You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone
In her song “Big Yellow Taxi” Joni Mitchell was not thinking of Business Link when she sang “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone” but the words currently seem significantly appropriate as we see the reformation of BusinessLink into an online and telephone service with the scrapping of government funded face to face business advice.
Known criticisms of Business Link included that the quality of service delivered depended on what region of the country you lived in, that the service didn’t actually give advice as it merely signposted you to other advisors, that it was bureaucratic and over expensive to run, that Business Link employees often hadn’t run businesses so how could they advise on business authoritatively and that they would run courses but not actually help you write or implement your business plan. I have heard business owners feedback that they really got nothing from their association with some Business Link advisors and yet those same people say that a different advisor was invaluable to them in the running of their business.
OK, so maybe it didn’t work for everybody and there may have been national, regional and even local differences in service provision but Foundation East are already starting to feel the negative effects of the scrapping of the service.
Recently Foundation East has seen some potentially good business start ups apply for finance but these businesses are not yet ready to trade as the owners have not yet adequately formulated their business plans. We all know the saying “Fail to plan, plan to fail” and that is the case with these business proposals. They may not have properly researched their market, may not know their competitors and how they will compete against them, have started a marketing plan but not really understand how they are going to put their proposition in front of their customers, and most commonly they will not understand business finance and particularly managing cash flow. We used to be able to refer these enquirers to Business Link and look forwards to receiving a far stronger application from them in due course once the deficiencies in their plans had been addressed with Business Links’ assistance. Currently it is difficult to know who to refer these people to but our economy needs these businesses (the viable ones at least) to be trading to help get us out of the economic state we are in.
HMRC have excellent courses on business finance and there are some business courses being run with residual grants or local government funding from the council. Some accountants have gone back to basics by offering business advice as part of their services. Established business coaches have reviewed their offering to include loss leading business advice services and the banks are fighting criticism with the “mentorsme” website and on-line business planning and operating packages. Most advice you will no have to pay for directly.
Only time will tell whether this support will be enough to get business where it needs to be for the good of our whole economy or whether we will be mourning the passing of Business Link and find ourselves singing the words “You don’t know what you’ve got till its gone”.
Peter Wood, Business Loans Manager