"It gave us the tools to not only survive but to thrive."

Trudie Power is an advocate of the MentorsWork programme, which provides free mentoring and business tools for SMEs.

The owner and founder of Trudie's Kitchen, a food service business in County Wexford, Ms Power heard about MentorsWork from her local Chamber of Commerce.

She applied online and was notified the following day that she had been accepted to the programme and was assigned a mentor.

"We started to develop a six month strategic plan for business improvement for Trudie's Kitchen," she said.

"The plan that we did is completely free to the business and it saved us thousands. It gave us the knowledge and confidence in our procedures and products. It gave us the tools to not only survive but to thrive."

Trudie has been recommending the programme to everyone in the Wexford food industry since.

Up to 400 places are available on the programme, run by the Small Firms Association in conjunction with Skillnet Ireland. It is a government initiative that has been funded to the tune of €1.2m.

Dave Flynn, Executive Director of Skillnet Ireland, said MentorsWork is available to businesses across all sectors in every county.

The mentors are people who are experienced in key areas:

  • Getting the best out of your people
  • Finance and growth
  • Business processes and visualisation

"They are selected on that basis," Mr Flynn said, "and they are paired with businesses that want to participate in the initiative."

Businesses are operating in a different climate from when the programme was first established, but Mr Flynn said mentors can offer guidance to help businesses emerge from the pandemic.

"And even aside from the pandemic, there are other big challenges that SME managers face, such as how to make a business more sustainable, how to get the best out of digital technology because digitalisation is a huge challenge and a huge opportunity for businesses."

Skillnet Ireland chief executive Paul Healy says MentorsWork is a flexible and bespoke programme.

"Working with the SFA, we want to support business owners and managers to navigate the challenges they are facing and grow their businesses by offering them supports that are targeted at their specific needs.

"The opportunity to analyse needs, gain expert advice and develop bespoke business plans through MentorsWork is essential to driving sustainable long-term recovery across the SME sector," he said.

Places on MentorsWork will be allocated across the summer and early autumn.