Earlier this year I was asked to talk about my experience of business support as part of the "Know Your Customers: Delivering Inclusive Business Support in the North West" project.
The North West Development Agency (NWDA) has noted that there are a five groups that are not reaching their entrepreneurial potential:
- People over the age of 50
- People of Black and Minority Ethnic origin
- People from deprived areas
- People with disabilities
The full in-depth analysis of these groups and their potential entrepreneurial contribution to society can be found on the know your customers website.
During this seminar I was surprised by how many times I heard that the business support given by business advisor was non- supportive, dismissive and so corrosive that if it was not for the pure tenacity and determination of the enterprising individual, that business idea would not have become reality.
I have only accessed business support twice since I set up Maximum Impact Solutions in 2001.
The business was started using my savings, and I had a clear strategy in terms of how I wanted to run my business.
Maximum Impact Solutions was formed in 2001, as a life style business, that would:
- Provide the highest quality training, that was customer centric foccussed,
- Allow me to give something back to the community, and
- Give me control of my life and my destiny
The first time was 18 months into the life of Maximum Impact Solutions, and the business advisor was open enough to actually tell me that he did not know how he could help me with my problem, but if I gave him a cashflow, he would be able to access a £500 grant.
Although the money was good, what I really needed was advice on how to effectively move my business onto the next level.
The second time was 18 months later, when I was changing the business strategy from being a general IT training provider to a specialist Business Intelligence IT training and report design consultancy, specialising in Crystal Reports.
All through this exercise the main focus was on employing people. This was not what I wanted for my business as I had decided right at the beginning, that I was going to outsource all the services that I needed, that I could not do well.
This last exercise almost resulted in the loss of my business, as the service provider after 3 years working with me still did not understand me, my business or what my business did.
One of the big things to understand is that business owners think differently to employees:
- We are problem solvers,
- We need to identify and exploit opportunities as they come along
- We have to be flexible and think outside the box, while flying by the seat of our pants.
- We are prepared to take risks
We have to do all these things because if we do not get the business we do not get paid.
There is no safety net for us, some of us have our houses on the line.
The business advisor needs to realise that although they have to meet government targets, from their nice safe offices, no two businesses will be the same, as there are too many business models and variables out there that need to be factored in, so primarialy you need to listen, and I mean really listen to the client.
There is a need to really understand:
- The person, where they come from, what they are trying to achieve, and where they are going
- The business, what is their vision for the business
- The area, the dynamics, the influencers and the barriers
- The language, communicate with them in a media they understand, without using jargon
So to deliver inclusive business support, the key points in summary:
- Take them & their idea seriously,
- Give constructive advice
- Use the term "Enterprising", which relates to more groups than "Entrepreneur"
- Earn their trust, do not assume its your right
- Build client relationships, instead of transactional
To find out more about this project and how to deliver inclusive business support go to the know your customers website