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Some free advice – so what’s the catch?
Some free advice – so what’s the catch?
Great news this week as TBAC doubled its number of active business mentors from five to ten – not bad when you consider that they all have businesses to run and none of them receive any financial reward!
What’s business mentoring, I hear you say, and who the hell are TBAC?
Well, TBAC is the old Thames Business Advice Centre which was a (partially) centrally funded body that was originally set up to help start-ups and sometimes even provide a home for them. Despite support from a number of professional organisations and banks, TBAC ran out of steam a few years ago and was eventually rescued by Mike Jennings – whom many of you will know!
Mike’s vision was to provide independent business mentoring and support - for business people, from business people. Furthermore, the ‘new’ TBAC would provide affordable premises for start-up, early stage and on occasion even the odd mature business.
Supported by the Jennings family and his core team of staff, Mike has transformed TBAC into a unique service that is going from strength to strength. There are now TBAC centres offering excellent business accommodation in Didcot, Abingdon, Chalgrove, Witney and in Oxford with more planned for the future.
The amazing thing is that the business mentoring service is completely free and now that there are ten active mentors spread across Oxfordshire it’s also very accessible. Meetings usually take place at the mentor’s own business premises, but they can also be held at TBAC centres or even at Hampden House in Chalgrove where TBAC is now headquartered.
The business model is simple in that any surplus revenues from the centres go towards supporting the mentoring services. The mentors are volunteers and all have one thing in common, they have started and run their own business so they understand the challenges and issues faced by the people they meet.
Mike’s passion for business is infectious and his enthusiasm for mentoring inspirational, which is why I agreed to become a mentor a year ago. I received support from the original TBAC when I started out in 1995 and when Mike approached me my initial thought was that this would be a good way to give something back.
Oh, how wrong I was! I get to meet some great people and the sessions, which tend to last 90 minutes or so, fly by when you chat through challenges and inevitably draw comparisons with your own business. As mentors we’re not really there to provide advice, it’s more about being a sounding board and sharing your experiences to help support people through issues or difficult decisions.
One real unexpected bonus of business mentoring is the way it makes you look at your own business and I often feel guilty that I derive as much benefit from the sessions as the ‘client’. Another meaningful benefit is interaction with the other mentors, who are motivated by similar goals, and now that our numbers have swelled from five to ten we won’t get bored with each other’s company! Only joking, there is a real camaraderie and sense of achievement and direction within the team.
Mike’s vision for TBAC knows no boundaries and now that the mentoring service is well resourced with experienced business people, we are set to see some promotional activity and advertising. This can only be good for business in Oxfordshire and maybe David Cameron’s Big Society could take its lead from this brilliant innovation – watch this space!
Personally I think it won’t be too long before we see the first ‘mentee’ becoming a mentor, surely this is only a matter of time? In the meantime if you think you have something to offer people ploughing the same furrow that you did, then you should make contact with Mike - through the website or by posting a comment to this blog.
On the other hand, if you could do with talking to someone confidentially about your business challenges then you should get in touch through www.tbac.org.uk or by calling Lou on 01865 893305….you never know one of us might learn something from you!
All the best,
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In the first of a weekly blog and occasional rant, Oxfordshire based entrepreneur Brendon Cross looks at some of the challenges faced by people starting and running their own businesses.