Victoria’s Small Business Mentoring Service celebrates helping 100,000 SMEs in 35 years

small business owner

Jenny Pyke, owner of The Hat Project at Queen Victoria Market, Melbourne. Source: Supplied.

Melbourne-based mentoring business the Small Business Mentoring Service has marked its 35th anniversary with 100,000 businesses having used its services since it was founded in 1986.

Operating from four metropolitan offices and ten regional offices, the Small Business Mentoring Service (SBMS) works alongside the state government and 28 different Victorian councils to deliver bespoke mentoring services to small businesses.

SBMS also struck a funded arrangement last year with Melbourne City Council to offer mentoring to all 670 businesses at the Queen Victoria Market whose trading was severely affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

Jenny Pyke, owner of the shop and stall the Hat Project at Queen Victoria Market, has worked with SMBS’s youngest mentor Katya Ellis for two years.

“I’ve found it to be incredibly useful,” Pyke tells SmartCompany.

“The most useful part for me has been the help with setting up the website and digital marketing,” she says.

Pyke and her mentor Katya have worked closely together to improve the website, set up an online store, run an advertising campaign and build a presence on Instagram and Facebook.

“I must admit, I’ve been in business for a while, the other stuff I was across, but I’m at the age [where] digital marketing was totally outside my understanding,” Pyke says.

“I’ve encouraged everyone to get involved because it has been a really positive program.”

Business owners can select one of 200 mentors across the state whose professional experience spans the IBISWorld list of skills and industries. The mentors even speak a total of 28 languages.

The content that mentoring sessions covers is broad, ranging from digital marketing to financial planning and even employment regulations.

David Gregory, chief executive of SBMS, tells SmartCompany the service’s success comes down to the quality of its mentors.

“They’re volunteers, but they’re not just volunteers,” Gregory says.

“They’re people who have been successfully working in their own businesses over their career and they’re wanting to give back to the sector that has allowed them their success.”

The mentors can give guidance on topics such as marketing, digitalisation, financial management, and using technology from Xero to Square readers.

“The topics covered go right through to exiting a business, and how to handle family transitions,” Gregory explains.

“It’s an amazing cohort of mentors of over 200 across the state.”

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