Monday, 19 August 2013

Goodbye Business Link

Photo of a battered door witth peeling blue paint
In Autumn 2011 Neelam and I attended our final Business Link workshop.  Business Link was a business advice service funded by the UK government.  It offered excellent online resources and a generous free training and mentoring programme employing experienced and interesting business people who, in my opinion, it used poorly.

Business Link's training programme ended in November 2011 and everything went online, where it survived until October last year (it's now been replaced by  While I'm a huge supporter of online resources, the virtual world is not yet so rich that it can fully substitute for real interactions.  Sadly though, in the case of Business Link, that's not as much of a loss as it should be. 

Sally and John, the two tutors I met, clearly had a lot of experience, which they were happy to share.  However, the sessions they took consisted of standard Business Link PowerPoint presentations.  These were informative, but didn't really need people to present them.  At the time, I remember commenting that they would have been more useful (and more interesting) if the sessions had followed a university tutorial model.  In other words, everyone who registered was asked to work through the presentations and accompanying exercises prior to attending, and used the sessions as an opportunity to consult a Business Link advisor, and to learn from other prospective entrepreneurs.  As it turned out, this is the model adopted by two of the other organisations from which Look-in-the-Bag has benefited: the Sheffield Enterprise Agency and PRIME.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Small business - big hopes

A row of tools hanging from a woodent shelf
"Most new businesses fail within three years."
It's something we often heard as we were starting up Look-in-the-Bag.  We went to a lot of networking events, business start-up seminars and marketing days, and we learned a great deal about what new businesses did wrong that caused such a high failure rate.   

It's a well known fact that 92.3% of statistics are made up. Despite assertions to the contrary, most of us use a lot more than 10% of our brains, we are often more than six feet from a rat, and we don't need to drink two litres of water a day.

As it turns out, according to an OECD survey of start-ups that began in 2006, most made it past their third anniversary - despite the recession.  Businesses that began in 2005 probably had a higher survival rate.  According to Professor Jonathan Levie of the University of Strathclyde, they had a median life longer than the median tenure of a new job in Canada or the UK.

However, concern about the frailty of new businesses has no doubt played a part in encouraging governments, local authorities, universities and charities to offer help to people starting, or thinking about starting, a new business.

The odds of a new business surviving may be better than they're sometimes made out to be, but it can still be nervewracking thinking about how much it could all cost; and it's certainly confusing working out who needs to know what about your business.  At LitB therefore, we were happy to take all the help we could get and we came into contact with some very helpful people and organisations that I'll blog about over the next few days.