Wednesday, 14 July 2010

What Next After The Business Link?

The Business Link looks to be on its last legs (Private Sector Looks To Step Into Business Link's Shoes [yesterday's FT] and Government Confirms The Business Link's Demise [BusinessZone]).

We have argued for and against the service elsewhere (BL: Should It Stay or Should It Go?, BL, Business Support and Passion, The Truth Is No-one Seems To Care About BL, Doug Richards Rips Into BL). I would argue that there is still a relative lack of interest in the subject. Meanwhile we hear the cries of woe for the current BL staff.

But what about the clients??? What about the small/medium/growing businesses in need of help and assistance?

Another re-organisation of the Business Support Industry puts any programmes/initiatives on hold. And the ones who suffer will be the poor clients.

Leaving aside the huge irony of a Government department trying to sort out entrepreneurship, there will still be a demand for some form of support/assistance for budding and growing businesses.

I will be the first to argue that naive, inexperienced business people need help and assistance of some form - DIY is not an option (What Is The Message?).

Consultants will crop up all over the place to accommodate the nascent need (Consultancy in a Recession). This will be a good thing for the high-performing consultants but it will be bad for potential clients.

People who don't know what they don't know will get lured into buying wonderful promises and 'get rich quick' schemes as unscrupulous entrepreneurs fleece them of their money (Its Free And It Can Help Your Business... Whatever!!!).

As I said before, the consultancy businesses with long track records and impeccable credentials (reputation, testimonials and track record) have nothing to fear.

So what next?
1) All BL services go into freefall - no-one knows what is going on.
2) Several hundred (ex-BL) business advisers could be about to be let loose on the market.
3) New options will appear scrabbling to fill the hole that will be left by the eventual demise of the BL.
4) The Government will create a new centralised solution to local problems. (How does that work?)
5) Something better...

From our point of view we have seen an exponential growth in people signing up for our Business Club www.directorscentre.co.uk - a free, online business club with workbooks, worksheets, videos, thought bubbles, case studies suddenly becomes an incredibly attractive option for the insatiable curiosity of 'growing business' owners. The tagline, "by entrepreneurs; for entrepreneurs" is what people like. Similarly our new website http://www.directorscentre.com/ has seen an unprecedented numbers of hits.

The world of established/reputable business support and consultancy is really just a small village. Everyone has seen the change in the last month or so. Everyone is adjusting their offering to reflect how they think they can satisfy market needs.

Maybe the market will solve the problem before the Government has finished its consultation...


RELEVANT LINKS

92 comments:

Jim (BL) said...

Yes, there has to be something better. Yes, the Govnt will not come up with a cunning solution. Yes, market forces mean we will get a bunch of hit-and-run merchants ripping off the SMEs. yes, some offering will be better than others. But all this has been the case for the last 10 years. So, what is the difference?

Jonathan said...

Like other 'solution providers' we are happy that punters will see us for what we are in my SME Business Growth training company. No names. Discretion is the best part of valour etc. Keep going Robert.

Marjory D said...

Want to stay out of this but who calls their clients "PUNTERS"?

Madge

Jonathan said...

Point taken.

J

Amanda E said...

While I had no huge complaints about the BL I had no great expectations either. What did you honestly expect?

And the future is fine. I will find the 'support' I need. I will ignore what I think is rubbish. Please give me the repsect to recognise the difference between one and the other.

Amanada E

AMW said...

The IOD is a perfectly sensible place for small businesses to go for their business advice support needs. www.iod.com

Marjory D said...

Nobody minds a bit of self-promotion from the blog author (Jonathan was discreet) but this IOD one is a bit blatant. If it is true and genuine, he is the MD Andrew Maine Wilson.

Unknown said...

OK - Madge - don't think he would be so blatant. Probably a hoax but let's just get on with the debate and see what happens. Happy to remove the comment at a later stage.

A lot of activity on this blog posting. Not sure why.

RC

Colin D said...

Like your introductory remark Robert.... very dry!

I totally agree that integrity and a good reputation will see sort out the wheat from the chaff as far as consultants go.

Colin

fit to print said...

RT @Robert_Craven: What Next After Business Link? http://bit.ly/am0urB// there's enough expertise/support on Twitter/LI to fill the void..

gerryipat said...

that means opportunity for those who really can do to shine so long as sensible about fees

Karin H said...

"Maybe the market will solve the problem before the Government has finished its consultation..."

IMHO that's already happening, I see LinkedIn groups (regional and per sector) popping up all over the place, dedicated to help each other and specially start-ups out.

Everyone can "chip" in this way and everyone can learn (even those who think they know it all ;-))

Karin H

Theo Parker said...

"Maybe the market will solve the problem before the Government has finished its consultation..."
and then the Govnt won't need to bother = more savings

EN said...

Whatever comes next needs to build on the experience and expertise that various BL activities have developed over the last 10 years. It would be sad to see that lost. Good to see the bureaucracy and stodginess gone but the RDAS's control the BLs, they are due to go also but what replaces them. Its all linked (no pun intended).

EN

Theo Parker said...

Interesting point "there's enough expertise/support on Twitter/LI to fill the void.."

Makes you wonder what the boys and girls have been doing at the BL.

Karin H said...

@Theo:
Who says the boys and girls of BL are not among them?

MM said...

Hi all - Robert you are of course correct, DIY is not an option and established "business advice" consultancies that have a track record have nothing to to fear.. I only hope that someone like the IOD or the banks recognises this and helps business owners find consultants that can help in a cost effective manner. Unfortunately it will take a large, respected private sector organisation like the IOD (banks etc...) to influence this market place - or we will get the result you paint, which is lots of "ill equipt" individuals (coaches??) believing they can solve the problems of SMEs.

MM

David S said...

MM

Surely you are not serious. The banks or the IOD! Neither has arrived in the 21st century. Neither knows what a customer is or what customer service is so why should they be able to help? Neither knows what it is like to run a small business.

David

JP said...

LinkedIn Groups
Group: Business Link Networking Groups
Subject: New comment (18) on "The end for BL?"
The demise of business link - well not sure what the future holds with LEPs and what ever else is put in place. The Consultancy Group I work with provide advice into Business Link Specialist Programmes, which is seeing a cut in funding and hence less work. I would like to think that yes this is all great for the future - however as mentioned in a previous post - Will companies pay for the private sector to provide Business Support, or is it the case that for the SME market the private sector will have to adjust the rates they charge - or the business models they operate with.

Who really knows, all we do know is it's all going to change. Hopefully for the better.

We all have a chance to comment on what LEPs and Business Support should be doing - send in your views to the Commons Business Committee.. http://blogs.birminghampost.net/news/2010/07/commons-business-committee-ask.html

AC said...

People setting up in business or already in business should go where they can get the best advise and assistance. That is their accountant. They deal with the problems of just about every type of business there is. Not just their tax and accounts which only they are qualified to do ,but business advise from experience gained through years of experience of helping their clients through their developing years.

Accountants are not just there to support them in the short term they are there for life. Go to your accountant first if he cannot help or is unwilling to do so then look elsewhere or find another accountant.

AC

EN said...

Mr C

The point you are missing (or waiting for)is "what are you going to do about it?" As you say the oppportunity is huge. And what about Barclays? And what about you AND Barclays?

Sienna White said...

As you know, I have found the Business Club very useful.

They say that Bis Link will end up being a website plus some private delivery so no change there. More average stuff written in a way that isn't meant to offend anyone's sensitivity. Even I can see that as plain wrong.

Meantime I suggest Directors' Centre Business Club does more to create the hub for online plus the opportunity for people to do the one to one thing with your consultants.

So who is paying for the Club? Govnt pays for the Biz Link and I know you are not a charity. How does it all work?

And while we are on the subject, what about Barclays?

CS said...

I was worried this might happen. Business Link has been hugely helpful to me, especially with their free seminars. The newly unemployed probably make up about half the room at these events - instead of giving up, these people are bravely striking out on their own. They are smart and hard-working. We will have to download all the online tools before they disappear. What a shortsighted cut this would be.

TD said...

Along with the loss of Business Link will be the loss of Government funding that I have helped 28 of my business-owner clients access in the last 18 months. This funding, up to £1000, has been instrumental in Business Owners taking up Business Coaching Programmes to help develp and grow their businesses and become more profitable. I have seen enormous success with my clients who have taken on new staff as they have grown and this surely helps the country get back to work. Imagine if every small business was able to take on just one new member of staff because they had grown through accessing the right help through funding, then the unemployment figures would drop dramatically saving this country lots of much needed money after the recession. Cutting funding to SMEs is a very short-sighted 'saving' of money and everything possible should be done to support SMEs who are the life-blood of the recovery of this economy.

RC said...

I do not think it is time to celebrate the end of Business Link. For me it was a great idea and refresher course for setting up a business from scratch without any outlay. The quality of some of the tutors could definitely have been better. However, the fact it was available to both new and existing businesses who identified they needed help was an excellent idea.

As far as I can see, I have yet to see this government support entrepreneurship. Job Centres are still very much geared to getting people back into working for an employer rather than helping them develop a business idea.

Quite frankly, all I have seen is as this recession get deeper and deeper, that any help to encourage people to setup by themselves is non existent. There are those that argue that this is the way to go, because if you can survive and build a business with little or no support you are more likely to remain in business, but taking away knowledge, as Business Link offered is in my humble opinion a huge mistake.

I remain interested to see what happens next. In the meantime will keep trudging on as before, one foot in front of the other.

Unknown said...

The RC above is not me!

Robert Craven

Jim (BL) said...

I attended one of your talks and you talked about attracting the sort of clients who get what you are about. "You get the clients you deserve" is what you said and this will be the case here.

Maybe the reverse is also true that "clients get the consultants (or adivsers or mentors or coaches) they deserve."

Jim

Amanda E said...

On reflection, something better than BL needs to happen. Local or national I am not sure. But something needs to happen. While BL appears to be a red herring (lots of people didn't like it) it still provided a potentially valuable service. Maybe the Cravens of the world maybe with the help of Barclays can do soemthing significant. Have they got the vision?

Amanda

Anonymous said...

@PhilOrford: Local enterprise partnerships & y the private sector cn provide the best business support http://bit.ly/bDkhmw

HH said...

I agree. My point is that now, more than ever, there is a whole wealth of advice out there and businesses no longer need to go into a Business Link branch to find it. There are lots of experts, with loads of relevant experience, happy to answer questions in groups such as this.

Peter said...

As a specialist IT consultant currently delivering support through Business Links my observations on this are:

All entrepreneurs need expert help and advice when they encounter issues for the first time or sometimes they just need an objective outside view with up to date knowledge of a subject area - and that holds true for all aspects of business: finance, legal, HR, production, marketing, IT, logisitics and even blocked drains.

The big question is where do you go for trusted advice and support, self help groups and workbooks are helpful up to a point but the danger always is reusing someone else's solution to your unique problem and set of circumstances. A good consultant will help you to understand the nuances and identify the risks in different approaches

If you do use consultants it is far cheaper to get them to steer sometimes and than to row all the time. So make the best use of their time to help you to set policy and direction and drive the changes internally.

Overall I can agree with Robert that he is being contentiously naive, high performing consultants that get quickly to the ehart of a problem and identify the best way forwards are exceptionally good news for clients not bad. High charging consultants though are a very different matter..Always get consultants to demonstrate value - and make sure that you are paying for skills and experience not a palatial office and luxury car - unless its mine of course.

Peter.

OA said...

I used to work for Business Link and still work in amongst enterprise support organisations, as well as running my own business which, as well as the core business also advises clients in our field of expertise - starting and growing foee with od businesses. Many clients come to us and say "I have learnt more from you in an hour than I have from all the govt funded support organisations I have approached". and that's because the generic advice can only go so far before the client needs more bespoke advice relevant to their aspirations and gaps in knowledge/confidence. Agree with Robert; support still needed, funding still needed. But after 15 years it is time for a change because the old model of delivery is too expensive and does not reach deep enough. I also advocate strongly that the "advice" money should follow the client - let the client choose the supplier they think is best for their needs and then provide some funding to help them afford private sector support. Consultants/providers will then have to compete on relevance, quality and price.

OA

CW said...

I have received invaluable advice from Business Link through business reviews and after specific requests for information and was very sorry to hear the organisation was going. I guess in the future I won't be able to ask questions without having to pay for the answers!

CW

ST said...

This may be a tad controversial, but it is garnered from the experience of some clients that I worked with previously, as well as me attending some Business Link events within the last 6 months, and it is this:

The fact that many Business Link 'services' were free, was a BAD thing.

So why would that be a bad thing?

Well, despite the good intentions from Business Link, businesses that I have spoken to just didn't take free advice with the same seriousness as paid advice. Simple as that. The perception was that if it is free then it cannot really be that beneficial/advantageous/useful, and therefore was infrequently acted upon or implemented.

Personally, having attended a few of their events prior to the change in Government, I agree to a degree. I think that the way they delivered their information was dated and inappropriate, too much, too overwhelming - expecting attendees to take notes.

In one notable event I'm also not sure that the level of expertise and experience was relevant to the audience - as a presentation full of big corporate examples, case studies and strategies was being given to SMEs - the audience looked both shell-shocked and confused all at the same time.

This is purely based upon my own experiences however.

As already mentioned, there should be enough quality consultants and professionals out there to pick up the slack, albeit in many cases not gratis. I suppose, as in all cases, the issue is finding the good ones amongst the not-so good ones.

ST

GE said...

Robert is absolutely right - there are many businesses who need face to face support (they may not need huge rafts of it, but they need it all the same), and I am not sure that a call centre and website will do the trick. But we have yet to see the detail of the plans the government have in place, and I for one, will be interested to see how all this plays out.

RH said...

Myself, my business and my 20 employees are in a much better position today than we would have been without the help, support, advice and training received from Business Link. The face to face business review has been of enormous help in pushing my business forward.

CA said...

As one of the Independent consultants Business Link used to deliver the business review service, I am particularly sad to see the service change. Many start up and small business owners have gone on to achieve greater success because of the support they have received. The high level of customer satisfaction statistics show this to be the case in Sussex.

I doubt whether a call centre and/or website option will truly work, as part of the success achieved in the past has been due a consultant working with the business owner on a face to face basis over time, getting to know and understand the business to offer real value plus the full back up service available from the Business Link office including training where required.

I too will watch the governments next steps with interest.

GreyMatterUK said...

The same thing has happened in Wales - http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-10702611
The business grant culture is finished, and about time too. Hundreds of lightweight consultants have produced poor quality reports that add no value to the client's business.

But we are our own worst enemy - creating a market and expectation that does not require any form of accreditation or quality control.

It will take a while for SMEs to realise they have to pay for good quality service - but when they do, they will be looking for qualified consultants, with accreditations, references and an up to date set of testimonilas to support heir claims of "I can improve the performance of your business"

Mike Warren - GreyMatter - Cardiff

Accountant Now said...

Robert - excellent blog topic.

BL has been major fiasco, and no offence meant to all parties involved.

In areas where BL had adviser trying to be the solution, it was self evident that it lacked the calibre/resources/skills (@£22k approx) to deliver what was needed.

Acting as 3rd party referrer was an improvement but again it lacked the 'follow through continuity'.

The private sector is fare better placed to deliver value and professionalism.

The fear of rogue consultants is greatly overstated, but consultant registers help a little towards sifting out the 'ill intentioned'.

Perhaps legislation to say all consultants must have passed a certain accreditation may also help.

In conclusion. Where did BL go wrong?
It was (i) Inefficient (ii) Ineffective (iii) Expensive.

If RC was Minister responsible for SMEs (is that Vince Cable currently?) what we do....no sugar coating Robert!

Anonymous said...

A sobering statistic I came across: "an analysis of 46 government websites revealed that the current Business Link national site is the most expensive at an annual cost of £35m or £2.15 per user. "

Money well spent?

Unknown said...

ouch!
With 4m small businesses it makes 8.75 per business per year. With mkt penetration clained at roughly 10% (ie 400,000 businesses) it makes it 87.50 per business. If half those business actually used it, it makes it 175 pounds per business that used it

RC

Anonymous said...

answer to the earlier "should it stay? should it go ?" question (but posted today!):

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?

Christopher said...

Again Mr C, what are you getting ta here? Why should you care? Your brand is too strong to worry about such things. You have others begging you to work with them so what is your issue?

Chris

CP said...

I have been on the receiving and delivery end of Business Link services. I offer marketing support to SMEs and was hired as a sub-contractor by my local Business Link in 2000 as a start-up advisor. I went on to deliver start-up training and marketing workshops (all SME relevant from my 20 years experience in small and medium-sized firm!) I felt that we offered a great service in some areas, e.g. start-up where the delivery was focussed and delivered by people with relevant knowledge and experience. I was a rare beast being female, an SME owner, under 40 and from a marketing background. The problem for clients seemend to be, quite rightly, that most advisors were giving advice across a range of business issues and sectors when they had no personal experience of them. Whilst an accountant was a valued source of advice they wanted a marketer to talk to them about marketing and an HR person about people issues.

After I decided to turn down further invitations to contract with Business Link (in 2006) I became a client because I rented space in an innovation hub. Here things went from bad to worse - there was so much red tape that our business growth was hampered by a dinosaur of an organisation moving too slowly for a light-footed SME growing rapidly. The Regional Development Agencies had popped up to add a fruethr layer of bureaucracy.We made a swift exit. I have little contact with Business Link now except the skills advisors who have been very helpful in assisting us with personal and team development.

Ongoing changes to the role of business advisers within Business Link have made them no more than glorified account managers and the referral systems they are supposed to use to link clients to competent, professional consultants, when they have need of them, seem to be used in a piecemeal fashion, and personal networks seem to be more important.

Without Business Links I think SMEs will be lost in a sea of options. Whilst social networking will help by curating information on quality suppliers I think it is still very subjective. I have endless requests to link with people on LinkedIn who I have met just once at a network meeting and I wonder how many people can genuinely recommend others on this basis?

Perhaps people will look for other forms of accreditation more? Like membership of professional bodies and ongoing CPD. There are lots of people out there who call themsleves online marketing consultants because they've been early adopters of Twitter!!

I wonder what other systems of support have worked in other countires? Why reinvent the wheel? Somehow it seems contradictory for a government to be singing the praises of SMEs and their importance to growth and at the same time not providing an effective suport environment.

CC said...

My limited experience of Business Link and similar organisations is that services provided are very off the shelf. I've been sent a 'one size fits all' leaflet on sales when I asked for some sales training and in truth, was quite insulted by what I read. Do I like 'free'? Not really.

If the way foward is for small businesses to pay for professional advice, they should consider how to maximise their ROI. Link is the key word for me here. Business strategy, marketing strategy, financial strategy are all so closely linked that in an ideal world SME owners will be able to work with professional advisors that work with each other in the interests of the SME they represent, to pool the resources of that business, reduce waste, and maintain focus on setting and delivering specific business objectives.

Viewing professional services in isolation has the potential to be, in my view, very costly and detrimental to the business. Get them working together, and it may be an entirely different ball game.

CW said...

Business Link served a purpose in awakening S.M.Es to the idea of using business advisers and consultants. In effect, they educated the S.M.E community in the nature of business advice by achieving high brand awareness. As BL fades away they will leave us with a legacy of S.M.Es who understand that external advisers have have something to add to S.M.E. performance.

GD said...

I asked Business Link for assistance to find a suitable factory unit for production of food ingredients and flavours, hoping for an inside track of the South West property marketplace - their advice (after 4 days) - "Contact some of the big estate agencies like King Sturge". Bring on the quango bonfire!!!!

Sarah Harris said...

Having been on both sides of the fence as owner manager of an SME, then as a business information manager at Business Link - and now back in the SME environment, I understand both the weaknesses and the strengths of BL.

One of the things that SME owners and managers want/need most is confidence. Confidence that what they are doing is OK. An endorsement, another opinion, a third party perspective, some useful pointers. Hence the value of chewing the fat with others in the same world - be it in the pub, networking events - or right here and now in a virtual communities.

Good advice, recommendations and warnings all abound through social media and and it is surely not beyond the wit of business managers to differentiate between the credible and. . . . the opposite and make up their own minds how to explore ideas further and who to trust?

As has already been noted, BL advisers could never be all things to all businesses but they do provide that third party impartiality of opinion, a useful sounding board and suggestions.

However, that kind of support is available from any number of sources, ranging from paid consultants to the internet, from organised industry associations to social media and virtual communities. The choice is there, so it is surely a matter of individual preference, mixing and matching to suit yourself.

If as a result of a blog, conversation or a meeting, you are able to better organise your thinking and set yourself some actions and objectives that will help the business forward, then it will not be time wasted.

Unknown said...

I have just been flamed by a Business Link person for being "positively anti-BL".

Actually I have given people a platform to discuss the BL.

Just thought I should clear things up.

A close reading of my blogs will reveal my frustration that more people don't care about it... that it has developed a poor reputation in some places) and so forth.

Robert

Andrew said...

I am not surprised about the 'misunderstanding'.

You will always risk being branded as the 'evil one' if you insist on getting people to talk about difficult subjects.

BLs (in their defence) can't bite back (gagging orders etc) so they have to sit on the sidelines and watch. Your Jim may be an exception.

I have always seen that you raise the issues and your frustrations and then the rest of the world starts the bitching.

Do not worry about the flaming. There's one thing worse than people talking about you and that is people not talking about you.

A read through the blog links in the posting will demonstrate that you are fair but skeptical.
Nothing wrong with that.


Andrew

Jim (BL) said...

BLs think you are the 'evil one'? Most prophets (profits?) have the same problem! Potentially you are the saviour of the small business.

J said...

Sorry - you cannot open up a debate and not take responsibility for what people say.


By allowing people to bitch about the BLink you are encouraging an anti-BLink culture.


How dare you have the audacity to allow all this bad press without balancing the comments. You need to get your act together and fast.


Is it any wonder that we treat you with suspicion.


Unless you are prepared to be 100% positive and pro-Business Link then I think that the entire network should disown and blacklist you.


We simply cannot allow people like you, Doug Richards and so on to perpetrate essentially negative and hostile commentary on an over-worked and under-resourced service that has done amazing if unrecognised work.


J
(name/location not disclosed for obvious reasons)

MW said...

"over worked and under-resourced" just about sums them up! Would being blacklisted bother you?

Anonymous said...

Surely to be a balance view then it must NOT be 100% pro BLink but rather 50%-50% and there is also a thing called freeness of speech and expression. This is roberts site and as such he has the right to post his views and expressions. He has kindly let others respond to his views in reponse to them and so started a open debate. If BLink dont like those views then surely they should remove his site it from their favourites list or have they got it as their home page?!

Kevin Chamberlain said...

I think most of us guessed that Business Link was a doomed concept when the new contracts were awarded a few years ago.

It seems to me that we are not really asking enough questions about what it did/does do well/what was/is valued.

Start ups are important to governments, you get people off of unemployment benefit and then at the end of the first year of trading you can tax them on money they have not yet earned. I won't bother with the expense/non-sense of IR35 etc.

So, my point is, do more of what is done well, and stop treating the self employed as probable fraudsters, and the sector will be the healthier.

Funding of course is an issue for many potential business people, but that is a whole other debate.

Networking groups, formal and informal, physical and electronic can now provide support in ways that did not exist when Business Link was formed and Robert's organisation is a prime example.

What support should be directly funded by government and what are the needs that private enterprise can offer in innovative and competitive ways/

Linda B said...

When I first looked at what Robert was saying about the BL I was convinced that his message was broadly negative. I think that this is not right.

Actually his view is more positive that negative. I believe that he think it is a 'good thing' but he is critical (or do I mean demanding?) of the service itself.

I imagine that he sees it for the potential it has to offer.

But I may be way off the mark.

Anonymous said...

Robert fits into the 'challenger' role. Quite rightly he asks a lot of the BLs and why not. He is not interested in politics but in results. As a result his approach of asking the tough questions is entirely reasonable.

A passing read through his posts and you will see that he is rarely the one saying the totally obnoxious "shut them all down" comments.

But he does (and did) open the debate and it is good that it is now being discussed rather than being ignored.

Everyone (esp those in the BL movement should thank him rather than attack him).

Bls only have themselves to blame for their reputations (good or bad).

Jerry B

Sam S. @ home business opportunities said...

I believe BL is still important and should continue. What's the problem with making community of the same interest.

It helped a lot of people for many years and should stay that way.

JJ said...

I am afraid it really is on the way out now.

Jonathan

Unknown said...

hi, its very informative, Business Growth Advice , thanks

Jim (BL) said...

Wakey wakey - five months later and nothing has changed

JJ said...

I am afraid it really is on the way out now.

Jonathan

Linda B said...

When I first looked at what Robert was saying about the BL I was convinced that his message was broadly negative. I think that this is not right.

Actually his view is more positive that negative. I believe that he think it is a 'good thing' but he is critical (or do I mean demanding?) of the service itself.

I imagine that he sees it for the potential it has to offer.

But I may be way off the mark.

Kevin Chamberlain said...

I think most of us guessed that Business Link was a doomed concept when the new contracts were awarded a few years ago.

It seems to me that we are not really asking enough questions about what it did/does do well/what was/is valued.

Start ups are important to governments, you get people off of unemployment benefit and then at the end of the first year of trading you can tax them on money they have not yet earned. I won't bother with the expense/non-sense of IR35 etc.

So, my point is, do more of what is done well, and stop treating the self employed as probable fraudsters, and the sector will be the healthier.

Funding of course is an issue for many potential business people, but that is a whole other debate.

Networking groups, formal and informal, physical and electronic can now provide support in ways that did not exist when Business Link was formed and Robert's organisation is a prime example.

What support should be directly funded by government and what are the needs that private enterprise can offer in innovative and competitive ways/

CC said...

My limited experience of Business Link and similar organisations is that services provided are very off the shelf. I've been sent a 'one size fits all' leaflet on sales when I asked for some sales training and in truth, was quite insulted by what I read. Do I like 'free'? Not really.

If the way foward is for small businesses to pay for professional advice, they should consider how to maximise their ROI. Link is the key word for me here. Business strategy, marketing strategy, financial strategy are all so closely linked that in an ideal world SME owners will be able to work with professional advisors that work with each other in the interests of the SME they represent, to pool the resources of that business, reduce waste, and maintain focus on setting and delivering specific business objectives.

Viewing professional services in isolation has the potential to be, in my view, very costly and detrimental to the business. Get them working together, and it may be an entirely different ball game.

Anonymous said...

answer to the earlier "should it stay? should it go ?" question (but posted today!):

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?

Robert Craven said...

ouch!
With 4m small businesses it makes 8.75 per business per year. With mkt penetration clained at roughly 10% (ie 400,000 businesses) it makes it 87.50 per business. If half those business actually used it, it makes it 175 pounds per business that used it

RC

Accountant Now said...

Robert - excellent blog topic.

BL has been major fiasco, and no offence meant to all parties involved.

In areas where BL had adviser trying to be the solution, it was self evident that it lacked the calibre/resources/skills (@£22k approx) to deliver what was needed.

Acting as 3rd party referrer was an improvement but again it lacked the 'follow through continuity'.

The private sector is fare better placed to deliver value and professionalism.

The fear of rogue consultants is greatly overstated, but consultant registers help a little towards sifting out the 'ill intentioned'.

Perhaps legislation to say all consultants must have passed a certain accreditation may also help.

In conclusion. Where did BL go wrong?
It was (i) Inefficient (ii) Ineffective (iii) Expensive.

If RC was Minister responsible for SMEs (is that Vince Cable currently?) what we do....no sugar coating Robert!

GreyMatterUK said...

The same thing has happened in Wales - http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-10702611
The business grant culture is finished, and about time too. Hundreds of lightweight consultants have produced poor quality reports that add no value to the client's business.

But we are our own worst enemy - creating a market and expectation that does not require any form of accreditation or quality control.

It will take a while for SMEs to realise they have to pay for good quality service - but when they do, they will be looking for qualified consultants, with accreditations, references and an up to date set of testimonilas to support heir claims of "I can improve the performance of your business"

Mike Warren - GreyMatter - Cardiff

CA said...

As one of the Independent consultants Business Link used to deliver the business review service, I am particularly sad to see the service change. Many start up and small business owners have gone on to achieve greater success because of the support they have received. The high level of customer satisfaction statistics show this to be the case in Sussex.

I doubt whether a call centre and/or website option will truly work, as part of the success achieved in the past has been due a consultant working with the business owner on a face to face basis over time, getting to know and understand the business to offer real value plus the full back up service available from the Business Link office including training where required.

I too will watch the governments next steps with interest.

ST said...

This may be a tad controversial, but it is garnered from the experience of some clients that I worked with previously, as well as me attending some Business Link events within the last 6 months, and it is this:

The fact that many Business Link 'services' were free, was a BAD thing.

So why would that be a bad thing?

Well, despite the good intentions from Business Link, businesses that I have spoken to just didn't take free advice with the same seriousness as paid advice. Simple as that. The perception was that if it is free then it cannot really be that beneficial/advantageous/useful, and therefore was infrequently acted upon or implemented.

Personally, having attended a few of their events prior to the change in Government, I agree to a degree. I think that the way they delivered their information was dated and inappropriate, too much, too overwhelming - expecting attendees to take notes.

In one notable event I'm also not sure that the level of expertise and experience was relevant to the audience - as a presentation full of big corporate examples, case studies and strategies was being given to SMEs - the audience looked both shell-shocked and confused all at the same time.

This is purely based upon my own experiences however.

As already mentioned, there should be enough quality consultants and professionals out there to pick up the slack, albeit in many cases not gratis. I suppose, as in all cases, the issue is finding the good ones amongst the not-so good ones.

ST

OA said...

I used to work for Business Link and still work in amongst enterprise support organisations, as well as running my own business which, as well as the core business also advises clients in our field of expertise - starting and growing foee with od businesses. Many clients come to us and say "I have learnt more from you in an hour than I have from all the govt funded support organisations I have approached". and that's because the generic advice can only go so far before the client needs more bespoke advice relevant to their aspirations and gaps in knowledge/confidence. Agree with Robert; support still needed, funding still needed. But after 15 years it is time for a change because the old model of delivery is too expensive and does not reach deep enough. I also advocate strongly that the "advice" money should follow the client - let the client choose the supplier they think is best for their needs and then provide some funding to help them afford private sector support. Consultants/providers will then have to compete on relevance, quality and price.

OA

HH said...

I agree. My point is that now, more than ever, there is a whole wealth of advice out there and businesses no longer need to go into a Business Link branch to find it. There are lots of experts, with loads of relevant experience, happy to answer questions in groups such as this.

Amanda E said...

On reflection, something better than BL needs to happen. Local or national I am not sure. But something needs to happen. While BL appears to be a red herring (lots of people didn't like it) it still provided a potentially valuable service. Maybe the Cravens of the world maybe with the help of Barclays can do soemthing significant. Have they got the vision?

Amanda

RC said...

I do not think it is time to celebrate the end of Business Link. For me it was a great idea and refresher course for setting up a business from scratch without any outlay. The quality of some of the tutors could definitely have been better. However, the fact it was available to both new and existing businesses who identified they needed help was an excellent idea.

As far as I can see, I have yet to see this government support entrepreneurship. Job Centres are still very much geared to getting people back into working for an employer rather than helping them develop a business idea.

Quite frankly, all I have seen is as this recession get deeper and deeper, that any help to encourage people to setup by themselves is non existent. There are those that argue that this is the way to go, because if you can survive and build a business with little or no support you are more likely to remain in business, but taking away knowledge, as Business Link offered is in my humble opinion a huge mistake.

I remain interested to see what happens next. In the meantime will keep trudging on as before, one foot in front of the other.

TD said...

Along with the loss of Business Link will be the loss of Government funding that I have helped 28 of my business-owner clients access in the last 18 months. This funding, up to £1000, has been instrumental in Business Owners taking up Business Coaching Programmes to help develp and grow their businesses and become more profitable. I have seen enormous success with my clients who have taken on new staff as they have grown and this surely helps the country get back to work. Imagine if every small business was able to take on just one new member of staff because they had grown through accessing the right help through funding, then the unemployment figures would drop dramatically saving this country lots of much needed money after the recession. Cutting funding to SMEs is a very short-sighted 'saving' of money and everything possible should be done to support SMEs who are the life-blood of the recovery of this economy.

EN said...

Mr C

The point you are missing (or waiting for)is "what are you going to do about it?" As you say the oppportunity is huge. And what about Barclays? And what about you AND Barclays?

JP said...

LinkedIn Groups
Group: Business Link Networking Groups
Subject: New comment (18) on "The end for BL?"
The demise of business link - well not sure what the future holds with LEPs and what ever else is put in place. The Consultancy Group I work with provide advice into Business Link Specialist Programmes, which is seeing a cut in funding and hence less work. I would like to think that yes this is all great for the future - however as mentioned in a previous post - Will companies pay for the private sector to provide Business Support, or is it the case that for the SME market the private sector will have to adjust the rates they charge - or the business models they operate with.

Who really knows, all we do know is it's all going to change. Hopefully for the better.

We all have a chance to comment on what LEPs and Business Support should be doing - send in your views to the Commons Business Committee.. http://blogs.birminghampost.net/news/2010/07/commons-business-committee-ask.html

David S said...

MM

Surely you are not serious. The banks or the IOD! Neither has arrived in the 21st century. Neither knows what a customer is or what customer service is so why should they be able to help? Neither knows what it is like to run a small business.

David

Karin H said...

"Maybe the market will solve the problem before the Government has finished its consultation..."

IMHO that's already happening, I see LinkedIn groups (regional and per sector) popping up all over the place, dedicated to help each other and specially start-ups out.

Everyone can "chip" in this way and everyone can learn (even those who think they know it all ;-))

Karin H

fit to print said...

RT @Robert_Craven: What Next After Business Link? http://bit.ly/am0urB// there's enough expertise/support on Twitter/LI to fill the void..

AMW said...

The IOD is a perfectly sensible place for small businesses to go for their business advice support needs. www.iod.com

Jim (BL) said...

Yes, there has to be something better. Yes, the Govnt will not come up with a cunning solution. Yes, market forces mean we will get a bunch of hit-and-run merchants ripping off the SMEs. yes, some offering will be better than others. But all this has been the case for the last 10 years. So, what is the difference?

Denis said...

this was prophetic.
Denis

Sian said...

Your prophecy is fairly accurate. The core of the argument is contained in this para:

So what next?
1) All BL services go into freefall - no-one knows what is going on.
2) Several hundred (ex-BL) business advisers could be about to be let loose on the market.
3) New options will appear scrabbling to fill the hole that will be left by the eventual demise of the BL.
4) The Government will create a new centralised solution to local problems. (How does that work?)
5) Something better...

Shame about the advert at the end.

Sian

PaulNez said...

Govt backed link farm website #StartUpBritain linked to malware - http://ow.ly/1sihHX

PaulNez said...

@apricotmuffins @dollymixture - it's farcical just how bad & unhelpful #startupbritain really is. I'll stick to BusinessLink et al. xx

PaulNez said...

@fractals: Why #StartUpBritain is nothing more than a government backed link farm http://ht.ly/4q5iN

PaulNez said...

@sawdrl: #startupbritain http://t.co/EzkhTdo Is this a huge joke ? Just where on the website can you see what funding HMG will provide for startups

PaulNez said...

#startupbritain is an episode of The Thick of It. Hollow. Link farm. Malware. Bad design. Derivative of Businesslink. And... farcical comedy

Robert Craven said...

entrepreneurship is not the same as self employment

http://ideas.economist.com/blog/entrepreneurship-%E2%89%A0-self-employment

Martin said...

DragonDen Peter Jones hits back in row - Telegraph http://tgr.ph/m1aD7K Handbags at dawn to help startups!!!