What is happening to Business Link?

During the run of spending cuts there is some confusion about the plans for Business Link, the government-funded chain of support agencies in England. I have quoted a couple of bits of information from the Zen Internet newsletter and one of the employees of Business Link Hampshire and Isle of Wight below.

For the time being do try Business Link first – they have a lot of information resources to use. Then, when you want a bit more hands-on involvement or a very personal focus, do contact me!

from Zen internet newsletter:

CUTS TO HIT BUSINESS LINK

The Government says that Business Link is to be scrapped and replaced by a new Web site and a call centre in April next year. Ministers think the cost of the Business Link network of offices, established in 1992, is too high and claim the advice they give is aimed at “lifestyle businesses that have no aspiration to grow”. The announcement follows research claiming that the current Business Link site has been costing taxpayers over £1m per month to maintain and operate.

http://short.zen.co.uk/?id=fae

http://www.businesslink.gov.uk

http://short.zen.co.uk/?id=faf

From Business Link Hampshire and Isle of Wight (information from the new Business Advisors Manager, Amber Kelly.

Contrary to popular belief, they are still here, and have a new service which they are launching in November. Please find some helpful info about their new service.

    • There are 10 advisors for Hampshire, 1 for IOW
    • Emma Clark is the lead advisor and Amber has expressed that for the moment, everything should go through Emma to be disseminated out from there to the relevant advisor.
    • Emma’s patch is Winchester and Eastleigh.
    • Business Link South East have downsized from over 300 people to just 95.
    • Advisors make up 50 of that 95.
    • The contact centre in Burgess Hill still exists and has 12 inbound advisors, 3 outbound, and 3 online advisors
    • The new service is split into 3 plus a financial intermediary role for Richard Holmes. He will mediate any disputes between businesses and banks, insurers, etc. He will also report to BIS on credit demand etc. I have asked if we can see this information regularly.

 

  • The 3 main “products” will be, Start Up, High Growth, and everything else.
  • The Start Up programme is being finalised, but will be managed by Steve Cunnell.
  • We will get this information as soon as it is available, however it is likely to be in the form of the previously successful Start Up Workshops, where people with a business idea can attend 3 intensive workshops to develop their idea into a workable business plan, ready to start to trade.
  • The High Growth programme is called the “growth accelerator” programme. Advisors work with businesses where there is at least one of the following:  the commitment to grow, 5+ employees and with an expected or planned for growth rate of 5% turnover, profit or resources.
  • Businesses that fall into this category will receive upto 2 days support from a BL advisor.
  • They have tried to leave this category as loose as possible to enable as many businesses as possible to be seen.
  • This is the feeder programme for Innovation & Growth teams, should these businesses go on to achieve the predicted growth.
  • Everybody else will get the call centre advisors and online advisors, but there will be no one to ones for this group.
  • A Hampshire launch event for the new service is planned for Dec 10th with a venue tbc

Enterprise workshops with University students

Last week I had a great day as an ‘expert’, helping with a two-day student course on enterprise in an event called the Dynamo Challenge 2010. It followed the fairly popular format of setting teams a task to develop a business plan for an idea, then having them present the idea to a panel for feedback and marks. So what was that formula that made this one good?

The ‘Dragon’s Den’ experts

The organisers invited a team of about thirty experts, who cam from a broad range of backgrounds. They included accountants from some large firms, business coaches and consultants, marketing consultants and business owners in fields as varied as product design and logistics. Although we only attended the day, we were well briefed on our roles and very much welcomed into the delivery process. For me, it was so good that with minimal time to get to know each other, the experts were able to work well together to coach the students – the last thing they would have wanted was a bunch of smug or very directive ‘experts’ sounding off about what was right, or points-scoring between each other!

The Graduate Enterprise workshop format

The organisers did a good job selecting a venue ( the Marwell Hotel near Winchester) that had good parking, plenty of breakout rooms and an un-stuffy atmosphere. Here are some of the things that I think really contributed to the success:

  • an icebreaker for the undergraduates to meet the experts, who acted as customers in a free-for-all sales hall
  • keeping the energy very high and the activity times short
  • bringing in enough jargon to represent the real world, but making the emphasis practical more than academic
  • keep the spirit of experiential learning – do, reflect, learn, plan. See David Kolb’s learning cycle, (http://www.ldu.leeds.ac.uk/ldu/sddu_multimedia/kolb/static_version.php et al)
  • having meaningful rewards for the winners
  • including ‘meetings’ with the experts as well as information presentations. This again reflected real life, where a business has to find a business advisor and decide what to take on board

Business Startup Courses for the future

So, what do I take away from the event?

Having both lectured on an enterprise course and delivered business coaching for a number of years, I feel that a practical approach is invaluable in preparing for a thriving business. Because there are few right and wrong answers, success is more likely to come from someone who learns from experience and puts their own mark on a process. There is a strong argument that attitude and approach make an entrepreneur, and it is the business theory and academic side that builds on what the entrepreneur starts.

It reminded me how dry some business startup courses aimed at ‘adults’ can be, and is something I will bear in mind to make sure that the Simply Work for Yourself experiences I will run next year alongside the online course will be upbeat, fun, challenging and memorable.