Where to find good business advice and support

March 18th, 2011 | 8 comments Source: EnterQuest

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.

5) Accountant.

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.

To comment on this article you can do so below.

8 Responses to “Where to find good business advice and support”

  • Ola Fagbohun

    I agree with many re affordable alternatives to the like of Business Link. I was fortunate I had access to many people who had been running their business(es) for a while. They were happy to share their experience and point me towards some free or cheap business advice and support. I now rely heavily on trade networks and online industry forums, the advice is varied in quality but it is diverse and most importantly quick.

    Comment was posted on Thursday, March 31, 2011 1:14 pm
  • Carol Hall

    As someone who was lucky enough to benefit from mentoring during my start up phase and i’ve now gone on to complete mentoring training I’m hopeful that we’re going to see some affordable options for start-ups.

    The business start up course I attended in my early weeks of business made the difference between my business fizzling miserably and me being able to take it where I have now.

    Anyone thinking of setting up a business in the Mansfield, Ashfield, Chesterfield, Bassetlaw areas look up “The Hive@Mansfield”.

    Comment was posted on Thursday, March 24, 2011 10:14 am
  • George Derbyshire

    Another stimulating piece- thank you.

    Business support is certainly a confusing and difficult place to be at present. But we at NFEA believe that the country needs more start-ups for economic and social reasons, and that more start-ups will survive and grow if they receive support from experienced professionals. And we acknowledge that this form of learning sits comfortably alongside more informal advice from other sources.

    Certainly we are suffering our fair share of challenges following the arbitrary cuts in contracts and funding being experienced at present. But enterprise agencies have been around for a good 30 years now, and what we have learned is that life, and government policy, moves in cycles not straight lines. And we shall be there, for those who need us, when the cycle turns.

    Comment was posted on Wednesday, March 23, 2011 3:14 pm
  • It occurs to me that there is very little to substitute for the face to face business advice from an experienced and qualified adviser. It is a pity that funding has been mostly withdrawn now, but value for money wise, effective business advice is like training and should be kept up to date to help you to survive and grow.

    Comment was posted on Monday, March 21, 2011 1:14 pm
  • Unfortunately professional help such as mentoring and coaching are beyond the budget of many start up and small businesses.

    A useful alternative to your own mentor/trainer is to become a member of an internet based mentoring/coaching site such as Set Up and Grow. Although not as personal this type of site can provide the advice and concise information required at a fraction of the cost.

    As you rightly say it is very sad that the Business Link service is to be reduced at a time when the country and many individuals need this type of help more than ever.

    Comment was posted on Saturday, March 19, 2011 4:15 pm
  • “Mentoring” is the latest buzzword from Govt, Big Society and a whole host of interested enterprise and support groups. I’d be intrigued to know if the voting recipients of the above list felt that they were “mentored”, or “advised” or “coached” and if they had a preference for these various types of business support.

    Comment was posted on Friday, March 18, 2011 1:15 pm
  • The Government backed organisations are frankly inadequate for serious consideration. Okay for some introductory stuff but I wouldn’t give sixpence (okay an old pre decimal term) for most of it. With a sensible allowance for a budget get help from a business consultant. It’s what we do. Personally I like dealing with new start as they are positive and don’t have bad habits that need fixing first as so called developed businesses do.

    Comment was posted on Friday, March 18, 2011 1:15 pm
  • I think they should have left Businesslink alone, I used to enjoy the networking meetings they organised across the country.

    Even though one of the adviser I dealt with had little knowledge on my business model, he gave me some very constructive feedback and resources I could use.

    Having said that, I found the advice I got from The UK Small Business Marketing Bible unparralled.

    Comment was posted on Friday, March 18, 2011 1:15 pm

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