In 2015, Cosmic designed and developed a programme of digital support for women in business under a Government funded project called ‘LOVE Digital’ under our Cosmic Peninsula Consortium. This time we focused on virtual one to one mentoring for around 30 women. In the first phase of the project we were able to help the women through the workshops but it was very clear that there were so many who needed further and more bespoke guidance and support in their digital knowledge.
We opened applications in October 2015 and were inundated! We had to have a combination of Devon and Somerset businesses and the selection process was very hard indeed as it was clear that there were many more than 30 women that needed the support. However, the mentees were chosen (35 in total) and we went through the process of introducing them to their mentors.
The mentors were allocated their mentees and a website was launched where they could access all their information. We were very keen that they learnt as much as they could via digital platforms, as through learning that way we ensured that their knowledge of digital grew more rapidly. Videos were uploaded regularly alongside blogs and how-to’s. There were face-to-face workshops also, based at work hubs located in both Devon & Somerset, with the opportunity for hands-on learning after the workshops too. The mentees were given prep work before each face-to-face session – whether it was to sign up to a particular platform or a certain kind of research, so that they all attended the session at a similar level. This was all done through the learning page of the website, which was password protected so that only the mentees could access it. Each workshop was also Periscoped live, and the video uploaded onto the website so that those who couldn’t attend could still access the information.
The project completed successfully at the end of March 2016, and as mentors we have been reflecting on its achievements. We received very positive feedback from the mentees themselves, which you can read/view here, but we felt it was also important to reflect our points of view.
What have we learnt from virtual mentoring?
Mentees came with very different needs. Some of them didn’t have a clear understanding of what they wanted to gain from the programme at all. Our role was to guide them to create a plan of action to help them get the best out of the support on offer. Mentoring sessions varied enormously from discussions about keywords within their website, or starting to build their own website from scratch; to an introduction to Instagram, and content suggestions for their social media activity, but also how to access analytics to view their customer journeys.
As mentors we all had different experiences within various business settings and therefore we could really understand some of the hurdles they were facing. It was important to remind them that the learning process is different for everyone, and so mentoring had to be pitched differently each time. There were occasionally some barriers, from both sides of the mentoring process! Sometimes mentees hadn't completed all the actions from the previous mentoring session; sometimes mentors were calling on Google hangouts, when the mentee was waiting on Skype! But despite this, the vast majority of the mentoring process went without a hitch.
Helen at Cosmic ran the workshops, which complemented the virtual mentoring sessions really well. They were well attended, and helped to create community between the mentees themselves. We re-inforced this community by creating a Facebook Group, where there was opportunity to ask questions and support each other. What was wonderful to witness, from a mentor’s point of view, is that when one of them had a bad day, all the others were there to support and 'cheer' along. This sense of community, we believe, was one of the most successful outcomes for the project. The women developed confidence and a realisation that they had valuable expertise and experience, through this peer support.
We also held a fantastic conference at Exeter Library on International Women's Day. It was a day full of workshops, inspiring speakers, learning and listening. Mentees attended along with other women in business, and a range of support providers.
Do you feel that the programme was a success?
Absolutely! The feedback that we received from the mentees was incredible! They have all progressed (some more than others) but all of them have moved their businesses forward. From building websites, to creating social media channels, to producing blogs and vlogs. They have increased their online reputation, their sales and their connections. Most importantly, their confidence is so much greater than when they first started, and that is the biggest success of all.
What the mentees enjoyed the most was the accountability that they had to have. Working on your own from home can be really tough, it can be hard to keep motivated and upbeat, but knowing that you had to report back to your mentor in a couple of weeks showing the work that you have done, encouraged them to do it! They knew that mentees would be expecting progress, so they had that motivation and determination to go above and beyond what was expected of them.
How do you feel now the programme has completed?
Very proud! Cosmic did a great job to design, win the investment and deliver a great programme. We know that most of the women are upset the process is over – but we are working hard to bring together some more networking and workshops so that we can continue to deliver support and learning. It feels incredibly rewarding to have been part of, we feel privileged to have been part of their journey. Being a mentor is demanding, and the learning curve some of us had was large! We will all keep in touch with the mentees, as we are excited to see what they do next!
LOVE Digital was fully funded by the Women and Broadband Challenge fund supported by the Government Equalities Office. The programme is a part of Connecting Devon and Somerset and was delivered by Cosmic, Peninsula Enterprise and Westward Pathfinder.