Monday, 22 February 2010

Business Link: Should It Stay or Should it Go?


The conservatives are quite clear; they want to scrap Business Link. [We Need To Halt Meddling] Not quite sure what they will do with the money but that’s the world of politics and promises... to buy votes – or is it?

I asked for a show of hands at the Small Firms Summit in Burnley.

Who wanted to keep the Business Links? 45 hands went up
Who wanted to get rid of them? 5 hands went up
Who didn’t care? 70 hands went up

Again the ‘don’t cares’ represent the majority – the silent/disinterested majority.

I don’t mind people being 'for' or 'against', but 'not caring' is a problem.

Without starting on the “small businesses are the backbone...” monologue I must say that I am disappointed that so many people just don’t seem to care that much.


LINKS/POSTS




125 comments:

Peter Ball said...

Who would notice if it went? Not me or anyone I know.

Pete

Sienna White said...

Well, you should keep it because it is 'a good thing'. Small start-ups need all the help that they can get. BL is the only honest broker about. They have no 'selling' agenda and so they can be trusted. More than anyone else that is.

Siena

Jim said...

At 190m quid it needs to be a very 'good thing'!!

Anyone going to mention value for money or return on investment?

Jim

Marjory D said...

The truth is that you have been here before.

No-one seems really bothered.

To quote you Mr C, the market is brutally honest. So there you have it.

You were right at the PSP conference, we would rather comment on inane subjects like "is twitter for losers?" or "how to get decent service" rather than deal with a real political issue.

And why does nobody care? Might I suggest that the answer is that it (the BL) is not worth caring about.

Well, I've seen Peter and Sienna here before so it will be interesting to see if we get some new names in the debate.

And is that Jim formerly from BL?

Madge

Unknown said...

Before the 'flaming' begins, all I am doing here is reporting the 'vote' last week. I worry that the word on the street is that the Business Link is not delivering - it needs to defend itself and prove that it is delivering, rather than say nothing.

Robert

Steve Bennett said...

I think a universal 'let's scrap the lot' approach is fundamentally flawed and should be considered against a measure of "fit for purpose and value for money".

Business Link North West offers a good, effective and valuable service which is appreciably better than the 'old' service of pre-2007.

However, I am sure that there are regions of the UK that are not served as well?

Jim said...

As a foot soldier of the BL I can say that the gap between sharp end aspiration and politics and management is often vast.

The service is beleagured(?) with politics and mediocrity. No one knows who the real customer is. Measures are created that bear litle resemblance to what the real customer, the SME owner, wants or needs.

Clearly some BLs are better than others. Like schools, very few actually get closed. Very few people actually get sacked. Much of the service seems to celebrate mediocrity.

And yet there are some real angels working to add value to every one of their customer relationships.

Has OFSTED created better schools or schools better at delivering to a prescribed if irrelevant curriculum? What does the Department know about running a small business?

Jim

Nathaniel Davis said...

Business Link should hire people who are a "success". I want a person that has been a success in Business to give me advice. Someone who has made lots of money !

For example - a success in marriage is staying together

Q) if you want advice about marriage who would you go to?

A) the person who is still walking hand in hand with his wife kissing her after 70 years

Likewise, who would you get financial advice from ? someone is broke ?in debt ? who has zero net worth - no of course not

Ok who would you take advice from ?

Nathaniel

Jeremy Ironside said...

My experience: most of our BizLink is poor or at best average. They need to feed the hopper with interesting speakers/events - seeing Robert Kraven next week) so let's see what he's like. But they can not do it alone. They need help.

We tried web designers via the BL - all three suggested were pants!
We tried business review - he tries to sell us some programme about people
We tried several seminars and they turn into big, naff sales pitches.

I turn to them in the hope that they will deliver but that is unlikely.

Saw Alan Sugar - very stimulating even if I wasn't too impressed with the man
Been to a few netorking/exhibition things which have also been good.
Did get some good advice about employment law.

On balance, it isn't that great.

Jerry

Sam S said...

Just getting ready to see Robert Craven courtesy of business link for the west midlands. A full-on and relatively intimate seminar workshop rather than a big event. A real opportunity to get specific help from the main man.

Let's see what the reality is like. Will report bsck on him and the business link.

It's free so that can't be bad!

SAm S

Sam S said...

OK - right. Attended Botanical Gdns.
Great event. No, seriously good for my business: ideas plans, templates, one-liners. The works.

Robert was also seriously good.

BL had three people there and two stayed with us throughout the day.

The business adviser was useful and there was no great pressure to buy from them.

BL performed fine. No heavy sales pitch but accessible if required.

The event definitely worked for all the delegates and Robert clearly enjoyed it. I would imagine that the Link got lots of good leads and great PR from running this event.

What else? 30-40 attending. Made some great contacts. All in all a great day. Thank you one and all.

Manos said...

I think the disinterested majority carried some weight here. £190m per year is a lot to pay for something most businesses don't care about. As for the Tories, I hope they use the money to paid down debt. Every little helps.

Jeremy Ironside said...

190m is 47.5 pounds per business (4m sm businesses)

But with only 10%(?) market penetration and maybe only 1% (generous) using the service means they (the 1%) get 4,750 each.

With an ROI of say five-fold - each business should get roughly 24k back... (You wish..)

So, what is the the ROI on the 190m. Bet I could do better!

Jerry

Peter Ball said...

Can anyone from the BL tear themselves away from the paperwork and be bothered to defend themselves?

Pete

ACCA said...

ACCA (the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) today calls for an entirely new model of business support to replace the failed Business Link brokerage service, following Conservative claims that they will scrap it.

Glenn Collins, Head of Advisory Services at ACCA UK welcomed proposals to radically reform business support. Mr Collins said: "Tinkering around the edges will not save Business Link. The brokerage model of business support never worked in the first place, and Business Link never became an adviser of choice or the first port of call - despite being free and having the Government's unqualified support."

Over the years, ACCA has been consistently critical of the way Business Link's brokerage system works, and has noted in particular how poorly it has treated professional accountants. Professor Robin Jarvis, Head of ACCA's Small Business Unit, explained:

"If you were to call in today and ask for an accountant, you would be given three practices at random from an approved list - regardless of their expertise or their record of service. This would come with little guarantee of their competence as anyone is allowed to call themselves accountants. If, on the other hand, you were to ask for a business consultant, Business Link would not be able to refer you to a professional accountant, however suitable or experienced. They won't be on the approved list because they fall into a different box in the grid."

Yet despite supporting some of the Conservatives' plans, ACCA has stressed that their preferred approach - dealing with the macro conditions and getting out of the way - cannot be the final word on business support.

Professor Jarvis said: "We are aware of the research on business support. We know that macro-economic conditions are more important than micro-interventions in supporting enterprise. Yet when areas of market failure are proven to exist no one would question the government's right to intervene. The point is to do this through acknowledged, valued private sector advisers."

The professional body for accountants has made it clear that the Government's online business information portal opens in a new window, is an excellent tool for small businesses and that accountants were happy to support it. But ACCA noted that it needs to be taken out of the shadow of the ailing bricks-and-mortar service before it's too late.

Glenn Collins explained: "Just over a year ago, the Anderson Review reported how the poor reputation of the Business Link adviser network was holding back the online resource. Sarah Anderson and her team were so concerned that they called for a rebranding to salvage the website, but the Government ignored them. With one hand, the Government has spent a quarter of a million pounds so far in 2009/10 on Google keywords alone to promote the website, and with the other it has poured millions into the brand-destroying work of the bricks-and-mortar service."

Jim said...

I am not here to defend the BL but feel ashamed that they/it doesn't have its finger on the pulse. A simple google alert would highlight that this dialogue is going on. You would think that someone at the BL would step forward to comment.

I have worked at a BL and am aware of both sides of the debate. While I do not wish to be drawn into a detailled debate, I feel disappointed at the BL's lack of contribution.

Jim

Ed Nash said...

Michael Heseltine set up BL in the first place in a Conservative government!

That the Tories now want to scrap it is an indication of how far removed from its original concept it has moved. Originally it was supposed to draw in the best consultants who would help small business for a matched fee. What happened? Loads of redundant bankers were hired, no fees were got as a result so it was changed and changed again by the civil servants. In the NW we possibly fare better than others as the CEO has actually been in business and probably a third of the consultants but all the rest is gravy train.

They do some good work but the cost is enormous.

Unknown said...

Ed

I have worked with the BL in the NW - in fact the Chief Exec attended the conference and was in the audience.

Maybe we need to divide our comments between the individual BLs and the BL as a whole.

Disappointed that no-one from the BLs is prepared to join the debate.

Robert

Maurice said...

It seems to me that the problem with the "don't care" vote is that it was the only alternative to "Yes" and "No". Perhaps it includes "don't know". How would anyone have an informed opinion if they have not had experience of the service? I would not surprise me if some "Yeses" were based on optimistic assumptions (the principle is good) and apart from being so few the "Noes" might be informed by a variety of negative views. I'd not base too much on the vote, other than a generally positive view.

Maurice

Maurice said...

Ed says, "That the Tories now want to scrap it is an indication of how far removed from its original concept it has moved."

Surely it is as likely to represent change in Tory politics? Either way, I dare say Michael Heseltine might have been right?

Maurice

Mark Thompson said...

Some years ago it was suggested to us by a BL advisor to look at joining the 'consultants register' or whatever the proper name was. This of course involved paying a fat fee to BL for the privilege of joining this register. I started to asked questions about the transparency of the use of the register, how BL advisor used the register, what metrics were available to measure how many referals were passed to consultants, etc., and needless to say none of this was forthcoming. They just expected us to pay up and hope for the best. We declined the offer...

Unknown said...

This article has been brought to my attention and I find it quite worrying.

http://www.yorkshirepost.co.uk/businessnews/Business-Link39s-errors-over-handling.6075824.jp

Jim said...

Look at what Doug Richard of Dragons' Den had to say.

http://robert-craven.blogspot.com/2008/05/doug-richards-rips-into-business-link.html

but we said nothing then...

Mike Frizzell said...

I have been to many Business Link events, they contain useful information but are really a pitch for the individual delivering the event.

I am just starting up and could really do with one-on-one mentoring from someone who knows how to do it. Getting information from a portal does not compete with having someone to come and meet with you.

Anonymous said...

In my view, Business Link has always been subsidised competition for genuine established business advisers. One has to question whether this is a role they should be playing.

John Hill said...

Business Link has been hijacked by the Public sector. I have two experiences with it. One on starting a new venture and our accountant recommended them (we have since sacked him - not just for that though). We were met by a very pleasant lady who had set up a web design company, and wouldn't tell us why she joined Business Link. Without a reply my conclusion is that her business was less than successful. Any way she admired our business plan, gave us advice on SEO and we left. Subsequently we got the brush off when we had queries.

The other experience was as a prospective supplier. In a previous business we supplied a team of consultants to Scottish Enterprise for a major project. Each Business link area was supposed to do the same thing. Our project and London were the only successful projects. When one of them - Yorkshire Forward - came out to tender we decide that we could reform the group and produce another successful implementation, and that a small cooperative of value adding consultants would be just the sort of venture a Business Link type organisation would want to be seen supporting. Anyway we got caught up in the maw of Public sector procurement and spat out because we hadn't got the right 3 years accounting history - even though we had a track record showing we could palpably over deliver.
I understand that Serco won the bid. And as far as I know it still isn't working.

The trouble is they just don't get it do they.

My solution, contract out to their target market

Jenny P said...

BL is a nice thing to have. Nice for the start-ups; nice for the advisers. But does it really deliver any value. Nice.

People talk about it correcting the market deficiences. I thought the market did that itself: where there's a demand the supply will grow if it can deliver what the market wants. You have to ask why there is a so-called market deficiency and why does it need to be filled!

Jenny

Anonymous said...

..a useful debate Robert; thanks for kicking it off.

As someone currently working for Business Link in the Northwest and with a long time spent in the private sector working with SME's, I think the question to ask is not one which asks specifically about Business Link, its one which asks, "should SME's in the UK have easy access to an impartial support service that attempts to help them survive and succeed in a globally competitive and increasingly legislated environment?"...

I think that when the debate is viewed in this context the name of the service becomes secondary and the justifying of the concept takes on the status of a "no brainer"; i.e. entirely worthy of public funding.

The concept of supporting enterprise, which is the platform upon which our social advancement is build, is sound.

The shape and the colour of the service may need to change and there will always be opportunities to improve, however lets also remember the bigger picture.

Thomas Coles said...

Business Link is the classic example of "if you can't do it teach". Who in their right minds that is capable of running a successful business and earning the rewards would instead work for a quango on around £30k a year? If they aren't capable of running a business they aern't able to advise those of us who are.

Thomas Coles
Managing Director
MSM Software

Marjory D said...

Some googd comments. The Yorkshire Post one is scary in capital letters.

As most people know, the BL has some great people working there but also some poor people. They are target focused employees trying to inspire entrepreneurial beings. Is is it any wonder that they sometimes fail to blow people's socks off?

Madge

Mark Lee said...

Sounds like a skewed vote if the only options were yes, no and don't care. Whether that was deliberate or naive I can't say.

If the majority have not experienced BL (or been in contact with those who have done so) they are really 'don't knows' which wasn't an option.

I hear mixed views - Most often that some BL advisers are relied upon for advice that goes beyond their competence level.

Given the wide range of alternative sources of free online material I'm not sure that BL needs to exist as a separate part of Govt websites. I recently had cause to check out the tax advice for business start ups. The perception I gained was that much of it was either out of date, missed the key points or linked to out of date pages on HMRC's website. The time and effort required to keep it try to uptodate must be enormous.

When those most in need search online do they prefer BL pages over those available elsewhere? Personally I dislike the default small font size and find the pages a strain to read.

Put me down as a 'let it go'. But not too soon as I've just been asked if my sites and blogs can be used in a forthcoming BL presentation about online business and social media!

Marjory D said...

Mark Lee

You are sitting on the fence (but who would shoot themselves in the foot my bad-mouthing a sponsor-partner?)

Small typeprint on the website is hardly a good reason for ignoring someone. Try pressing Ctrl and + to make it larger. However small typeprint may symtematic of their lack of customer focus.

The PSP event was, I believe, not a greatly pre-meditated vote but more a of a quick and dirty straw poll.

The real question is about what the conference organisers will do with the vote and the subsequent discussions.

Madge

Marjory D said...

Mark Lee

You are sitting on the fence (but who would shoot themselves in the foot my bad-mouthing a sponsor-partner?)

Small typeprint on the website is hardly a good reason for ignoring someone. Try pressing Ctrl and + to make it larger. However small typeprint may symtematic of their lack of customer focus.

The PSP event was, I believe, not a greatly pre-meditated vote but more a of a quick and dirty straw poll.

The real question is about what the conference organisers will do with the vote and the subsequent discussions.

Madge

Paul Reid ACA said...

On the whole I agree with Mark Lee on this one. In my experience, BL advice has often been incomplete (especially on tax and business structures), I believe in some cases it goes beyond the competence of the advisor. There are plenty of accountants for example that will offer a business plan review, startup financial planning meeting and lots of tax advice as part of an initial free consultation. Mark is also right in that there are other sources of online information that will give startups support and advice, much of it for free.

My vote is to let it go also.

Sorry!

Marjory D said...

So what you accountants are saying is that the BL serves no purpose that a half decent accountant and a quick google search for "free" info couldn't sort out.

Yes/No?

Madge

RY said...

It has been interesting reading the comments in the posting I couldn't pass comment on that site without signing up for what could be yet another source of spam so I'll stick it here instead{LinkedIn.com, RC). Robert if you want to cut and paste to the original please feel free. I'm a Yorkshire lad living and working in the south (NOT for Business Link but I have worked alongside them in the past) (so every one can oppose my views equally).

Business Link is a PROGRAMME not a business entity. It is tendered and bid for like any other government funded programme. Usually these are match funded through the European Social Fund or similar, hence the inordinate amount of paperwork and tick boxes every time you talk to them or their subcontractors. There is a lot of complaints about the speakers pitching their wares at events, would any of you volunteer your time and expertise without trying to generate new leads to justify your investment?

Was BL a tory "innovation" or was it just a down budgeted rejigging and remarketing of an existing programme that was put out to "the market" to provide greater efficiency.

If you're not happy with what BL in your area is providing you have two options. 1) Complain to the Supplier providing the programme in your area, your RDA, your MP, your local councillor, your trade body, anybody and everybody who will listen, and get it better funded to do what you want it to do. 2) Go to market yourself and pay the full going rate for the advice you want and if you can't afford it you don't deserve it. (market forces rule#1)

Or you can be apathetic and let the politico's scrap it for something else because you really don't care. Just don't be surprised if the something else is option 2) above.

The programme is free at point of use. The consultants used are, for the most part, genuinely good at what they specialise in. If they go into private practise they will not be any better but their time will be a lot more expensive at point of use.

RY

RY said...

It has been interesting reading the comments in the posting I couldn't pass comment on that site without signing up for what could be yet another source of spam so I'll stick it here instead{LinkedIn.com, RC). Robert if you want to cut and paste to the original please feel free. I'm a Yorkshire lad living and working in the south (NOT for Business Link but I have worked alongside them in the past) (so every one can oppose my views equally).

Business Link is a PROGRAMME not a business entity. It is tendered and bid for like any other government funded programme. Usually these are match funded through the European Social Fund or similar, hence the inordinate amount of paperwork and tick boxes every time you talk to them or their subcontractors. There is a lot of complaints about the speakers pitching their wares at events, would any of you volunteer your time and expertise without trying to generate new leads to justify your investment?

Was BL a tory "innovation" or was it just a down budgeted rejigging and remarketing of an existing programme that was put out to "the market" to provide greater efficiency.

If you're not happy with what BL in your area is providing you have two options. 1) Complain to the Supplier providing the programme in your area, your RDA, your MP, your local councillor, your trade body, anybody and everybody who will listen, and get it better funded to do what you want it to do. 2) Go to market yourself and pay the full going rate for the advice you want and if you can't afford it you don't deserve it. (market forces rule#1)

Or you can be apathetic and let the politico's scrap it for something else because you really don't care. Just don't be surprised if the something else is option 2) above.

The programme is free at point of use. The consultants used are, for the most part, genuinely good at what they specialise in. If they go into private practise they will not be any better but their time will be a lot more expensive at point of use.

RY

Roger Harrop said...

In their present format they could go. They are so inconsistent around the country in my experience. On the other hand The Institute for Independent Business - a not-for-profit - who somewhat hide their light under a bushel, are superb with around 3000 Associates around the country who have generally been there and done it and with expertise in pretty well every sector.

Tony said...

I've experienced two BusinessLinks early on in starting the business. Neither were much help in giving advice except in offering old models and churning numbers - for a business that's taken off subsequently by taking other routes.

The Luton BusinessLink was also the local Chamber of Commerce, based around the corner from Vauxhall's factory and hence focussed far more on local businesses there. Absolutely unhelpful and disinterested in providing something to a small business 10 miles away.

While there may be some good consultants out there, when I got a BL consultant, I found it was a charming gent who'd taken early retirement and was very fixed in imposing the one model he knew on the business.

While I want someone who has *ultimately* been successful, I'd rather have someone who has a) worked in small businesses, not large organisations (the models rarely translate) and b) someone who's made some major mistakes along the way - bringing me the benefit of their learning.

Andrew said...

Aside from the fact that the cost to benefit ratio is wildly off balance, it's old fashioned, out of touch, and run by people who have never known what it's like to worry about paying the wages and suppliers. It should go.

If people are really driven enough to do something about their business or idea, they will find the right/better advice elsewhere. Conversely, if they really need the sort of dross doled out by the Business Link, one has to wonder about their ability to succeed.

It's been clinically dead for some time now. Time to switch of the life support system.

Peter E said...

Have been to some great events (one run by Mr C)
But most have been chronic.

Have met some lovely staff
but most have been chronic.

have met one stunning adviser, a real star whe was
but most have been chronic

Have met some lovely businesses at the events
but most have been chronic.

Have been given referrals to some lovely business
but most have been chronic.

Can you see a pattern emerging?

Pete

Fiona Bevan said...

I think part of the problem is that there seems to be no consistancy of service with Business Link. I have heard some owners of small businesses praise their Business Link advisor and say that they would not have got started so successfully without them. Others are very scathing - infact I had a client who was encouraged by a Business Link advisor to charge VAT on sales invoices even though she was not VAT registered.
Many of us have benefitted from grants administered by Business Link.
I think there does need to be government support for small businesses (afterall we are the backbone of the economy), but is Business Link the best vehicle and what could be set up to better replace it?

Andrew said...

Fiona, I think you are right about governmental support being essential, but it needs to be in the form of only supporting those who have proven themselves up to a point of a sustainable model in their business.

Part of the reason BL costs so much, is the level of noise generated by the many poor souls who think they have what it takes, but should really have stayed as employee or house-husband/wife. Thus, in catering to such lost souls, BL has turned into a very poor cousin of the Citizens Advice Bureau. It has also attracted staff of the poorest ability, as all they apparently need to do is give out some leaflets and soundbites, job done. Often, even though a little knowledge is indeed a dangerous thing, they will also give out "advice."

If British business is to be admired again, people should have to prove themselves before being given support. At the moment, the UK government seems to want to only keep providing for those mostly without merit, leaving an impossibly long queue for those with merit. I propose that the vast majority of those who have happy stories to tell about BL were simply clueless, but lucky in their outcome.

The mind boggles when, given BL's overall cost to the nation, and poor track record, British people aren't demanding a better outcome.

Unknown said...

Businesses Rate Business Link a Success reveals BL in survey... http://bit.ly/dBtr2f

Figures revealed today by Business Link, at an event attended leading entrepreneurs and Business Link ambassadors show that businesses believe they save time, increase their sales and raise profits as a direct result of using the Business Link service...

Jon Silver said...

Yes, the government should scrap all schemes to support businesses at all levels including research and development grants and tax releif. If you have a good business idea and the ability to deliver it then why do you need support? If you don't have the ability to deliver the business then why set it up in the first place? If you have problems with your business make sure you employ the right staff, don't expect an advisor or consultant to stick a band aid on it, or the problem is likely to come back. Get the right team together with the right idea that is needed in the market, you'll be sucessful and the government won't need to spend any money on business support, nor will you. £190m could easily be spent else where, such as fixing potholes.

Anonymous said...

My opinion is to scrap the BL scheme. I have found them very poor and not really helpful to businesses. I agree with others commenting on here that the advisers have never had any experience running a business,have never had to market a business and aren't very inspiring. Businesses starting up need to have a signposting service of where to go when starting up, which could be done via a website at little or no cost. Many business advisors out there offer poor service and advice and don't have much experience running a business. I have met no end of marketing gurus and business doctors who spout rubbish they have learnt in books and not from real life experience of 'doing business'. (hmmm just given myself an idea for a business as a 'business consultant'). People starting up need to be inspired, have good mentors and learn from the very best. They always say the quickest shortcut to success is to learn from someone who has been there and done it AND got the T Shirt. Perhaps that's why so many fail in the first few years because they never have these inspiring, quality mentors who have done well in business themselves. Also the reason that folks probably sat on the fence is because not that many know or understand what BL do (or exist even) which is down to the way they are marketed, which is ultimately one of the fundamentals of business! No marketing to get customers = NO BUSINESS! I helped my Wife start up recently using my network of accountants/solicitors and using my experience from running my own business and is doing very well thank you! BL offered her around £50 for starting up and a free course or two which didn't help that much. Better off doing the free seminars with Barclays and Robert Craven as you will learn far more at one of their events.

Unknown said...

Thank you for your kind endorsement of my work.

Robert

Peter E said...

Does Barclays read this blog? Anyone out there?

Pete

Andrew said...

Re your BL survey link Robert, all I can say is it;s an interesting "random selection" of "successful entrepreneurs" doing the photo opp for BL.

I would very much like to examine the figures released by BL in their spin campaign, yet they don't cite their research, and it's not openly published beyond convenient headings. Interesting that!...

Unknown said...

Ahhh.. found the sources

Report sources include:
- The 2009 Impact Assessments carried out by Databuild
- The 2008/2009 Business Link Regional Performance Report
- The BIS Early Assessment of Business Link carried out by the Institute for Employment Studies and the Business Innovation and Skills (BIS)
Mystery Shopping Report of the Business Link Service carried out by Centre for Enterprise and Economic Development Research (CEEDR)



http://www.itnews.it/news/2009/1215204402040/businesses-rank-business-link-s-success-in-latest-customer-surveys-it-delivers-say-its-customers-use-it-say-leading-entrepreneurs.html

Andrew said...

Thanks Robert. I think Mandelson must have spearheaded this "research". BL have (surprise) used a broad brush with their conclusions, and have looked at the stats in a conveniently biased manner (another surprise then).

It's lucky for them that journalists don't understand statistics and, like the public the "serve," tend to believe whatever the numbers say as an absolute.

I'm going to take a much closer look when I've more time. I'll be back...

Mustaph Koriba said...

I have referred many people to the Business Link. Regrettably, all came back disappointed with the (lack of) support and/or quality of advice. I am now inclined not to recommend them any more

Manos said...

Robert,

even Business Link's figures suggest the benefits add up to £121m in admin savings and £54m in increased profits.

That adds up to... £175m of self-reported benefits for £190m of spending.

I doubt that includes any costings of the time spent talking to Business Link advisors, especially for businesses too disgruntled to answer the survey.

On that last point, BIS' mystery shopping exercise found that it was very difficult to recruit people to the sample because so many would-be respondents didn't think BL was worth wasting their time on.

So yeah, not great.

mediamentor said...

I found Business Link very helpful when my business was starting up. I met once a month with a group of other relatively new businesses, and someone from or arranged by BL came and talked with us. One of those speakers I still remember because what he said gave me a massive injection of self-confidence.
More recently my experience has been extremely mixed. In one case it became clear to me and to others that an 'adviser' in a particular field, meant to be passing on potential clients to those on his/her list of local suppliers, was in fact creaming off all the interesting work for himself/herself and was only passing on the dross in which he/she had no interest.
This is a fairly typical example of the way in which an organisation like BL can actually work against the interests of those whom it is intended to support.

Mark Humblestone said...

Attended Robert Craven event and it was great. Courtesy of Business Link. I guess they paid his fees. Maybe BL is a bit like the NHS that it gives us access to stuff that we wouldn't otherwise afford to see.

Mark H

Anonymous said...

Right let me put in a strong defence of Business Link.

I have worked as a Business Adviser at Business Link in London and its predecessors for nearly ten years.

There have been several evolutions of the service, some good, some very poor. Despite this, many of us remain in Business Link because we have a strong client ethos. Whatever our funders have thrown at us we have remained client focused and done the best that the service allows us to do for our clients.

Before joining Business Link I was a self employed consultant for many years but became fed up with being a one man band. I, and most of my colleagues, know what being an SME is like as we have run our own businesses. We really do understand the daily challenges that SMEs face and we do speak the language that SMEs understand.

I see our current role as ensuring that our clients get the best possible help that is available to them and at a cost effective and, if relevant, subsidised rate.

Many of your bloggers have questioned the abilities of the Business advisers. I can assure you that there are some outstanding advisers and direct client feedback confirms this to us again and again.

Also Business Link has more than just Business Advisers. We have an outstanding national website www.businesslink.gov. Don't take my word for it. Go and have a look for yourselves. The feedback is almost unanimously positive. We use factsheets and help from the best organisations around, not just information created by ourselves.

We host a series of free events throughout the year. Again we receive very positive feedback.

Our brokerage service is not always perfect and it varies across the country. Most advisers have developed, from the list of consultants, our own relationships. In other cases we have met consultants who have impressed us and we've ensured they have the opportunity to join our list of consultants. While we remain diligently impartial we do try to offer a choice of suitable consultants who we judge would meet that client's needs.

Business Link is very much like the NHS: free at the point of delivery. The Adviser works like a GP, trying to diagnose the issue and then ensuring a referral to outside specialist help. In the past we have offered a more in depth coaching and mentoring service for which we charged. We were criticised by outside consultants who saw us as competitors. This is why the brokerage service was introduced as there are very large numbers of very competent consultants (such as Robert Craven.)

I think, if there is any criticism of the service, this should be directed at the Civil Servants who define the Business Link service. They often don't understand the needs of small business whereas the Business Advisers do.

Our own senior Managers and directors at Business Link in London are business people. Our Chief Executive has run his own businesses and worked as a consultant. He most certainly understands the needs of SMEs.

There is a huge amount of experience and talent within Business Link. It would be a great pity if a future Government, of whatever hue, decided to abolish Business Link.

Many small businesses do need outside help. They don't know where to access it and an effective business support agency will always be needed to point people in the right direction ot to give that badly needed help.

Jerry McG said...

Have seen Robert twice, courtesy of the BL - I know the standard fees for such events would have been 250-500 pounds so I am indebted. Without their support I never would afforded to see him. Last week I was in an audience of 15 (real privilege) and before I was in an audience of 250 (stunning networking event under a plane!)

More importantly, I have made significant changes to the business as a direct result of attending. To quote the video, he "changed my life".

I certainly got my 40-pounds worth

Jerry

Unknown said...

A waste of space and resources.
8 months ago I was considering making two employees redundant. I phoned business link looking for suggestions and perhaps a retraining grant for them. They were going to call me back. I called again after two weeks and was again assured that they would call back.
I'm not still waiting because I've given up on them and, luckily for the employees concerned sorted out retraining from my own resources and re-trained them as Tree Surgeons.
I agree with the Conservatives.

Sienna White said...

I attended Robert Craven events in Birmigham and Manchester areas both courtesy of the Business Link.

Without them paying the I wouldn'a tafford to apy the standrad price. I met loads of other businesses and the whole thing (both times) was great.

BUT have been to a number of supremely mediocre business meetings and events also run by the BL.

You need to choose what you take from them carefully.

Learn to say 'no' where necessary.

Learn when to walk out. Certain things they do are incredible value - would have paid good money to see RC as he is in short supply relative to what I get from him.

Siena

Unknown said...

85 comments to date on the same blog entry at the IOD. I am astounded. I didn't think that people cared that much....

This has been a good and useful debate and I hope that our friends at the BL have been watching.

I got roasted last week by some BL people but I never quite understood why. Not sure if they did. Despite my attempts here at simply providing a platform they assumed that I was fuelling the whole debate. Curious.

Delighted to see some supporters raise their heads and fascinated to see what looks like a relatively consistent set of messages from users.

Did a very quick message count and reckoned that the split was roughly:
15% say it is a good thing
15% say it should be closed now
70% say it should be changed

Not encouraging for the BLs.

While the majority agree it should be changed I don't think there is a great deal of commonality about how it should be changed.


Robert

David said...

Well today i had my first contact with Business Link i can't say I'll rush back. I was enquiring about funding for training and was pointed to the Train to Gain website which refers me back to the Business Link advisor. Great!

Secondly, having told the advisor about my company and the fact that we've been around for over 30 years his response is to send me a leaflet about how to start a business.

I would hardly call the experience getting tailored or helpful advice. I could have got the same from the IoD website probably or loads of other sources.

Paul (IOD) said...

In a recent article in the Sunday Times, the Conservative Party have made it clear that Business Link will go should they win the next election. Business Link costs £190m a year to run and employees 1,600 advisers, who spend most of their resources directing enquiries elsewhere.

Personally I do not have any good experience with BL to report, but I know there are some really good people working there, passionate to help local businesses. I do feel the mistake made was to have the service driven to a 'one stop shop' strategy which will never work. Fundamentally I believe the problem is much boarder, there needs to be a complete overhaul of government support agencies at a regional level. There is so much apparent duplication with organisations seeming to compete to deliver the same kind of services. Let is hope which ever party forms the next government that they will sort this out, keeping the good parts, simplifying the landscape and ensuring value for taxpayers money.

Simon for TQ said...

Down where we are there is a real issue about sorting the business scene.

The Biz Link tries to help but we can not combat the might of Pizza Express and the High Street bars who can offer better and cheaper food and booze and syill make a profit.

Result is they control the jobs and the profit goes back to the big city.

What can the Biz Link do? Nothing apart from create some nice looking initiatives. What could they do? Put up a barbed fence at the county border.

Simon

Tomo said...

Personally they were good for me.

As a lost and vulnerable start-up they asisted and helped. Thanks.

As an exisiting business I have found some of their initiatives useful.

Is IOD or similar better for general info? Probably, or a decent banker or accountant will be able to do the signposting thing.

When you need something specific they (BL) talk a a good talk but don't seem to be able to deliver to my spec. (I am the customer!)

More akin to the NHS than private health treatment.

But this ignores the real argument - real entrepreneurs (and job creators) will do their thing with or without the BL so they don't need them. So who does need them? - oh the 'poor me' brigade. What is bizarre is that this is like GPs saying they will help the people with the colds and sniffles (very time intensive but little visble impact).

On balance the BL is a resource that needs to be there. Or lets just get one decent, trusted (and opinionated) resource going and let's use that and then we can pay for the one-to-one stuff (if it looks like it is worth it. Its called the markert economy.)

Whoever said that everything has to be free (oh yes, the Labour party and the NHS)

Jim (BL) said...

From Tony Robinson on the IOD LinkedIn discussion based on Robert's original blog:

I think this whole discussion has been brilliant. I've never been a fan of government agencies, including Business Link, replacing the naturally used and trusted private sector enterprise training and support community. I've felt that Business Link has been unfairly hijacked by policies and programmes to achieve spurious government targets. There has been an insane urge since 2004 by, what is now, BIS to pick and support 'winners' and disparage as churn 90% of start ups, the self employed and micro enterprise owners all of which may be the 'winners' in the future and all of which are keeping the employment rate high and the economy going.

So, I've always promoted the very simple and consistent model in New Zealand over the last 15 years (number 1 in the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor for start up) where government's role is more of an enabler ensuring everyone has the same access to high quality free or low cost training and support available from private or social enterprise practitioners, including accountants, at start up and pay more as they are established to normal market competitive rates.

Free high quality information for starting and running your own enterprise is available on a government run website, with really high quality learning modules on such as cashflow, pricing, selling, promoting, social networking etc and I'm always really disappointed that our Business Link website isn't as useful as many private sector start up and small business sites.

After having admitted my prejudice above this discussion has been fantastic and it has made me realise that I do care what happens to Business Link. I certainly don't want to see all the aspects of its service that are proven or have potential thrown out because of sweeping generalisations.

An independent organisation I co-founded, called SFEDI, with all small business owners on its board and all the major national small business membership and business support organisations on its advisory board exists to improve the quality of training and support to prospective and existing enterprise owners. We have our annual enterprise support awards in 3 weeks time. I'm not a judge but I do know that hundreds of small business owners have nominated Business Link personnel for the 'survive and thrive' support they have provided.

We shouldn't lose sight of the good stuff and surely we should build on this, including what can be retained in the Business Link brand, whilst enabling more front line support to be provided through existing private and social enterprise enterprise support practitioners, networks and communities.

Cheers

Tony

Charles L said...

Tony must be on happy pills.
Chas

Unknown said...

No-One Cares If BL Shuts in Real Business mag http://bit.ly/bfXJ4Z

Pete W said...

Firstly thank you for hosting this debate. And doing this imprtially.

Now to the matter in hand.

The reality is that most correspondents have had mixed or bad experiences of the BL. Does this mean it should close?

Why?

Because the BLs employ loads of people at lower than market prices.

So no wonder it doesn't come together.

Jason Agar (and Robert Craven?) wrote a brilliant paper that explained the whole thing when the BL first started. The title was something like "Walking On Water" (like Jesus).

If you want to know why the BLs were so doomed to fail it is because of the expectation that it can do all things for all people.

Doomed to failure.

BL RIP? I don't think so. It will reappear it another guise. the industry is too big to evaporate. Too many self-interested inter-connected parties: there all there:
BLs
Chamber
IoD
Ent Agencies
Bus Schls
Banks
Accountants
Magazines
Websites
all weaving a web of back-scratching mediocrity.

Pete W

Anonymous said...

All I see here are the following:
Mr Angry, MD of Widgets Inc..., comments from Bertie Bankrupt... grumbling from Grumpy Old Management Consultants...,complaint from the venomous BL-haters of old...

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Pete Bradbury said...

Used it four times.
Invited to Craven/Barclays event - great
Invited to web seminar (seminar about the web - useless: aimed at idiots
So-called 1-2-1 - just selling stuff at me
consultant list for web design - dreadful.

1 out of 4 is good when the one was so good. Craven/Barclays was free as was the rest. Not all free things are equal!

Pete

cdking72 said...

Just found this blog.

My experience is simple. Attended Kick-Start 2010 with Robert run by Business Link W Midlands. Nice venue. Fist-class, really thought-provoking event. Weird pointless video from the Link at the start. Man and woman from them were fine - generally helpful and competent.

The highlight of the day was Craven's bit. It has rattled me in a good way. It really did challenge how I have been doing things and how I will do things in the future. A rare skill. The effect will be long-lasting and deep.

Without going on one has to recognise that one day in a seminar room can change one's whole outlook. Thank you BL W Midlands. It was a special day for me and will be remembered.

Peter E said...

At last the debate has got some traction.

The problem we have here is that the "don't cares" don't bother to contribute so you get a warped view of the world if you only look at the people who bother to write.

You original captive audience with a huge number of "don't cares" at your conferecne (see the original blog!!!) was probably the most accurate barometer of opinion. All the words above are just the "do cares" or "do care a bits":
Mr Angry, MD of Widgets Inc..., cBertie Bankrupt... Grumpy Old Management Consultants...,the venomous BL-haters of old...

Anon is right.

Anyhow the Dispatches programme seems to be finishing off any remaining morsels of respect we might have had for the MPs.

Pete

Sir Alan Sugar said...

BL RIP
I don't think so.

A large organisation, large budget, large number of employees touchiong lots of people.

What will its legacy be?
Not a lot.
And now we have the joke that is Sir Alan S doing dreadful videos that have nothing to do with anything. Rumoured to cost 15-20k per event how does it work? He is the Czar. He charges. He doesn't help.

If you want to talk about disgraceful then can someone explain why we (the taxpayers) are paying for the Alan Sugar tour - it helps no-one.

10 events? 200k? All to Sir Alan. Not bad for 10 day's work. The emphasis is on SMALL Business Tsar?????!!!!

Samantha said...

Here in Cambridge we have the East of England Development Agency, Business Link and the Greater Cambridge Partnership. All do slightly different things and only the most nerdy would actually know who does what.
That is three infrastructures, CEO's etc. Plus Chamber, FSB and IOD.
How many business promotion agencies do we need? Cambridge needs one or possibly two but certainly not three.

David said...

That there is a need for an organisation ( Currently Business Link) to support SME business and "Signpost" these owner managers to those professionals who can assist them is without question valuable. Business Link in the North East in the main does a good job of doing this, with an approved register of suppliers who are rated etc. This is valuable and any change to another organisation doiing this would simply just incur cost both for close down and start up, and I am sure that we would see the same people doing the signposting job in the new organisation that was in the prevoius..... what would this gain to the SME's nothing. Politicians are good at making grand gestures, and sweeping changes, but where it works, why change?

Norman said...

Robert

I am a consultant who has worked in the sector for over 20 years.

There have been and are currently some very good people in Business Links (BL). However there are in my opinion some poor people as well.

They were required to operate a "brokerage" model i.e. give good sign posting advice. This restricts their ability to become really involved and add value.

From our experience there is need for a service that mentors the smaller businesses and acts like a non executive director as someone else has already commented. This is only worthwhikle if the business is willing to act on the advice and guidance. This is more appreaciated if it is paid for and terminated if it is not adding value. BL are not supposed to provide this service.

The rest of what BL does could better be supplied by Chambers of Coommerce or locally controlled Enterprise agencies together with a good website for information and a consultancy/professional advisor ebay. Where the ones who get good feedback will prosper.

So I do not think you are missing anything.

Norman

George Derbyshire said...

Robert
You seem to have stirred up a hornet's nest here!
Before I comment, let me declare an interest as I am Chief Executive of NFEA and my enterprise agency members work with Business Links up and down the country.
We all know that the voice of criticism is louder than the voice of praise,and I know many high quality advisers in Business Link and many satisfied customers. But I do believe Business Link is operating under difficulty. We currently are on the third or fourth version of the Business Link model, there are still 9 different regional variations of the offer so no national consistency and finally they are being loaded with more and more responsibilities from Goverment. The result is that the customer proposition is not clear. Just what can they do to help and what can't they? You can't meet customer expectations if you are not clear what the proposition is.

Anonymous said...

The Business Link service across the country is being delivered generally by private sector companies like SERCO, REED, Exemplas, Ixion.....not on an altruistic or some cost sharing basis but, normally, for a management fee. Undoubtedly they have to deliver to government targets that they sign up to and they are not allowed to refer in leads but ultimately the service is not being delivered by some quango but by 'red meat eating, free market' companies!

Unknown said...

George Derbyshire sums up much of the debate very succinctly.

"You can't meet customer expectations if you are not clear what the proposition is."

Robert

Unknown said...

FREE MONEY!!! Just received this - and I quote "They have unspent money they need to give away!"




Train to Gain – Small business grants – deadline 31st March 2010



Deadline approaching! Business Link (XXXXX) has grants set aside to give to the leaders of small businesses by 31st March 2010. They have unspent money they need to give away!



The Leadership and Management Advisory Service within Train to Gain gives grants to small businesses to help directors and senior managers to develop their leadership skills. These funds are also available to “micro businesses” (two to five people). Sole traders are also often eligible if they regularly work with particular associates or contractors, which increases the effective size of their business.



These excellent grants provide support to help businesses improve results or escape from the recession, and may be spent on relevant courses or executive coaching - for example to develop strategies for the business or particular skills such as sales or delegation. The basic grant is £500. A further £500 is available if you match that with your own funds. Don’t let the money get away!



This deadline applies to Business Link in the XXXXX (XXXXX, XXXXX, XXXX). Funds may or may not be unspent in other parts of the country. The programme will continue into the following financial year, but funds for micro businesses are usually very limited. Some funds are also available to leaders of charities. All grants are subject to eligibility.



If you are interested to find out how you may benefit from coaching, contact me. Phone XXXXXXXXX



For general or training course enquiries contact Business Link (Train to Gain) for the XXXXXXXXXX


Please mention the XXXX when you call.

Jim (BL) said...

First - we respect you giving us the platform. Recognise these are not the opinions etc but

the whole FREE MONEY approach to selling consultancy ("they can't give it away!) is alarming.

I understand they need to spend the budget but the consultants have so little self-respect. Are these professional consultants or cheap whores desparate for some money...

This is a disgrace to the whole business support industry. If this is what is allowed to be sent out then the BL deserves to be cut.

This make a mockery of consultancy, the BLs, the small businesses they are meant to serve and the tax payer.

Jim

Gareth said...

In Praise of BLs

- they are not really public bodies (Serco etc are run for a profit) so the "all nationalised industries are crap" argument is kicked into touch

- the private sector is pretty disgraceful in the consultancy world - everyone offering "get rich quick" schemes for free.

In a world where most consultants are only interested in flogging their own wares and making their own profits i would like to think that the BL offers an independence others fail to deliver on.

We need a body that has an independent/objective remit.

Who can you trust? Ghostbusters!!!

Gareth

Tony said...

So, we seem to be saying in the last couple of entries that BL has no clear business proposition to offer; they don't go and find out what is required from what I can see and they show a 'can't do' mentality in response to requests for financial support - I suspect driven by the public sector blame culture (I know this is a generality but it is there and causes no end of problems - culture guides everything).

Varying approaches don't bother me around the country if the regional needs, i.e. the customer needs, vary from region to region.

Given the situation of the national economy, do we really think that UK plc gets value for money from this 'function'?

A good question is "What would happen if we simply removed the funding?" or: "What would 'fail' as a result?" I suggest nothing would to the detriment of UK plc.

If this is the case, then the money can not be spent and we can speed up fixing the enormous drag of the ballooned all time massive national debt.

Therein lies the challenge. What is worth all this money to the country that says we should keep spending it? Bearing in mind we don't have it to spend in the first place........

I have followed this thread since inception and so far the case to keep spending is thin at best. In a turnaround situation (and make no mistake, that is what the country has to recognise), 'nice to haves' don't get supported. So come on: why do we need this function?

Tony

Jim (BL) said...

Cannot apologise enough for the Free Money promotion. These sort of things should never happen.

To answer the comments that have been alluded to, we, at my BL, have been asked to refrain from entering this type of dialogue.

Anonymous said...

Can't be long in case my boss catches m

Bill (BL) said...

The reality is

1) with an election on the way the BLs do not want to be seen to be political in any way - purdah is what it is called as we will no longer be allowed to promote ourselves

2) any body with a national presence will worry about its presentation and will try to control or manage the messages through its official channels. Can't have people all saying different things and then getting quoted.

Of course the irony is that customers talk on twitter, facebook, blogs etc but we are not there to give our side of the story.

So we are using 1980s thinking in 2010 - a suitable example of why we should or should not help small businesses. I don't think so.

Jim

Craig, BL said...

I think everyone from the ranks of the BLs should close ranks and let the debate wash over our heads. We are given targets by our direct reprtts, our real customers, and have targets to achieve like any other business. It is not a public library in 60s Britain but a modern organisation, just like yours, with competing stakeholders to satisfy.

Get off our backs.

Craig

Jess said...

Sorry but nothing from the Govnt was that great as a start up. Lots of shiny stuff but could get most of what i wanted from a friendly accountant and the local college and a few exhibitions run by BNI(?) and the Chamber. BL or Enterprize Agency or Chamber all look the same - faceless civil servants who mean well.

Anyone settting up in business should be given an innitaitive test to find all the key info. If they can't then they shouldn't be allowed to set up.

J

Craig, BL said...

As soon as someone stands up for the BL then everyone stands down. Craven, you accuse some entrepreneurs of doing the poor me piece. Nearly all of you are doing this. At least all of you who complain about the BL.

Get a job

Craig

Richard said...

Don't understand the discussion. Who cares about start-ups? Only the politicians and their families.

Jeremy (BL) said...

Now I am not usually a conspiracy theorist but:

"where on earth has your 120 comments and blog and news item gone from the LinkedIn/IOD pages??"

Do I smell a conspiracy?

Just seen your message on that platform Robert and am incensed that this may have happened.

Probably in the interests of political impartiality...!

Start the link again...
or boycott the IOD.

And yes we were gagged at my BL. The management knew about your blogs and the furore and told us not to break ranks.

As I recall, "following orders" was a good enough excuse at the Nurmenberg Trials so I am sure it is good enough for us.

Jeremy

Reminds me of the movie, the changeling.

Marjory D said...

Oooo - we've got a scoop!
Madge

Unknown said...

and now it is back again. As if by magic.

Jeremy (BL) said...

You ar enot going mad - I could not find it either!
Jeremy

Anonymous said...

Principle versus practice is the issue for mee. In principle an initially free buisness advice service is a good idea. When you are staring up a business cash may be tight so somebody to help get you going without charing full commercial rates is a good idea. Equally when you are in trouble, spare cash for expert advice may not be around.
The problem is the practice. Publicly funded organisations are driven by their customers i.e. government. If there was a scheme whereby business advisers could offer an initial free consultation then individual businesses could choose who to go to for advice. Susbsequent advice might be part subsidised but at least the real buisness customer would be making the purchase decsion. Effective advisers would prosper; inefficient bureaucracies would not.

Unknown said...

Amanda Britton

Buisness link have helped me over the past 10 years develop my business.I have had practical advice and help with access to funding, I know i would be lost without this service i have had so many avenues opened to me through meeting new business people, i probably wouldnt of attended if i didnt get a push from my bl advisor" Scrap all the parties lets get Sir Alan Sugar or Richard Branson to run the country, they would know more about building up our business services? not reducing it?

Rowena Simpson said...

I'm going to stand up for BL here. There's lots of negative comments here but from my own experience BL offer an accessible free and approachable service to those brave enough in this economy to take the leap into start up. Like all services and organisations there will be good and bad amongst it, and there is always room for improvement in any organisation, but lets be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Jeremy (BL) said...

Glad to see some positive stuff.
Thank you for making the debate a little more balanced.
Jeremy

Pete W said...

and I make 100!

ian stirling said...

I think Business Link does mater for some people starting up in business. I get people contacting me that have be come to nearly a halt and they just need help to make a do list (and be chased every so often). Many cannot pay for support so I thenk part of Business Link are really needed.

Dave S said...

Nothing changes

Unknown said...

The fact that the question has to be asked is a self sealing argument that adds to the condemnation of Business Links effectiveness over the period it has been in operation.
All business meetings should have an agenda that should meet expectations and deliver a feasible outcome. There is a tremendous amount of damage that has been inflicted into British business over the years by consultants that are never around after the process advised has been implemented.
I have had recent experience of asking for advice on the placement of a product in a certain growth market only to be told that there is no one qualified to give advice in that area. I end up educating the "advisor" at the other end of the phone.
The UK must learn to grow its own
and must own what it grows. I have seen and recognised "feedback forms" on "customer satisfaction surveys" on BL that ask questions that seem to be an exercise in justification for existence rather than proof positive of the outcomes I mentioned earlier.
What did the man say,"Show me the money". Unfortunately they haven't or is it that they can't.

Robert I saw you in Chelmsford recently and there just are not enough of you, and why aren't you doing schools and colleges and University's as part of a Government programme to assist the long term recovery that we appear to be handing over to the next generation?

Michael said...

The fact that the question has to be asked is a self sealing argument that adds to the condemnation of Business Links effectiveness over the period it has been in operation.
All business meetings should have an agenda that should meet expectations and deliver a feasible outcome. There is a tremendous amount of damage that has been inflicted into British business over the years by consultants that are never around after the process advised has been implemented.
I have had recent experience of asking for advice on the placement of a product in a certain growth market only to be told that there is no one qualified to give advice in that area. I end up educating the "advisor" at the other end of the phone.
The UK must learn to grow its own
and must own what it grows. I have seen and recognised "feedback forms" on "customer satisfaction surveys" on BL that ask questions that seem to be an exercise in justification for existence rather than proof positive of the outcomes I mentioned earlier.
What did the man say,"Show me the money". Unfortunately they haven't or is it that they can't.

Robert I saw you in Chelmsford recently and there just are not enough of you, and why aren't you doing schools and colleges and University's as part of a Government programme to assist the long term recovery that we appear to be handing over to the next generation?

ian stirling said...

I think Business Link does mater for some people starting up in business. I get people contacting me that have be come to nearly a halt and they just need help to make a do list (and be chased every so often). Many cannot pay for support so I thenk part of Business Link are really needed.

Craig, BL said...

I think everyone from the ranks of the BLs should close ranks and let the debate wash over our heads. We are given targets by our direct reprtts, our real customers, and have targets to achieve like any other business. It is not a public library in 60s Britain but a modern organisation, just like yours, with competing stakeholders to satisfy.

Get off our backs.

Craig

Rowena Simpson said...

I'm going to stand up for BL here. There's lots of negative comments here but from my own experience BL offer an accessible free and approachable service to those brave enough in this economy to take the leap into start up. Like all services and organisations there will be good and bad amongst it, and there is always room for improvement in any organisation, but lets be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Jeremy (BL) said...

You ar enot going mad - I could not find it either!
Jeremy

Richard said...

Don't understand the discussion. Who cares about start-ups? Only the politicians and their families.

David said...

That there is a need for an organisation ( Currently Business Link) to support SME business and "Signpost" these owner managers to those professionals who can assist them is without question valuable. Business Link in the North East in the main does a good job of doing this, with an approved register of suppliers who are rated etc. This is valuable and any change to another organisation doiing this would simply just incur cost both for close down and start up, and I am sure that we would see the same people doing the signposting job in the new organisation that was in the prevoius..... what would this gain to the SME's nothing. Politicians are good at making grand gestures, and sweeping changes, but where it works, why change?

Sir Alan Sugar said...

BL RIP
I don't think so.

A large organisation, large budget, large number of employees touchiong lots of people.

What will its legacy be?
Not a lot.
And now we have the joke that is Sir Alan S doing dreadful videos that have nothing to do with anything. Rumoured to cost 15-20k per event how does it work? He is the Czar. He charges. He doesn't help.

If you want to talk about disgraceful then can someone explain why we (the taxpayers) are paying for the Alan Sugar tour - it helps no-one.

10 events? 200k? All to Sir Alan. Not bad for 10 day's work. The emphasis is on SMALL Business Tsar?????!!!!

cdking72 said...

Just found this blog.

My experience is simple. Attended Kick-Start 2010 with Robert run by Business Link W Midlands. Nice venue. Fist-class, really thought-provoking event. Weird pointless video from the Link at the start. Man and woman from them were fine - generally helpful and competent.

The highlight of the day was Craven's bit. It has rattled me in a good way. It really did challenge how I have been doing things and how I will do things in the future. A rare skill. The effect will be long-lasting and deep.

Without going on one has to recognise that one day in a seminar room can change one's whole outlook. Thank you BL W Midlands. It was a special day for me and will be remembered.

Anonymous said...

All I see here are the following:
Mr Angry, MD of Widgets Inc..., comments from Bertie Bankrupt... grumbling from Grumpy Old Management Consultants...,complaint from the venomous BL-haters of old...

Robert Craven said...

No-One Cares If BL Shuts in Real Business mag http://bit.ly/bfXJ4Z

Paul (IOD) said...

In a recent article in the Sunday Times, the Conservative Party have made it clear that Business Link will go should they win the next election. Business Link costs £190m a year to run and employees 1,600 advisers, who spend most of their resources directing enquiries elsewhere.

Personally I do not have any good experience with BL to report, but I know there are some really good people working there, passionate to help local businesses. I do feel the mistake made was to have the service driven to a 'one stop shop' strategy which will never work. Fundamentally I believe the problem is much boarder, there needs to be a complete overhaul of government support agencies at a regional level. There is so much apparent duplication with organisations seeming to compete to deliver the same kind of services. Let is hope which ever party forms the next government that they will sort this out, keeping the good parts, simplifying the landscape and ensuring value for taxpayers money.

Robert Craven said...

85 comments to date on the same blog entry at the IOD. I am astounded. I didn't think that people cared that much....

This has been a good and useful debate and I hope that our friends at the BL have been watching.

I got roasted last week by some BL people but I never quite understood why. Not sure if they did. Despite my attempts here at simply providing a platform they assumed that I was fuelling the whole debate. Curious.

Delighted to see some supporters raise their heads and fascinated to see what looks like a relatively consistent set of messages from users.

Did a very quick message count and reckoned that the split was roughly:
15% say it is a good thing
15% say it should be closed now
70% say it should be changed

Not encouraging for the BLs.

While the majority agree it should be changed I don't think there is a great deal of commonality about how it should be changed.


Robert

Mark Humblestone said...

Attended Robert Craven event and it was great. Courtesy of Business Link. I guess they paid his fees. Maybe BL is a bit like the NHS that it gives us access to stuff that we wouldn't otherwise afford to see.

Mark H

amabilis said...

Robert,

even Business Link's figures suggest the benefits add up to £121m in admin savings and £54m in increased profits.

That adds up to... £175m of self-reported benefits for £190m of spending.

I doubt that includes any costings of the time spent talking to Business Link advisors, especially for businesses too disgruntled to answer the survey.

On that last point, BIS' mystery shopping exercise found that it was very difficult to recruit people to the sample because so many would-be respondents didn't think BL was worth wasting their time on.

So yeah, not great.

Peter E said...

Does Barclays read this blog? Anyone out there?

Pete

Anonymous said...

My opinion is to scrap the BL scheme. I have found them very poor and not really helpful to businesses. I agree with others commenting on here that the advisers have never had any experience running a business,have never had to market a business and aren't very inspiring. Businesses starting up need to have a signposting service of where to go when starting up, which could be done via a website at little or no cost. Many business advisors out there offer poor service and advice and don't have much experience running a business. I have met no end of marketing gurus and business doctors who spout rubbish they have learnt in books and not from real life experience of 'doing business'. (hmmm just given myself an idea for a business as a 'business consultant'). People starting up need to be inspired, have good mentors and learn from the very best. They always say the quickest shortcut to success is to learn from someone who has been there and done it AND got the T Shirt. Perhaps that's why so many fail in the first few years because they never have these inspiring, quality mentors who have done well in business themselves. Also the reason that folks probably sat on the fence is because not that many know or understand what BL do (or exist even) which is down to the way they are marketed, which is ultimately one of the fundamentals of business! No marketing to get customers = NO BUSINESS! I helped my Wife start up recently using my network of accountants/solicitors and using my experience from running my own business and is doing very well thank you! BL offered her around £50 for starting up and a free course or two which didn't help that much. Better off doing the free seminars with Barclays and Robert Craven as you will learn far more at one of their events.

Andrew said...

Fiona, I think you are right about governmental support being essential, but it needs to be in the form of only supporting those who have proven themselves up to a point of a sustainable model in their business.

Part of the reason BL costs so much, is the level of noise generated by the many poor souls who think they have what it takes, but should really have stayed as employee or house-husband/wife. Thus, in catering to such lost souls, BL has turned into a very poor cousin of the Citizens Advice Bureau. It has also attracted staff of the poorest ability, as all they apparently need to do is give out some leaflets and soundbites, job done. Often, even though a little knowledge is indeed a dangerous thing, they will also give out "advice."

If British business is to be admired again, people should have to prove themselves before being given support. At the moment, the UK government seems to want to only keep providing for those mostly without merit, leaving an impossibly long queue for those with merit. I propose that the vast majority of those who have happy stories to tell about BL were simply clueless, but lucky in their outcome.

The mind boggles when, given BL's overall cost to the nation, and poor track record, British people aren't demanding a better outcome.

Andrew said...

Aside from the fact that the cost to benefit ratio is wildly off balance, it's old fashioned, out of touch, and run by people who have never known what it's like to worry about paying the wages and suppliers. It should go.

If people are really driven enough to do something about their business or idea, they will find the right/better advice elsewhere. Conversely, if they really need the sort of dross doled out by the Business Link, one has to wonder about their ability to succeed.

It's been clinically dead for some time now. Time to switch of the life support system.

Roger Harrop said...

In their present format they could go. They are so inconsistent around the country in my experience. On the other hand The Institute for Independent Business - a not-for-profit - who somewhat hide their light under a bushel, are superb with around 3000 Associates around the country who have generally been there and done it and with expertise in pretty well every sector.

RY said...

It has been interesting reading the comments in the posting I couldn't pass comment on that site without signing up for what could be yet another source of spam so I'll stick it here instead{LinkedIn.com, RC). Robert if you want to cut and paste to the original please feel free. I'm a Yorkshire lad living and working in the south (NOT for Business Link but I have worked alongside them in the past) (so every one can oppose my views equally).

Business Link is a PROGRAMME not a business entity. It is tendered and bid for like any other government funded programme. Usually these are match funded through the European Social Fund or similar, hence the inordinate amount of paperwork and tick boxes every time you talk to them or their subcontractors. There is a lot of complaints about the speakers pitching their wares at events, would any of you volunteer your time and expertise without trying to generate new leads to justify your investment?

Was BL a tory "innovation" or was it just a down budgeted rejigging and remarketing of an existing programme that was put out to "the market" to provide greater efficiency.

If you're not happy with what BL in your area is providing you have two options. 1) Complain to the Supplier providing the programme in your area, your RDA, your MP, your local councillor, your trade body, anybody and everybody who will listen, and get it better funded to do what you want it to do. 2) Go to market yourself and pay the full going rate for the advice you want and if you can't afford it you don't deserve it. (market forces rule#1)

Or you can be apathetic and let the politico's scrap it for something else because you really don't care. Just don't be surprised if the something else is option 2) above.

The programme is free at point of use. The consultants used are, for the most part, genuinely good at what they specialise in. If they go into private practise they will not be any better but their time will be a lot more expensive at point of use.

RY

Mike said...

I have been to many Business Link events, they contain useful information but are really a pitch for the individual delivering the event.

I am just starting up and could really do with one-on-one mentoring from someone who knows how to do it. Getting information from a portal does not compete with having someone to come and meet with you.