Original article written by Stephen Fear for the Urban Times August 2013.
With small businesses dubbed the key to growth in the US, UK and Canada – what can be done to ensure they’re as effective as possible? We hear from leading entrepreneur, Stephen Fear.
Stop The (Business) Casualties
The United States of America, Canada and the United Kingdom share more than a common language – they also share a belief in democracy. Canada and the UK, also share a head of state being Queen Elizabeth II, and a similar legal system.
The importance of entrepreneurs to society is another thing held in high esteem by this trio; whose populations recognise the need for jobs and employment – the outcome of successful enterprises. All in all, they have created unprecedented wealth within those societies over the last hundred years.
I have felt for some time now though that an education gap exists as businesses often fail because advice is not readily available prior to liquidation. I realise, of course, that there is the ability to appoint an administrator when a business gets into trouble, but this really only applies to larger companies. It is unlikely, for example, that a small printer will appoint an administrator. Usually small businesses that start to fail slip into a downward spiral – causing much pain for the owners who often have their house in hock to a bank, while employees are faced with the challenge of finding another job. Much of this is unnecessary.
Supporting smaller businesses with a professionally run national mentoring programme is something all governments should aspire to do. There are schemes in all countries but I worry that these are not supported or even known about by the small to medium size businesses that need it most.
Many businesses get into trouble simply because they do not know where to go for advice. This advice needs to be relevant, and preferably free, because a small business which is experiencing cash flow difficulties will not have the available money to pay high fees.
There are many would be mentors out there who would be willing to become involved if only they knew how to go about it. Retired bankers, accountants, printers, car retailers, manufacturers or marketing experts exist in droves, most of whom would love to do something to assist. A properly run government scheme with the emphasis on joined up thinking would help, perhaps even the creation of a mentoring institute with an accreditation scheme, where experienced business people could register their availability and qualifications, could do the trick. By qualifications I mean relevant experience just as much as academic success.
As an example, a small printer facing competition from the Internet amay well survive if only he or she were able to speak to a marketing expert or even another printer in a distant city who had survived the same problem. The distance between the two would avoid competition and I believe both would gain a lot from the encounter. After all – who hasn’t felt good about themselves when they have helped another person?
There will be people reading this who say “but schemes do exist” and they are right but not in my opinion any which truly recognise the need for specific help prior to a small business getting into trouble and very few that are designed to truly help small to medium size enterprises grow.
I have written to the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, asking if we can have a discussion about this and am hopeful that he will ask the Business, Secretary Vincent Cable, to consider reinstating a national scheme. Perhaps this would work best with a successful business person as its head who would be charged with putting in place a scheme which could easily be self-funding. Any business looking to join would be charged a nominal amount to become a member and gain access to all the mentors and any would be mentor would be vetted and then pay a small registration fee.
By installing a vetting procedure the status of any mentor would be elevated and we could all be sure that those mentoring growing businesses were suitably qualified to do so. Mentors supply a much needed service to the wider business community but without the protection of a vetting process we are in danger of allowing our growing businesses to take inappropriate advice which might ultimately do more damage than good.
We wouldn’t dream of allowing a trainee surgeon to take advice from someone who wasn’t qualified in the same field because it might lead to the death of the patient. Allowing an inexperienced business mentor to give advice to a growing or failing business might ultimately lead to the premature death of that business causing huge stress to all concerned and putting more people on the unemployment register.
Yes, The United States, Canada and the United Kingdom have a lot in common including the ability to create a national mentoring programme with experienced and qualified business people who are keen to see their economies recover and prosper again, as they surely will.
Original article for the Urban Times August 2013.