Description of the programme:
The Small Business Mentoring Service (SBMS) provides business support, training, advocacy and individual mentoring to small businesses in Victoria, New South Wales and Tasmania. In 2017, SBMS was funded by Financial Literacy Australia (FLA) to deliver a programme called ‘Financial Security for Women in Business’, with the aim of strengthening their viability, sustainability and the financial independence of their businesses.
The programme provided face-to-face learning through two half-day workshops where a number of practical tools were introduced to help participants with budgeting, cash flow, financial reporting, financial management and increasing their financial independence and ‘self-worth’. Workshops were held about a month apart, and were followed by individual mentoring sessions in either the individual’s home or their workplace. The programme consisted of 12 pairs of workshops, with a total of 130 women participating from across urban and more rural locations across the state of Victoria.
This 2018 evaluation report was conducted by Bluebird Consultants, who were commissioned to evaluate the effectiveness of the programme. The evaluation aimed to answer the following five questions:
- How effective were the tools and mentoring for participants?
- What was the degree of attitudinal and confidence change in participants?
- To what degree have the financial management practices of participants changed?
- To what extent did the project change the financial capability/financial wellbeing of the participants?
- How efficient was the programme?
A mixed methods approach was employed, using a range of qualitative and quantitative techniques that included:
- Collecting participant profile data at the start of the programme;
- The trainers administering surveys during the workshops;
- Mentors facilitating the collection of the end-of-programme surveys of participants;
- Mentors completing a short survey based on their role and their observations of participants’ business knowledge, skills and practices.
Workshop trainers and mentors collated all of the survey and profile data. Response rates varied across the duration of the programme, from 58% to 100% of the mentor surveys. Around a quarter of participants (27%) completed the follow up survey, about 3-6 months after completion of the programme.
- Overall, the programme was highly effective in increasing the financial management skills and knowledge of participants. There were statistically significant increases in their knowledge of:
- Budgeting and understanding financial reports;
- Learning how to structure the financial elements of their business;
- How to implement actions to achieve their desired business profits.
- Almost all participants evidenced sustained changes at the 3-6 month follow up, indicating the tools and mentoring they received had increased elements of their financial capability.
- Statistically significant improvements occurred in the ability of participants to manage their business, price products appropriately and effectively cost their time. The majority (89%) of participants reported in the end-of-program survey that they were more confident in their ability to manage their business at the completion of the programme.
- Three-quarters (76%) of participants reported never or seldom treating the wages they pay themselves with the same level of importance as employees. This dropped to half (52%) following the intervention.
- Two-thirds of the mentors stated that their participants now had effective pricing strategies, and had clear sales and income targets.
- While participants reported improved budgeting practices, a third of the mentors felt the businesses they supported did still not have meaningful budgets.
- The average cost per participant was AUS$1,654. This exceeded the estimated cost, as there were fewer participants than envisioned (130 participants compared to an estimated 255).
- While evidence suggests highly significant changes have been achieved, serious consideration needs to be given to either how the programme is promoted, or to more realistically estimating future participation rates.
Points to consider:
Methodological strengths and limitations:
- This evaluation uses a range of methods, reporting whether findings are statistically significant. We can therefore have a fair degree of confidence in the results despite some small sample sizes.
- The lack of survey data from a control group means it was not possible for the evaluation to evidence causality.
- Individual profile data was not correlated with results from other parts of the evaluation, but was compiled at the aggregate level to demonstrate overall changes.
- It was not possible to interview participants who dropped out of the programme, to evaluate their reasons for doing so.
- While these findings are from an Australian programme, many of the learning outcomes may be transferrable to a UK context.
- The evaluation is of significant interest to people interested in introducing financial education interventions, and particularly to those aiming interventions at women in business.