By Danielle Kutchel
The uncertainty of Covid was almost too much for small business owner Rebecca Tilley.
When the pandemic first hit, forcing her fledgling Reach Gymnastics Club to close, she thought she was destined to lose not just her business, but the house too.
But a few months into lockdown, she heard of the Victorian Government’s Business Recovery and Resilience Mentoring program.
She took a chance in signing up – and hasn’t looked back since.
For Ms Tilley, the program has literally saved her Pakenham and Emerald-based business; now open and thriving with more customers than ever before, she says she wouldn’t be at this point if it weren’t for the mentoring program.
She’s one of more than 730 businesses that have taken part in the government’s $10 million Business Recovery and Resilience Mentoring program, which matches small business owners and sole traders with experienced professional mentors to help them adapt their businesses and strategies.
Mentors provide mentees with advice on digital opportunities, preparing and implementing business plans, improving time management, identifying new opportunities and rethinking marketing strategies.
Around 3300 hours of mentoring has been completed so far with more than 200 mentors since the program’s launch in August 2020.
Ms Tilley said some of the most valuable insights she gained were around social media and content marketing, things that she hadn’t known much about prior to her sessions.
She also took on advice around free events to encourage the community to step through her doors, and is now working with a charity each term too.
“The mentoring program gave me that push to look towards the future and gave us the goalposts to look towards,” she explained.
“They’ve really worked. Our numbers have grown, it’s been amazing.”
Minister for Small Business, Jaala Pulford, and Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VCCI) chief executive Paul Guerra visited Reach Gymnastics in Pakenham on Thursday 25 February to speak with Ms Tilley about her experience as a mentee.
Ms Pulford said she was pleased to see the impact the program had had on Reach Gymnastics.
“This is about building strength and resilience and capacity,” she said.
“It’s been wonderful to have met Rebecca and hear first-hand what it’s meant for her and her business. That makes it even more real.
“When you think she employs 20 people, provides a service to hundreds if not thousands in this local community, and a wonderful service keeping kids and older people active and well, anything we can do to strengthen her business and help her succeed is a wonderful thing.”
Mr Guerra said it was “heartening” to see the success of the mentoring program.
“There are businesses that are around today that wouldn’t have been if that mentoring program hadn’t been run.
“There’s 20 people employed here. If this business didn’t exist, that’s 20 people looking for work,” he said.
Applications to participate in the program are still open. Businesses and mentors can apply at business.vic.gov.au or victorianchamber.com.au