BUSINESS owners and volunteers have been celebrating 10 years of a unique business support service in Oxfordshire.

Jennings Business Mentors invited their clients and volunteer mentors to mark the occasion at Monument Business Park at Chalgrove earlier this month.

Since it was founded by Mike Jennings in 2008, the not-for-profit Oxfordshire organisation has supported more than 500 local firms.

At the 10th anniversary celebrations, Mr Jennings thanked the mentors for their commitment.

He said: “This service is unique. It is business owners supporting business owners, and in a way where everyone learns and takes something positive from their meeting.

“We estimate that our volunteer mentors have provided over 2,500 hours of support to fellow business owners.”

Dave Beesley, fellow director of Jennings Business Mentors, said the service had also reached people running businesses that were more established and who could feel excluded from other support services.

He added: “The impact of the mentoring service cannot be underestimated. There are many businesses which do not fit the common categories which are eligible for support, such as ‘start-up’ or ‘growth’.

“But the people running these businesses often need someone independent and neutral to talk to – to share their ideas, their fears and concerns. Just knowing that someone else has been there and has experienced the same thing can really help, and that’s why we’re here.”

Caterer Paul Bellchambers was an early client of the service.

He said “The conversations I had with my mentor were really important to me and key to the development of my business.

“Setting up The Late Chef was a major career change and working with my mentor, an experienced business owner themselves, gave me confidence and encouraged me to reflect on what I actually wanted to achieve: really important elements when you’re new to running your own business.”

Mr Jennings believes the success of Jennings Business Mentors has been the focus on the values behind every business owner.

“We have helped people to be true to their own values as well as being a sustainable business,” he said.

“Creating a business to grow and be increasingly profitable is not what everyone wants to do.

“Often the motivation is a choice to avoid the constraints of corporate life and a yearning for the freedom of being your own boss and challenging yourself.”

Mr Jennings said being in this higher-risk world of entrepreneurship has exhilarating highs but also anxieties – exactly why mentoring does a vital job.

“Let’s face it, running a business can be lonely,” he said.

“So when two people with similar experiences are talking, something as tiny as a phrase or a comment such as ‘I’ve been there’ can suddenly hit home and provide the kind of reassurance needed.”

According to the Oxfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership, there are currently some 31,000 businesses in Oxfordshire and 98 per cent of them are small businesses.

That means there are tens of thousands of people running their own businesses and facing challenges every day.

Jennings Business Mentors says that each of them wants to make their own decisions but at times may need help to sort out business issues.

The mentors don’t provide solutions but they do help each client to find their own solutions.

Mr Beesley said: “It is a simple approach which works so well: our mentors listen, they probe, and they explore whatever the issues are that come up.

“That leaves the business owner free to decide what solutions are best for them. No one has told them anything.”

Reflecting on the 10 years the service has been running Mr Jennings commented that he has been proud to bring this unique service to Oxfordshire, but that through lack of funding for marketing, and reduced enquiries, he felt the time had come to bring the service in-house.

Going forward the service will be promoted through the Jennings Group of companies, focused on all businesses and charities that they connect with.

Any other enquiries will be passed on to existing mentors who wish to continue and on a case-by-case basis.

Mr Jennings concluded: “How you do business and your personal values are every bit as important if you are to create a business that is viable.”