Bad apples and Business 2012
Earlier this week EQ’s publisher Cobweb attended the Business 2012 show at the London O2 as an exhibitor.
Despite some difficulties with the venue’s location such as lack of heat and washroom facilities on site, the event was well attended by prospective business start ups, business owners and professionals. Most of our fellow exhibitors agreed that on balance it had been a worthwhile B2B trading and networking event.
The things that stood out from first-hand observation as an exhibitor were the continued emphasis on celebrity speakers being used as an attractor to the show – Branson, Sugar, Dragons etc – and also the presence among the exhibitors of Government departments, agencies and related initiatives.
What has become increasingly striking about the current obsession with celebrity business owners and their relevance as role models and promoters of enterprise is when you think about it in the context of this happening in other walks of life.
For example, one wonders whether the Government could latch on to this phenomenon by creating celebrities out of people who have had treatment under the NHS and putting them on the keynote speaker circuit talking about successful operations they had thirty or forty years ago. Or how about celebrity victims of crime who could speak at national crime prevention events and talk about inspirational ways they have avoided being burgled since installing a home security system.
Within the actual event itself the real business talking was taking place on the exhibition floor and in the seminar rooms, where practitioners and professionals plied their trade with visitors, providing them with the benefit of their advice and experience, and more importantly this was where dozens of fledgling business partnerships were being established.
As for the presence of those Government departments which provide a service to (or regulate) UK business there were some impressive stands occupied by knowledgeable individuals who competently explained their purpose, what business owners’ obligations are, and what help is available to them. Most notable in this respect were representatives from the Intellectual Property Office, Companies House and UKTI.
Also in attendance was the Department for Business (BIS) whose backdrop to their stand was a graphic promotional banner highlighting the Business Link website, mentoring scheme, StartUp Britain and the Business In You campaign.
The BIS staff at the event were genuinely helpful but far from convincing in their explanation as to why they were promoting StartUp Britain on their stand. They were claiming on the one hand that it was an entirely private sector campaign and totally independent from the Government – yet clearly BIS are using taxpayers’ money to overtly promote a so-called private initiative such as StartUp Britain on their stand and elsewhere.
As for the recent national policy of scrapping face-to-face business support in favour of moving support online through the Business Link and Business In You websites, their explanation was also unconvincing. They argued that online support is the preferred method of intervention as it can reach and support substantially more start ups and small businesses than face-to-face advice.
Despite our attempts to explain the fact that 90% of start ups fail to cross the starting line because there is not a business in them, this proved to be a fact and concept that they were unable to grasp.
It was also explained to us by BIS that online support had been favoured as this solves problems caused by business owners accessing face-to-face business advisers who had ‘not been up to scratch’, with no opportunity for the owner-manager to change their adviser. Online support, BIS claimed, removes that problem and provides more choice.
This logic is rather like concluding that if a well-stocked greengrocer’s shop has the occasional rotten apple on its shelves then the shop should be closed, rather than throwing out the bad apples or changing suppliers.
On a more constructive point the volunteer mentoring initiative being delivered through the Mentorsme website was acknowledged by a member of the BIS team to be ‘a concern’ as although there were thousands of mentors volunteering their services there was a worrying lack of mentee business owner-managers seeking out or taking up the support.
A number of business professionals who dropped by our stand, and who had registered as volunteers on the mentoring programme, also expressed concern at the lack of demand from small business and start up mentees. One freelance coach and mentor of many years’ experience rather aptly described the Mentorsme service as ‘just mental’.
Finally our seminar delivered by Marianne Whitfield at the show on “Don’t start up in business unless you’re thoroughly prepared” was very well attended and the feedback received from those in the audience was warmly appreciated.
If interested, you can download the slides from Marianne’s presentation here.
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