Where to find good business advice and support
Since the coalition Government announced its decision to cut back funding for face-to-face business advice it has been very difficult to find anything positive or constructive to say about business support policy or the initiatives which are designed to encourage local enterprise and business start ups.
Business Link in particular have been the victims of a thorough kicking from new ministers, and their business advisers have been subject to polarised opinions about their capability from the business owners who have tapped into their services.
Chambers of Commerce across the country are also now struggling to maintain their membership levels and are having to reinvent themselves to appeal to a different business demographic including the nation’s growing army of freelancers, consultants and self-employed ‘handy andys’.
And very little is being said about (or by) local enterprise agencies. According to our own contacts in the sector, the agencies are also suffering from dwindling client numbers, funding cuts and uncertainty over their future – especially for many of the smaller agencies and those without the benefit of workspace income. Our own research among small business owners also indicates that the enterprise agencies have something of a mini identity crisis, mainly as a result of them being tarred with the Business Link brush over recent years where they’ve had little choice other than to brand face-to-face advice services under the banner of a Business Link contract.
Redundancies in local enterprise agencies and other parts of the business support sector across the country are already well into the hundreds with many more jobs at risk as the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) continues to make up its strategy for business support as it goes along.
As for Local Enterprise Partnerships, a year ago they were the daily buzzword of Mark Prisk and BIS, but now seem to have almost been sidelined as the supposed answer to the UK’s economic recovery.
In the meantime, the job-secure Sir Humphreys in Whitehall (who collectively possess about as much business know-how as the contents of an average wheelie bin) decide by joint sub-committee and white-paper what enterprise actually means, before pounding us with more buzzwords and acronyms which will enlighten local enterprises and support agencies about what’s needed to get the economy growing again.
A case of Yes Minister meets Sesame Street…and without any funding.
So what can be done to lift the gloom?
Rather than continue to look, but fail, to find something positive that anyone else has to say about the current state of business support we decided to consult EnterQuest subscribers and ask them for exactly that.
We asked small business owners for examples of the best advice they had received since they started up, who gave it to them and how they had benefitted from it.
A few breaths of fresh air later and we are able to share an encouraging number of their positive and actionable experiences with you.
Most helpful source of advice since starting up
1) Business colleagues and acquaintances.
2) Government agencies eg HMRC, HSE, Companies House.
3) Friends and family.
4) Independent coach/consultant/adviser.
6) Online network/social media.
7) Trade/Professional association.
8) Business Link.
9) Other professionals e.g. lawyer, bookkeeper.
10) Local business library.
11) Local enterprise agency.
12) Chamber of Commerce.
13) Bank manager.
14) Local council.
No great surprises in the list, but the bottom four positions begin to tell a worrying story.
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