Financial – and Other Support – for Small Businesses

As a very small – but growing business – we have recently become involved in investigating the available avenues of support to help us to the next stage of our development. I wanted to briefly share our experience to date with others who might find it useful.

Since starting the journey several things have struck me: the confusing array of schemes – identified by a range of different ‘TLA’s’ & ‘FLA’s; the wealth of support available; the desire of those involved in providing access to the support to help; the (sometimes) frustrating limitations and criteria that are applied to accessing the practical help. For example, one of the main scheme we’re able to access gives us 10% grant funding if we spend £50,000 – which is a big commitment.

Every small business goes through the same dilemma – you start something small for whatever reason: because you love it or it’s what you know and you’re good at it. You want to be your own boss perhaps – the reasons are many and varied. At some point, it you have a product that people want, you have to make a decision – do I stop, stay as I am or grow and change. Many people like us who own a small business are really great at the technical side of what they do but sometimes struggle when it comes to growing that business – especially in this technological age.

I started the journey when my step-daughter Alex asked me to accompany her to a networking event. Sitting at our table happened to be a business consultant, Nick Palmer, from a company called Armstrong Watson.

At this time all we knew was that we couldn’t go on as we were but not quite sure what to do next.  We didn’t have a firm ‘plan’ and in fact we’re still working that out! Like many others in our situation we get caught up doing the day to day stuff that pays the bills.

After several conversations with Nick, during which he very generously provided us with a huge amount of relevant information about the various options and opportunities, we sat down with our local LEP representative (sorry another TLA – Local Enterprise Partnership), here in North Yorkshire.

‘In England, local enterprise partnerships (LEPs) are voluntary partnerships between local authorities and businesses set up in 2011 by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to help determine local economic priorities and lead economic growth and job creation within the local area’. (Wikipedia)

From here the gates opened. We have been able to pick our way through the options and explore which might work for us.

As a result of this one meeting I attended another local event run by PAPI (yes, I know – Product and Process Innovation). At this meeting I was shocked to find only two other small businesses in attendance! Shocked but also grateful as it gave me time to talk to the support providers present from the EEP (European Enterprise Network).

As a result of just that one meeting I have been able to access five days’ worth of free business coaching, as well as access to possible export networks.

We are still a very long way from where we need to be. Starting the journey has made us question more rigorously where we want to get to, and explore how we might get there – still a work in progress.

It can be tempting to think ‘This is just a waste of time – I should be doing real work’. The truth is if you want to grow and you don’t invest the time, you probably won’t have any real work to do.

In summary, my purpose in writing about our experience is not to introduce anyone to all the schemes out there – they vary in each region anyway. It is just to say that with a little effort there is a lot of support available. If you think you need to change, and feel that you might benefit from some help, you don’t need to navigate it on your own.

Follow the link below to see the whole LEP network and contacts.