Inside Business: A free link that is worth making

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ometimes it feels safer paying for a service than getting it for free. Often we convince ourselves that if something is cheap, or subsidised, it cannot be very good.

This may be why Business Link is having a hard time convincing us to take advantage of all that it has to offer.

Business Link is a national network of government-backed organisations, partnered by, or subsidiaries of, local Chambers of Commerce, Training and Enterprise. Its objective is to help local businesses of all types and sizes to become more successful.

Business Link is also connected to the Training and Enterprise Council (TEC), another government franchise. TECs are involved in training people in government-funded contracts working towards National Vocational Qualifications and concentrating on helping people into work.

It was announced in the Budget that a further arm to the DTI body of business services is to be created. The Small Business Service will speak out for small businesses in Westminster, with the objective of reducing the red tape caused by the working time directive, minimum wage documentation, tax and VAT.

Alan Brooks is the director of marketing for Sussex Enterprise, which holds the franchises for both Business Link and TEC in the Sussex area, and has been named as one of the most successful Business Link organisations in the UK.

"We are here to provide impartial advice to the local business community," Mr Brooks said. "Being funded by the DTI means that we have no commercial axe to grind. We can offer the same services as commercial organisations at much lower cost."

More than 80 per cent of Sussex businesses are now aware of the Sussex Enterprise, which has been operating for three years. Business Link nationally has been around for four. "Not a long time to establish a brand with such massive awareness," says Mr Brooks. "Yet we currently have 2,500 members in association with the chamber and received 18,000 calls to our Business Help Line as well as assisting 8,000 local businesses in the last year."

He is clear that the range of services provides something for everyone, from mothers looking to return to work to established businesses looking to grow. Sussex Enterprise is even involved with assisting large multinational companies to increase their exports.

"We can provide a gateway service to advice in all areas, through local networks and contacts as well as in-house counselling or training," Mr Brooks says.

Business Link recognises the need for specialised networking groups and uses Network Brokers to bring people together with similar objectives or complementary skills to promote teamwork and encourage larger-scale projects.

While Business Link is a national organisation, each individual office is part of a local partnership, catering for local needs, and varying its marketing, branding, services and literature accordingly.

Business Link Greater Peterborough is a subsidiary of the Greater Peterborough Chamber of Commerce, Training and Enterprise (GPCCTE) and has centres in Stamford and March.

GPCCTE is also responsible for the Peterborough Enterprise Programme (PEP), which offers "a helping hand for small businesses" in the form of a free advisory service, training options, loan guarantees, resources and an annual Enterprise in Action exhibition.

There is an IT2000 service, where from just pounds 50 plus VAT, an expert can visit your business to assess your Millennium Bug needs.

There is also a Continuing Personal Development (CPD) Group and a Management Development Network, as well as a range of meetings and services in association with the Chamber itself.

n If you want to find out more about your local Business Link, call the national hotline on 0345 567765.