The Future of Business Support

Well for the last blog of the year it is traditionally a time to look backwards and forwards at the same time. This usually just results in a cricked neck but today thanks to the wonders of the interweb we can do both simultaneously. Today’s subject is business support and lets start by getting the bad news out of the way.

Business Link the government supported advice and information service is to close by the end of Nov 2011. The broad brush of the decision can be found here along with an interesting set of comments which sum up rather well the issues and problems that Business Link faced over its lifetime. The main points that come out are.

  1. Business Link was constrained in terms of the balance between information and advice that it delivered
  2. There was an inconsistency in terms of delivery especially in the advisory network where the individual advisor could make all the difference.
  3. Poor marketing and awareness of the service in general
  4. A constant tension between the paid consultancy market and a free service provider
  5. A complete failure of the government to understand what the SME market actually wants and (more importantly) what it needs in terms of business support. 

This last is a critical point as the difference between what the market says it wants (money less red tape etc.) and what (in my experience) it needs (practical advice on how to run and develop a company) underpins the long term failure of the public business support landscape.

So at a time when the number of newly redundant skilled individuals is going to outnumber the number of shelf stacking jobs at Tesco’s and force more people than ever before into starting up their own business’s   how and why did the government decide to dismantle almost all elements of publically funded business support rather than reform and re-target the existing infrastructure?

Well folks look no further than this the so called Richard’s Report which seems to have found complete favour at BIS and with the likes of Mark Prisk. You can find various summaries of the report online but to my mind it is largely based around the points listed previously.

However all of this discussion misses the fundamental point which is “being good at something does not mean you have a good business” and “the art of running a successful business is almost wholly independent from the product or service you are providing” These are both phrases that I use with almost every client. It encapsulates the basic failure of many business owners to understand why they are/are not successful and why publicly funded business support has largely failed because it is unable to do this for fear of upsetting the private sector.

The sad fact is that most businesses will never ask for advice because they are unaware that they need it and even if they are aware then they will almost always be unable/unwilling to pay for it.

If we want to trade our way out of recession the success and the growth of small companies is vital and the way to ensure that is to be more not less interventionist in the way we support them and what we support them with. Almost the exact opposite of what the Government is planning…

I shall return to this again. In the meantime enjoy what remains of the holiday and I wish you all the very best of luck on the forthcoming year – I fear we are all going to need it!

About lighthouseindesert

I am a business advisor working in the Cambridge area of the UK. This blog is based on my experiences and interactions with hundreds of businesses in the greater Cambridge area over the last four years
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