It takes years to build up the experience necessary to run a business, and even then it’s not unknown for the best of us to make a mistake. But errors aside, where can firms turn to for business advice? The answer, of course, depends on the question being asked.
The government’s business website, operates a very broad-brush approach to topics. However, having just a basic level of knowledge enables sensible questions to be asked.
The topics listed include writing a business plan, setting up a partnership, employers’ liability insurance and renting and buying business premises. There’s also information on running and growing a business as well as financing options too. But the events finder section allows a search to be run for business training and networking events based on location, business sector, topic or type of event.
There is much more to the gov.uk website and the encompassing coverage is why tapping in say ‘retail’ returns so much including matters relating to trading hours for retailers, product labelling, VAT retail schemes and business rates relief.
Mentoring, according to a website called mentorsme.co.uk involves support, guidance and practical help from established professionals (the mentor) to the less experienced person (the mentee).
The site features a limited search facility where mentors can be viewed according to business career stage and region and county. From there mentors can be selected according to communication channel – in person, telephone or online and the cost basis (free, membership or commercial). There isn’t a facility to drill down according to sector (such as retail or motor).
But, as an example, a firm in the South East of England, searching on all business stages of life, would find 45 mentoring organsisations. One, horsesmouth.co.uk, illustrates what an online mentor can offer. A search for ‘retail’ returns 270 references that have degrees of relevance including billsbright (retail startup and development) and mannakin (retail and web design).
Accountancy and Law
Accountants and solicitors are often well placed, especially when dedicated to the trade, to give good advice on topics other than pure tax or legal matters.
Many accountancy practices offer an initial consultation session free of charge and thereafter a service based on fees (that should be negotiable). While it’s an exercise in business development it can nevertheless be used as a starting point for information seekers. One of the accounting bodies in the UK, the ICAEW, specifically offers a Business Advice Service that clearly is designed to promote its members to business. A page on the ICAEW site details what the service is and how it works.
Interestingly, there is nothing in law to stop anyone from setting up in business and offering accountancy services. For that reason alone it makes good sense to ensure that any accountant engaged is qualified and registered with a professional body. The same does not apply to solicitors – anyone practicing in law must be registered with the Law Society.
Apart from the Law Society, the Solicitors Regulation Authority can offer guidance on how to find a good lawyer.
Some may want to consider business support organisations such as the Federation of
Small Businesses (FSB), the Forum of Private Business (FPB) and the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC).
While the bodies differ, there is an overlap in their offerings. The FPB, for example, offer advice and support on all aspects of running and developing a business, with HR and employment guides and an expert business helpline. It also offers advice on how to better protect a firm, and deal efficiently with administration, tax, regulations, legal compliance and other business-related issues. The FSB also offers business protection with legal, employment and tax advice lines as well as providing information on health and safety and legal documents. The BCC offers HR advice and documentation, guidance on health and safety and legal expenses cover.
One last body to consider is the British Retail Consortium which is the only trade association to cover the whole of the retail sector. Membership offers access to lobbying teams, advice and guidance on legislative issues and statistics and business information relating to retail.
Despite the green shoots of recovery that are being hailed, finance is still a real problem for businesses. So where to turn? A first stop could be a body named Better Business Finance backed by some of the UK’s banks and which is run by the British Bankers Association. It not only offers a finance search facility but can help mediate where finance requests have been turned down. Importantly, the finance options are wide-ranging and include supplier finance and grants.
For firms interested in leasing equipment, there’s help from the Finance & Leasing Association, which will assist in finding brokers that can open doors to finance for asset-based acquisitions.
On a strategic tack, the CBI offers background to financial issues, options, examples through its Access to Finance campaign. There’s also a section that offers background detail on the forms of finance that a firm may want to seek. Well, that’s my advice on the subject. Now it’s up to you what you want to do with it.