Our Chair Simon Fordham reviews 2020 and what 2021 holds for the Association of Business Mentors and its members.

Would any of us have predicted that when we went in to the first lockdown in March, here we would be some nine months later experiencing the same, in what are probably worsening conditions for many?

Without stating the blindingly obvious, 2020 has been the year that hit UK businesses the hardest. My last business, which happened to be in hospitality and leisure, successfully traded through the banking collapse of 2008 and the ten-year recession that followed. It was touch and go but we did it. I am so grateful that I exited that business in 2017; goodness knows what challenges we would have faced should we still own it today. And my heart and soul go out to all business owners experiencing the very tough times we have now.

This year we have learnt ‘new’ words to accompany our trading challenges… ‘Pivot’, ‘flip’, ‘pandemic’, ‘zoom’, ‘furlough’, ‘lockdown’, ‘tiers’ (or is it tears?) to name but a few. Trading businesses including my own, have had to invest in new subscriptions, new technology, new equipment, home offices, we have converted lounges, bedrooms and garages to accommodate working from home. We have all had to adapt to this phrased ‘new way’ of working. As the world went into lockdown our clients felt the need for the services of a trusted sounding board, a business mentor, like never before. As time has moved on, I’ve given up trying to predict “what’s next” instead helping my clients to focus on Spring 2021. My crystal ball was and is most definitely broken!

And we adapted to accommodate our clients. We went from face to face to virtual. We rose to the challenge. The ABM went from strength to strength and continues to do so.

When I took over the running of the ABM from our much loved and respected Founder Kerrie in April 2019, I quickly assimilated myself into the role, and up to March 2020 we were full steam ahead… new structure, new Executive Team, new Board of Directors, new Regional Heads, new website, reviewed Vision, Mission Values and Purpose. Membership numbers were increasing, albeit slowly. Members that had left were suddenly re-joining as they saw the traction we were creating in the business support landscape generally.

Our voice in Government (BEIS) was strengthening led by my panel participation with the Small Business Minister, the IoD, The FSB and others in May. Numbers continued to grow. Our new Marketing Team led by Director Gary King and Kathy Ennis, supported by ABM Members Angus Ogilvy-Stuart, Jonathan Ratcliff and Andrew Constable, set about creating a LinkedIn campaign in June which gathered momentum and helped reach out to a new audience and recruit nearly 60 new members including our very first in Northern Ireland and Scotland, we have the UK covered at last! Our strength in numbers continues to improve and I make no secret of our ambitious target for 2021, to reach 250 members. And with your help I know we can achieve that target. If you know of an outstanding business person and/ or mentor, please reach out to them and invite them to join. My fellow Directors and I would be happy to have conversations with them.

Throughout 2020 the ABM, through our outstanding Partnership Director Chris Dowling, has continued to engage with commercial partners in the most challenging of times and, as a result, we have a number of exciting partnerships now in operation in the areas of finance, funding, insurance, legal, legal documents, acquisitions, exits and insolvencies. As well as commercial partnerships Chris, Gary and I have been busy forging relationships with other business support organisations such as LEPs, Growth Hubs, Be the Business and Enterprise Nation, all of which are slowly bearing fruit as we move into an exciting 2021. In late 2020 the ABM signed up to support the Central London Alliance started by the Director General of the London Chamber of Commerce and my good friend and colleague Tony Matharu, Chair of Blue Orchid Hotel Group. Please look out for an exciting announcement in the New Year regarding this. ABM Member David Eaton MBE has offered the ABM two introductions this year one with the ICAEW and the second a very interesting opportunity that may come to fruition early in 2021 as we strengthen our tie to central Government. Member Martin Robertson is looking to mirror our proposal with the ICAEW to the equivalent in Scotland. We continue to work tirelessly to strengthen our work and relationship with all our partner organisations and if you know of any such organisation, we are happy to have a conversation to promote the ABM and to continue to forge such relationships.

We welcomed ABM Members Philippa Seal and Taruna Chauhan as Regional Heads in London and the Midlands respectively. As our member numbers grow, the ABM Exec Team will continue to review regional needs in order to provide more localised support to our members. We also welcomed David Eaton as our Company Secretary overseeing the finances of the ABM as well as Governance in conjunction with myself as Chair. We took the opportunity in 2020 to author the ABM Professional Code of Conduct and renew its Charter. Also, we have created a Diversity Statement and Monitoring Policy which have now all been incorporated into a new application form for use from January 2021.

On another positive note and excellent news, we welcomed back ABM Director Malcolm Durham on his return from ill health as a result of COVID-19, he had a nasty time of it and it’s my pleasure to have him back supporting me and the rest of the Exec Team. Our newest appointment to the Exec Team on a co-opted basis for now, is ABM Member Christine Nicholson who takes up her role as Head of Communications. Welcome Christine! I’m sure you will hear more from Christine over the coming months as she prepares to become the voice and hopefully face of the ABM as we promote ourselves to both Government and Press as the go-to place for expert response and commentary on business support and in particular, of course, Business Mentoring and Coaching.

I am also very pleased to announce that Member David Wood has agreed to join the Executive Team as Head of Policy, such an important role as we continue to engage with Government and the wider business world. Well done and welcome David! Both appointments will facilitate our growth strategy as we become a better known voice in 2021 and beyond.

The most profound and visionary achievement of 2020 was to set up a Pathfinder Group to explore the creation of a professional pathway for ABM members by using the ILM L5 (Degree) and L7 (Masters) framework in Executive and Senior Coaching and Mentoring, bringing in the nuances and specialisms of business mentoring and coaching. For some time now the ABM has considered how best to ‘professionalise’ membership by qualification and or accreditation and the Pathfinder Group is now six weeks in to a nine-month programme that will see, as one of its outcomes, the first qualification in the UK in Business Mentoring and Coaching. ABM David Wood has given up an incredible amount of his time to work with me to make this happen and I extend my heartfelt gratitude to him for approaching me in the first place with the seed of an idea and for taking on the enormous task of implementing it. David, the Directors and I have made a presentation to the Small Business Policy Team at BEIS who are very interested in the outcomes. We anticipate that by April/ May 2021 we will have the first commercially available L5 and by September L7 to offer UK business support organisations, which will also attract members to the ABM. This will be an incredible achievement. The eight members of the Pathfinder Group should be considered pioneers and will forever be known as the first people to achieve such a qualification and accreditation and I again thank them for their faith, putting their hands in their pockets to invest in the process and their dedication to achieving the proposed outcomes.

Meanwhile, Gary King created a pilot “Accountability Group” allowing each volunteer member of the group “to collaborate, share and build strong relationships between members.” I have read the comments of the participants and how much each benefited from the series of meetings. Gary will now prepare a briefing paper for the Exec Team to see how we may roll these out to all members in 2021. A huge thank you to Gary for facilitating and organising.

During this pandemic year we have increased our numbers, increased our virtual presence, increased our meetings, increased our social media presence via Facebook, WhatsApp and LinkedIn, and have supported and helped more members than ever before through our COVID-19 weekly briefings and Mentor Motivation Sessions.

Despite a very challenging year for our own businesses, the Directors, Executive Team and all the people I have mentioned throughout this message worked extremely hard in an attempt to create a membership organisation that we can all be very proud to be part of. We are all volunteers, giving up our time freely, whilst also running businesses and helping our clients. The ABM has only two paid part time employees; Gem our Administration Manager and Georgina our General Manager, both of whom go above and beyond their contracted hours to facilitate the workings of the ABM.

I’d like to take this opportunity to say a massive thank you to both of them and my fellow Directors and Exec Team Members without whom the ABM just would not exist. The ABM has this year, gone from strength to strength and, with your help, next year 2021, our tenth anniversary, will be our best yet. A great time to celebrate “I’m proud to be a business mentor and a member of the ABM!”

Please nominate just one new member and we will double in size… overnight!

Lastly, thank you to you, our members. Your professionalism, dedication to your clients and your never-ending support to the ABM through your membership and participation at events is what makes me smile most.

Have a very merry Christmas and peaceful, busy and prosperous New Year. Please stay safe and well and I look forward to meeting all of you, hopefully in person, in 2021!

Simon Fordham MBA MIoD MInstLM FCMI


The Association of Business Mentors is registered in England and Wales under company number 7533326 at The Nest, 12-18 Sampson Street, London, E1W 1NA
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