your product? Consider all the legality involved, as it is often forgotten about. Starting a business comes with a considerable amount of administration. Get a better perspective of all sides of the business – don’t put off what needs to be done. At the beginning, the prospect of all that paperwork, filling and administration might be somewhat daunting but once you get there, the hard work will pay off with the reward of a professional business.
  • Contingency plan: obstacles and setbacks will rear their ugly heads, how you overcome them is fundamental to whether you ultimately succeed or not. 

What does BREXIT mean for UK StartUps?

Phil Key

 

The UK has voted to leave the European Union, and with the significant effects its likely to have on the economy and politics, you might also be worried about the effect on your startup. Here are the things you need to know today.

Brexit won’t be an overnight process – it will take at least  two years to exit the EU after government triggers the start of the process. There’s likely to be a lot of volatility in the market and politically, but many things related to the EU will remain the same for now.

 

What’s changed already?

At the time of writing, the pound has sharply dropped, which could mean uncertainty with consumers and an impact on your profits. If you sell to EU countries (and outside the EU)  this could be more pronounced, due to the current weakness of sterling.

 

Are we still a member of the EU?

Yes – we will be until two years after the government triggers termination, via article 50 of the 2009 Lisbon Treaty. At the time of writing, the process to start Brexit hasn’t happened yet.

 

Do we still have to charge VAT?

Yes – VAT is a Europe-wide tax, and you’ll still be required to comply with EU and UK VAT obligations as usual.

 

What about EU laws – do we still obey them?

Again, the answer is yes. We’re still bound by any EU legislation that affects us until we formally leave the EU.

 

What does it mean for investment in my business?

If you’re on enterprise investment schemes such as the SEIS and EIS schemes, don’t worry. They’re still in place and likely to remain safe, as they’re schemes supported by the UK government... More than ever, investment into UK startups needs to be encouraged.

 

Is my EU trademark still valid?

Don’t worry – your trademark is still valid and enforceable. It’s really unlikely that this will be affected even post-Brexit.

 

What about duties, and other fees related to selling to countries in the EU?

Right now, things continue as normal. However post-Brexit it will all depend on the terms negotiated by the government.

 

What about my visa/right to be in the UK, or that of my employees?

Everything should remain the same for now, unless changes are announced by the government, and for EU nationals the free movement of people will still apply until Brexit

 

Get these right

Phil Key

Running out of Cash
This is the most common reason why small businesses fail. You should ensure from day one that you keep on top of your outstanding invoices. Agree payment terms upfront with your customers, make sure you submit invoices on time, and send them to a designated contact in the accounts department. If payments fall overdue, chase them up efficiently, and don’t be afraid of hiring a ‘debt management’ service if you suffer from persistent late payment issues.

Business Structures
The sole trader / partnership route is the simplest way to get going in business. The limited company route is the most tax efficient in most situations, although company directors have more obligations to meet than the self employed. In some industries clients will only do business with you if you are operating via a limited company structure plus a limited company also provides you with limited liability so should the company get into any financial issues then the owners of the business will not be personally liable for any debts.

Bad Advice
A good accountant can save you time, money and stress, and let you focus on growing your business. Almost all limited companies use accountants, and if you’re a sole trader, you may also benefit from hiring an accountant to complete your annual self-assessment return, and provide ongoing tax advice.

Meeting Deadlines
As a business owner, you should be aware the you are are ultimately responsible for meeting your financial and statutory deadlines, so there shouldn’t have any excuses for submitting forms or paying your taxes late. You could face heavy HMRC penalties for missing your tax deadlines, and even prosecution in extreme cases if you fail to submit your Annual Return to Companies House on time (if you’re a limited company owner).

The Right People
A business will only be successful if it employs the right people. Most small businesses are driven forward by their owners, but often the unsung heroes are the people who run the office, keep on top of the administration, and provide customer support. Treat your employees well, reward them meeting their targets, and consider providing incentives (such as sharing the profits of the business) so that your staff have a stake in the company’s success.

Research
Before starting up your new enterprise, have you taken time to research your market, to ensure that a profitable business opportunity exists? How many competitors are there in your space, and what is your unique selling point (USP)? How will you differentiate yourself from other firms in the market?

No Business Plan
Many businesses do not have a business plan. You should always have a solid plan in mind when you start a new business, even if you do not create a traditional ‘business plan’. A business plan is a fluid document – all companies evolve as they grow, reacting to situations as they happen, and to changes in the marketplace. At worst, a business plan is a useful document to measure your success against.

Funding
Most small businesses are initially financed by their owners – from personal funds, or with the help of friends or family. In the future, if you require further funding, you will need to provide potential investors, or banks with credible reasons why they should lend you money or buy into your business through equity funding. You will not be able to gain funds from financial organisations or angel investors unless you have a realistic business plan in place, and a proven business model.

Five Mentoring Program Mistakes to Avoid

Phil Key

Every organization wants a more engaged, more productive, and overall happier workforce. And research in the talent development industry increasingly demonstrates the organizational benefits of mentoring – especially because mentoring supports multiple goals such as:

  • Providing career development opportunities
  • Sharing tacit company knowledge
  • Supporting diversity & inclusion efforts
  • Improving the onboarding experience

Running a mentoring program isn’t as complicated as it may initially seem. But whether you’re planning a new program or you have an existing program, you can still learn from our experience to learn five mentoring program mistakes to avoid to ensure a smoother path to mentoring program success.

Skipping the Business Alignment Step

Beyond making employees happier, your program should drive business objectives – it’s what your leadership will want to see. When you’re competing for resources with departments like marketing or sales, it’s important to demonstrate that your program helps achieve a clearly defined objective. Approach your program from this direction and map your design and program goals to this target. Clearly stating this alignment will encourage executive sponsorship too!

Here’s a quick example: Your enterprise has lower-than-desired levels of employee engagement as measured by the annual Gallup survey. Dig deep into your survey data to identify the root causes of low engagement and position your mentoring program to address these.

Is engagement low because people don’t feel well-connected with others in the organization? Make the goal of your mentoring program decreasing silos and encouraging communication and connection across teams and departments.

Is engagement low because people don’t feel they have advancement opportunities? Then focus your program on career and competency development. Now that you know exactly what you’re aiming to achieve, you have some guide rails for designing the program.

Not Defining Your Program Goals

Once you have a clear organizational objective, it’s tempting to start designing or restructuring the program. Not yet! Define how you’ll measure program success so you can show that the program did, in fact, help achieve organizational objectives. Talk to your program sponsor about what data will help him/her defend the program and renew it when the time comes. Then, design towards these success metrics.

Let’s build on the example above: Your goal is increasing employee engagement by focusing on career development and competency building for participants. How will you know that participation in the mentoring program helped users develop their careers and feel more engaged? The answer will depend on your organization, but can include some of the following:

  • Comparing Gallup results for program participants and a control group to see if they score higher in the career opportunities question.
  • Follow the participant group to see if they have higher promotion rates compared to the control group.
  • Follow the group to see if retention is higher compared to controls, since retention is a strong proxy for engagement

Not Providing Enough Support

Mentoring isn’t necessarily an intuitive exercise for mentors, mentees, and even program admins. The challenge can stem from several areas, including communication skill gaps, understanding program expectations, familiarity with software if you’re using it, and competing priorities. It’s important to understand what challenges your users may experience and build support into your program. Hold focus groups, run a pilot, and do your research to anticipate participant needs.

Not Listening to Participant Feedback

How will you know how your program is doing? Program participants have a lot to share about their experience in your mentoring program. Use this golden feedback to demonstrate the benefits of the program, understand any changes that might make it more effective, and share success stories to build excitement for future participants. We suggest you incorporate surveys, lunchtime round tables, and end-of-program reviews.  Be sure to collect feedback along the way, too. Don’t wait till the end of the program to discover participant needs.

Not Measuring Results

In today’s world of business analytics, “everyone likes it” is no longer a viable metric. To demonstrate program success or opportunities for running it better next time, make sure you actually collect the data identified in #2 above. If your program meets the target numbers, you have plenty of leverage to keep going. If your program falls short, your active tracking of opportunities will show that you’re working towards improvement. Either way, it’s beneficial to measure the data so don’t skip this last step!

Conclusion

A mentoring program is an exciting, measurable way to provide your employees with great opportunities and strengthen your organization. Be thoughtful about why you’ve decided to start it and know what you’re aiming to accomplish before you begin designing or redesigning. Chances are, you’ll learn a lot in your first run of the program. Learning about these five mentoring program mistakes to avoid will ensure that you can learn from the experience and build a strong mentoring program. Happy mentoring!

Entrepreneurs furious as chancellor abolishes Business Growth Service

Phil Key

Entrepreneurs have spoken of their dismay on learning that key government services designed to boost business growth are being abolished.

The Business Growth Service (BGS), which includes the popular Manufacturing Advisory Service (MAS) and the Growth Accelerator programme, ended operations at the end of November 2015

The BGS’s remit included the Growth Accelerator programme, which provided coaching and match-funding services to businesses. Figures on the BGS website show that it has assisted more than 18,000 businesses, helped SMEs raise more than £100m in finance and has a 94% approval rating from businesses that have used the service.

Following the announcement, a statement from BIS said the closure of the BGS would save government £84m. It also said it was investing £12m per year into 39 local growth hubs that were led by Local Enterprise Partnerships.

 

Richard Branson's Virgin StartUp Funding

Phil Key

Virgin StartUp is a not-for-profit organisation that helps entrepreneurs aged 18 and over in England get the funding , resources and advice they’ll need to make their business idea a reality.

“For many years I have campaigned for more focus on small business and start ups as the way to get growth in the economy and to create more jobs. This needs to be backed by more bank lending and start up loans for entrepreneurs…” Sir Richard Branson

 

Launched in 2013 this fantastic initiative has great prospects of being a nationwide success for so many new small start up businesses