Watch our Hangout to find out where to get great business advice

Last week Simply Business hosted our latest Google Hangout, in which we discussed getting business advice.

Our expert panel included Enterprise Nation’s Emma Jones, SWIG Flasks’ David Galbraith, and Advantage Business Partnerships’ Daryl Woodhouse. The panel fielded questions from viewers, and tackled subjects including the new government Growth Vouchers scheme.

You can watch the Hangout here, and read our roundup of the answers below.

1. Professional business advice – why should you seek it, and how can you get the best out of it?

Emma underscored the amount of free business information available online. However, she pointed out that paid business advice may be particularly useful in cases in which small businesses face specific challenges. She also highlighted that paid advice can save you money “because you’re not making expensive mistakes”. David also highlighted the importance of seeking a range of advice, pointing out that you should “see what sticks”.

2. What is the Growth Vouchers scheme?

Emma explained that the Growth Vouchers scheme is a new, £30 million government programme through which small businesses can apply for subsidised funding. The government will match small businesses’ spend up to £2,000. Small businesses can exchange their Growth Voucher with an advisor through Enterprise Nation’s Marketplace, of which Simply Business is a sponsor.

3. Growth Vouchers and The Growth Accelerator Scheme – what’s the difference?

Emma pointed out that small businesses can make use of multiple programmes, such as the Growth Vouchers scheme and the Growth Accelerator, but that each scheme tends to be aimed at businesses in different stages of their growth cycles.

4. SWIG Flasks’ experience of professional business advice

David highlighted the benefits of the Startup Loans mentoring scheme, and pointed out the importance of remembering the basics. He said that face-to-face mentoring sessions are particularly useful. Emma said that part of the advantage of advice sessions is that they provide an opportunity to “step out” and work “on the business, rather than in it”.

5. What can partners in the Growth Vouchers scheme expect?

Daryl said that feedback from the Growth Vouchers scheme so far has been positive, and that the contribution required from small businesses means that they are likely to take the advice more seriously.

6. Where can I apply for Growth Vouchers?

Emma explained where businesses can apply for a Growth Voucher. She also pointed out that, while the Growth Vouchers are only available in the UK, the Marketplace is open to all small businesses, regardless of location.

7. What areas do businesses often need assistance with, and what should they look to outsource?

Daryl said that many of the business owners he works with have degrees, but that very few of those degrees are in business management. He suggested that human, face-to-face help is particularly important to help small business owners prioritise information. The most common areas in which business owners need help, he said, are sales and marketing, and employee management. David highlighted that as the sole person responsible for his business, it can be difficult to determine which aspect to focus on. He suggested that part of the importance of face-to-face advice is in helping small business owners know what information to look for.

8. What should you do before you meet a business advisor?

Daryl suggested that it’s important to understand which areas your advisor specialises in, and that you have a good idea of the areas in which you need the most help. He also underscored that “no one knows everything”, and that it is therefore important to take advice from a range of advisors.

9. What is the value of professional advice?

Emma cautioned against getting help for free from family members, suggesting that it is important that the advisor has the requisite knowledge and experience. She highlighted that this may often require you to pay. In the case of marketing, she said it is easy to determine the return on investment here, as you will be able to track the impact on sales. David also pointed out that paid advisors will often pay for themselves very quickly. Daryl said that advisors will often be able to provide case studies for previous clients, and that some will be happy to talk about their experience to businesses that are in two minds about taking paid advice.

10. What should you look out for in a business advisor?

Emma said that Enterprise Nation had worked closely with trade bodies to ensure that ‘accredited’ businesses comply with the relevant codes of conduct and complaints procedures. She also highlighted the importance of “likeability”, pointing out that small businesses need to be able to get on with and respect their advisors. David agreed that respect for the advisor will mean that the information they provide will have more weight. Daryl suggested that energy and likeability are very important, and highlighted Advantage’s ‘matching process’ whereby they ensure that clients are matched with the right advisor.

11. What’s the price of business advice?

Emma suggested that the amount of support that a £2,000 voucher will get you depends on the nature of the advisor. She said, however, that she wants to see a “standardisation” of business support, which she thinks would help to reassure small business clients. Daryl suggested that there are many ways to measure return on investment. His market research suggests that an experienced business advisor will cost around £400 per month, for which a business might expect to get one meeting. While this might not seem cheap, he highlighted that this expense can have a direct impact on profits. He also suggested that costs can be brought down through group sessions. David agreed that businesses need to prioritise, and that many small businesses will choose to spend on advice when they have a problem. He suggested that time is another major cost that should be factored in.

12. What sort of targets should a business establish with an advisor?

Emma highlighted the importance of a comprehensive brief when approaching an advisor. She suggested that small business owners should set explicit targets, and that this will make it easier to judge success.

13. How should you prepare for a meeting with a business advisor?

Daryl said that brainstorming is a key part of the initial briefing process, and that his advisors will look at where the client’s business is today, and where they want to be in one, three, and five years’ time. He said that advisors will play a key role in helping to set those targets. Prioritising, he said, is the most important next step.

14. How can I check my business advisor’s reputation?

Emma highlighted that small businesses will be able to review the advice they have received. She said that Enterprise Nation have a strong community management system in place to ensure that reviews are real and reliable. She also suggested that small business owners may wish to join separate networks to meet their peers and share experiences.

15. Can any good come from bad business advice?

David said that he is yet to have a negative experience with a business advisor. He said that even in cases in which he was not enthused by the advice, he was still glad to have heard it. Emma highlighted that it is still possible to benefit from bad advice, and that business owners soon learn which advice to listen to.

16. Tips for repairing a relationship with a business advisor

David said that it is important to have an open and constructive relationship with your advisor, and to ensure that you raise any problems quickly. The right advisor, he said, will be able to respond to those problems.

17. How has the Growth Vouchers scheme gone down so far?

Emma said that over 2,000 advisors have already registered for the Marketplace. Small businesses are, she said, now beginning to access those advisors, and she hopes that they will soon begin to leave comments on the service they have received. She highlighted that businesses that get in touch may be profiled across business websites.

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