Surviving into the Mainstream

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Surviving into the Mainstream tries to show aspiring business owners that the only limitations they face are the ones that they place on themselves. Business Enterprise Centre in Hammersmith, West London, ran this project in the Phoenix Fund.

The project has helped around 50 businesses run by women, and people from black and minority ethnic groups, to start small enterprises that have the potential to appeal to a mainstream market, reaching customers outside their own communities.

The message of the project's coaching programmes is that once you've got the business skills you need, the options are endless. Surviving into the Mainstream found that a lot of people who approached them for help had started their businesses, but lacked the confidence or experience they needed to get them to grow. But through coaching, many learnt how to survive as small sustainable businesses serving their local community, before expanding in a more ambitious direction. One man approached the project to help realise his dream of becoming a shirt designer. Through training and coaching sessions the project helped him move from being a sole trader selling clothing at a local market to a limited company.

Surviving into the Mainstream also found that taking people away from their normal work environment can open their eyes to a wider spectrum of business opportunities. More than 30 businesses run by women and people from black and minority ethnic communities have gone through the project's residential business training programme, which also provides an environment that helps attendees build contacts with other small businesses in their local communities. "We've tried to move away from traditional one-to-one sessions, to develop our training as a mentoring programme. The coaches act as sounding boards rather than teachers.

During the weekend, business owners attended seminars on everything from legal issues to business financing and development plans. Personal development sessions encouraged the owners to talk about their concerns and share some of the problems they had already encountered.

Surviving into the Mainstream uses successful business owners to run training sessions - many of them are previous users of the project's services. They understand first-hand the challenges faced by women and people from BME backgrounds wanting to develop their businesses.

"This approach towards coaching also helps us develop a wide support network that new businesses can tap into for support and guidance," says project manager Cheryl Clarke. "We've tried to move away from traditional one-to-one sessions, to develop our training as a mentoring programme. Our coaches act as sounding boards rather than teachers:"

As well as the coaching, the Business Enterprise Centre runs one-day seminars, which focus on aspects of business including creative communications and customer relations, as well as longer courses looking at business skills in more detail. "We've found we don't really need to tell people how to run their own business," says Ms Clarke. "But we provide a much-needed environment and support structure that enables it to happen."

Contact: Orin Miller, Business Enterprise Centre Hammersmith, London