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Start-Up Britain: Business Support, What Business Support?

We have succeeded in creating an entire industry (public and private) around the subject of business support. 

So, does this business support industry actually work or is it all just hot air (lining the pockets of the providers)?

At the centre of the industry were a series of partially-funded target-driven organisations along with the usual suspects from the Government, together with the banks, business schools, consultancies and so forth. There have always been plenty of privately-owned service providers and now, of course, we have the controversial startupbritain.org

A nice long list, but do we really help anyone? And is the help provided any good?

Business support is meant to be a ‘good thing’ (like motherhood and apple pie?!). It is meant to be a good thing to help start-ups (‘out of acorns grow oaks, etc, etc’ goes the blurb), to help the fast-growth businesses (‘the real engine of the future etc, etc’), to help the ailing (‘to save their pain’), and to help the excluded (‘because we have a duty to pay attention to the socially excluded’).

In reality, when people say that business support is a good thing they mean that it is good politically (rather than good economically). 

The numbers talk for themselves. Investing in start-ups is an entire lottery - most fail. Yet they are always the focus of so much hype.

So, are the private sector companies that offer start-up advice, products and services purely self-serving? Or, can they really help young businesses to flourish? Each has to be taken on its own merits.

As for existing business… only the fast-growers really generate the jobs; so rationally the government should invest in them (and not the others) if you want the biggest bang for your buck. 

The reality, of course, is that a policy focusing on high-growth businesses (of which there are very few) would be political suicide. So we see Cameron ‘invest’ in start-ups.

I have some worries:

  1. Is the quality of the services that our businesses get from the industry good enough? I hear too many dreadful stories. 
  1. The bureaucracy and remoteness of some of the policy makers and service designers may be unhelpful. How many members of the cabinet and civil service have run their own business? What does a successful entrepreneur’s multi-million pound empire know about being a start-up in 2011 or providing products that start-ups really need?
  1. And what of the products and services that are available? Often they appear to be more about the vendor’s targets than helping the client business themselves.
  1. The reputation that the business support industry has acquired – and yet it has had budgets that surely would have made it doomed to succeed!

The big criticism of the recent start-up initiatives is that they look like they are (but aren’t... but really are...) government initiatives (!!); so-called deals are normally available elsewhere and are simply discounted offers; the site looks like an affiliate link farm.

The work of marketers confounds the situation: Word on the street is that all marketers are liars and are not to be believed, yet every product claims to be a must-have, success-guaranteed, “you’d-be-a-fool-not-to-buy-it-while-stocks-last” unique opportunity for the relatively gullible and innocent start-up. And, of course, do the offers bear any resemblance to what the start-up actually needs?!!!

Are we just encouraging even more start-ups to head for almost inevitable failure like lambs to the slaughter? Or is the fact that that someone is trying to do something (by creating startupbritain), to be celebrated? It is all too easy to criticise. Personally, I thank startupbritain – their efforts have boosted sales of my Start-Up Essays book!!!

To successfully launch a new initiative for start-ups and be successful in everyone’s eyes requires you to be a water-walker. You cannot please all of the people all of the time. And, is it such a crime not to make all of the people happy all of the time?

A few final thoughts. The market is honest, brutally honest. If business support services are any good then most businesses will want to get a piece of the action. I don’t see that happening at the moment. 

I am a great fan of doing everything we can to help people who run businesses in this country. I am delighted that the whole business support/start-up agenda has had its profile raised and is being discussed, debated and argued about.

There’s one thing worse than being talked about and that is to not be talked about. I am, however, desperately concerned that the word on the street is that despite our best efforts… it just isn’t working well enough.

A final PS: my best friend’s daughter handed in her notice this week to set up on her own. Who and what will she use to guide her through the early stages of her new business?

about the author

 Robert Craven is a keynote speaker, the author of business best-seller Kick-Start Your Business and runs The Directors’ Centre. for further information contact Robert Craven on 01225 851044, rc@directorscentre.com

Robert Craven©2011

publication details

First published in Start Your Business Magazine - May 2011

 

 

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