Surprisingly, many small and medium enterprises (known as SMEs) don’t realise quite how much free business advice and subsidised services are available to help them succeed. Part of this is down to the current difficult economic climate, which means the government is investing heavily in entrepreneurship and the lifeblood of British industry; small and medium businesses.If you are a start-up, sole trader, agency, partnership or medium sized limited firm looking to grow, then accessing free business advice could be one of the best things you ever do. Firstly, do a search for national advice sources and look at providers such as Business Link and government websites such as UK Trade & Investment for plenty of advice and guidance. You’ll find that there’s a wealth of information online, as well as in print.
Do a search for local service providers in your area, those visibly funded by public or corporate funding sources rather than acting as commercial organisations. Look for quality marks, partner brands and accreditations to know that you’re engaging with a trustworthy and high quality source of good advice too. If you contact these providers and register your interest, they will tell you about the advice services they offer and other products and services they can signpost you to. For example, there may be funded coaching or mentoring available, which is a great way to learn from more experienced industry professionals who are passionate about helping new businesses to grow. There may also be funded or subsidised training programmes to help you and your staff develop skills in targeted businesses areas where you have development needs. There may be sources of grant information and funding advice if investment is an area you need to know more on. Also look out for funded programmes sponsored by large corporations, as there are a number of these devoted to specific business groups and purposes, such as SMEs and start-ups looking for business training over a short intensive period and there can often be commercial opportunities that arise from meeting a new group of businesses with a common purpose.There are also a range of online forums and networking groups where you can ask questions and swap ideas in a private network of like minded businesses. Look at groups on Linked In and attend business focused networking events to find useful sources of contacts. You may find other businesses to link up with to knowledge swap and build new ideas with.
Remember too that contacts and conversations are often the best ways to get advice from people you trust. Be open about needing a steer in a particular area and chances are, someone will know someone who can help. You may be able to offer them specialist knowledge or advice from your own sector in return, for your mutual benefit. Don’t be shy about admitting ignorance in a certain area as most business people are delighted to share their knowledge and experience to help the wider community and build stronger business networks in their area. Set the bar by openly and honestly offering expert advice as much as you ask for it.