It has been another great year for Cornerstone Business Mentoring in Somerset. An expansion in the number of clients and new mentors accepted on the mentoring programme has meant even more local businesses have been able to take advantage of the free and impartial advice offered.
In its third year of operations, Cornerstone has processed 106 businesses ( an increase of 27% over 2015/16), but a key change has been noted in the proportion of businesses applying direct to Cornerstone, rather than being referred through the New Enterprise Allowance (NEA) scheme. In 2015/17, 77% of our businesses came via NEA, but this year that figure had fallen to just 32%, the balance (68%) were non-NEA clients making direct applications following a referral by Heart of the South West Growth Hub, or one of our sponsoring district councils.
Approximately 90% of the businesses that Cornerstone has supported have been pre-start or early start sole traders. Established trading businesses make up just under 10% of cases, reflecting the benefit of mentoring to those in the early stages of establishing a new business. Somerset is also known to have a high proportion of sole traders and encourages self-employment, so to ensure Cornerstone can act where it most needed, our systems now accommodate short duration, extendable mentoring offering a short programme of 2 or 3 meetings to make sure a client has the basics in place. The number of meetings can then be extended if the client wants to continue to benefit from ongoing mentoring.
Of course, if mentoring ends, it is not possible for Cornerstone to track every client as they go forward. After preliminary discussions, some clients find the degree of financial risk identified when making a simple business plan with a mentor too much to take on. However, in many cases, the early intervention of a mentor encourages an improved business plan that increases the chance of success.
So in both cases mentoring has added value and a client benefits whether the business goes forward or not. Indeed, with the rate of start-up failure always too high, our mentors have undoubtedly prevented some demoralising, and expensive, collapses.
Cornerstone is unusual in that it is a totally voluntary and independent mentoring service. If you think you could benefit from the advice we can offer, please do get in touch.