Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Fickle, Foolish or Fab? The Business Zone Video Responses to #NotAnSME


GUEST BLOG BY: TONY ROBINSON OBE

Fickle, Foolish or Fab? The Business Zone Video Responses to #NotAnSME
Good news for us.
I think that HP, O2, Nokia and Regus deserve our thanks, as small and micro business owners. They’ve all provided Business Zone video responses to the statement that the big corporates and government are ‘clueless’ about us.  It’s a start and it is re-assuring that Robert Craven’s prevalent and accurate blog is influential.. (see the original blog post)
Sadly, the eloquent Lord Young in his Business Zone video, and new report on Enterprise, shows that this Government, like the previous two Governments, regard the self-employed, small and micro business owners as the ‘Great Unwashed’,  as they were once referred to me as.
The spin will suggest Government are supportive of people ‘going it alone’, the unemployment figures would be a disaster if they didn’t, The reality is that they’ll continue to give 95% of government business, infrastructure, employment and training support funding to big organisations. .   
Daft and fickle maybe but still not ‘going native’
I know I’m daft but I don’t agree with the many that say I’ve wasted  my time, for twenty years, in trying to influence government and corporates to recognise and support the fab contribution to TeamGB that start-ups and micro enterprise owners make. The signs from the Business Zone videos are that some leaders are willing to listen to our views and that’s good enough for me. 
Some will say I’m fickle even being willing to believe that some big organisations will listen to us. After all I can be accused of paying a lot of my own dosh to some of  the world’s biggest companies, who don’t yet give a damn about micro enterprise, in order for family and friends to enjoy the Olympics and Paralympics.
Anyway, fickleness is a family trait. My mother would say she was a 'lapsed vegetarian' if she liked the look of the main, meat course more than her pre-ordered 'vegetarian option'. 
Slap up dos in ivory towers and in cloud cuckoo land are just so blooming appealing and behaviour changing. I've seen star struck micro business owners invited to sit on government committees agreeing to final recommendations not one of which they recognised as having contributed to.
Instead of ‘going native’ and agreeing with Government and Big Corporate policies we should help them see ‘what’s in it for them’ from understanding  pre-start, start-ups and micro enterprise.       
Good news for them
It’s a year ago since Robert Craven's excellent blog here about corporates and government being ‘clueless' about small businesses (20,000 reads) to which I did a follow up blog '#NotAnSME-Part Two', (8000 reads)  which featured the #MicroBizMatters government e-petition
There are 4.5 million micro businesses (0-9 employees), 95% of all businesses in the UK. They provide a third of UK employment and a fifth of UK turnover. Nearly half a million new micro businesses start each year. Nearly all the new jobs in the UK come from these newer micro businesses and most of the innovation and community support too.
One in seven of the adult workforce is already running their own business and each year our number significantly increases. It does make good ‘income generation’ sense for corporates and government to be micro enterprise savvy.
Purleese, do understand us but don’t advise us.
One common theme in these Business Zone video responses is the speaker claiming that they do understand small business because of their own business experience. This is the nub of the problem which many of us have highlighted.
If you haven’t started and run your own micro enterprise you shouldn’t really advise, coach or mentor people that are starting and running their own enterprise. I can’t do brain surgery just because I’ve worked in a hospital and I  can’t cut my wife’s hair even though I’ve had a few goes at cutting my own.  
Let’s not slip backwards - leave it to the private sector 
Sadly this attitude still exists since back in the day when we first got all the major national small business membership organisations together to try to improve the overall standard of publicly funded start up advice.  Much of the advice to pre starts then was poorer than it is now.
In fact some of the ‘support’ was downright dangerous to the new start up’s chances of earning a living. Help mostly constituted a ‘training course’, not learning by doing, and focused on the business idea, business planning processes and business finance,  rather than winning customers, bootstrapping, managing cash-flow and test trading.
I remember the Federation of Small Businesses saying that not only did the person providing the support to a start-up need the competences as a business adviser, coach or mentor but they also should have successfully started and  run their own business for a minimum of three years. Many of us, with long memories, get very agitated that so many people that are in or have just left corporate life feel they are qualified to help start-ups.
The skills and know how you need to start and run your own unique business are gained by doing and from help from those that have already got the T shirt. Business studies and support from corporate management types and academics is not and never will be the answer to improving survival and growth rates. 
Our Buying Power – the key to positively influencing big organisations regarding #NotAnSME and #MicroBizMatters?
In January, we launched the free-to-join Enterprise Rockers movement, a community interest company, where micro enterprise owners make life better and fairer for micro enterprises everywhere. Although we are achieving our aims, primarily, by trading with and helping each other we also know it is important that we recognise those larger organisations that deal fairly with us.
We cannot compete with large organisations influencing government with their lobbying power but we do have significant buying power. We can exercise that power if micro enterprises primarily buy from other micro-enterprises and those larger organisations known to treat us fairly.
So, from September, we are launching a support and recognition programme for larger organisations which commit to and then achieve five principles of our #MicroBizMatters Challenge. The five principles are:
1. To pay our bills on time (normally within 30 days)
2. To provide products and services that meet our needs
3. To listen to and understand us
4. To communicate with us in plain English
5.  To be inclusive, irrespective of business age or type. 
We’d be very interested to hear from Business Zone readers what they think about these five principles.  We’ll ensure that the feedback the larger organisation will get from micro enterprise owners will be very beneficial to the organisation trying to achieve these principles.

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