Co-operate to survive and prosper

Big and small businesses can learn a lot from one other. A new initiative will help in this invaluable exchange.
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It is a chastening thought that over 80 per cent of new businesses go bust by year five. Yet over 98 per cent of franchises are still trading when they hit that milestone. One organisation has been set up specifically to close that gap and help new businesses gain the skills and expertise to survive the difficult early years. It is called the Big Small Business Initiative (BSBI). It is open to all and membership is free. Simply log on to its website at www.bsbi.co.uk and register.

David Parker, director of BSBI, explains that while franchisees can get plenty of advice and support on how to run their businesses, people who set up on their own have no such resources to fall back on. "You're expected suddenly to know all about tax, accounting, marketing, cash flow and computer systems, how to find and furnish an office and so on. Crucially, it can be these basic areas, which are the building blocks of business knowledge, which let people down. Many businesses fail because they haven't managed fundamental business skills such as cash flow, business generation and forecasting. BSBI wants to redress the balance, to fill that gap."

Quite simply, BSBI is a partnership made up of large companies who have joined forces to give smaller businesses a helping hand by providing advice, information and simple, practical support where and when it's needed. These companies include BT and BUPA. BSBI is also actively supported by the British Franchise Association (BFA) and the Small Firms Enterprise Development Initiative (SFEDI).

The large companies support BSBI because small businesses provide nearly half of all the employment in the British economy and they see it as in their interests to help such an important sector prosper. Also, participating in BSBI enables the large companies to gain a first-hand insight into what small and medium-sized businesses actually think. As BSBI has 20,000 members, this is a huge data resource for large companies to research.

The importance of small businesses to the UK economy can be gauged from the fact that:

* There are 3.7 million businesses in the UK

* 99 per cent have fewer than 50 employees and over 90 per cent have fewer than 10

* Small business accounts for 44.7 per cent of UK employment

* Small business provides 39.5 per cent of UK business turnover

These large company "partners", as the BSBI terms them, will communicate with small businesses at all stages of development, sharing their knowledge and experience. BSBI is also committed to helping new businesses get to grips with new technology. The dotcom mania may be over, but all businesses must know how to make the most of the internet and all the implications of e-commerce.

BSBI aims to provide its services though a number of channels. It has a dedicated telephone helpline staffed by experts, an interactive website with an "Ask the Doctor" section, regular newsletters and a series of regional road shows run in conjunction with Customs & Excise, covering areas of interest to small businesses such as e-commerce and fact sheets.

The next BSBI road shows are:

* 13 September: Cardiff. Vale of Glamorgan Hotel Golf and Country Club, Hensol, Vale of Glamorgan.

* 10/11 October: Croydon. Fairfield, Croydon.

* 25 October: Cornwall. St Mellion Golf and Country Club, Nr Saltash, Cornwall.

* 13 December: University of Exeter, Devon.

These road shows include practical seminars such as "Running a small business – getting it right first time" and "E-business – marketing your website". If you would like to book a place on a seminar, the email address for seminar bookings will be simon.welch@hmce.gsi.gov.uk These roadshows also attract a range of exhibitors such as the Customs & Excise, Inland Revenue and Office of Fair Trading, all of whom have specially trained teams available to answer questions and give advice.

The BSBI is supported by a range of commercial partners. Some of them and their activities are listed below.

The Small Firms Enterprise Development Initiative (SFEDI)

SFEDI has 650 advice centres nationwide and is dedicated to supporting small businesses, from sole traders to companies with up to 20 employees. SFEDI's advice is underpinned by national standards of good practice, developed by asking proprietors over many years what has made them successful and kept them competitive. SFEDI has helped thousands of individuals to turn a particular skill or craft into a viable business proposition.

Contact: SFEDI, PO Box 1753, Sheffield S11 8WT; telephone 0114 209 6269; fax: 0114 209 6136.

BT

The "BT Small and Medium Enterprises" (BT SME) is a major internet service provider (ISP) for businesses with between 10 and 500 employees. In the last few months BT has teamed up with American IT giant Cisco to create the "Digital Office" aimed at SMEs. This software product offers five different packages to suit beginners upwards. You can get more information on www.business.bt.com/sme or www.bt.com/getstarted.

MyBusiness

MyBusiness is an integrated software product aimed at SMEs with fewer than five employees. It promises to help you manage your time and money more effectively and give you control over your business. It integrates accounting, diary, contacts and simple job and project management functions, which means that can keep up to speed on the health of your business on a day-to-day basis. The company says it requires no previous accounting or computer knowledge. You can find out more on www.mybiz.co.uk

BUPA

Are you aware that more than 192 million days are lost every year through staff illness? These unproductive days cost British business £10.7bn (CBI survey, May 2001). For every employee this equals an average of around £434 a year. BUPA pays more than £2.2m in claims a week from small and medium-sized companies.

BUPA covers around three million people in the UK, including employees of over 31,000 SMEs and nearly a third of FTSE 100 companies. The company offers private treatment, a HealthLine that provides confidential advice from specially trained nurses which often negates the need for a doctor's appointment. For more information and details of discounts for BSBI members, call 08457 661115.

ICAS PR

ICAS PR is Britain's 12th largest independent PR agency with offices in Covent Garden, London, and Hertfordshire. If you have any queries about public relations, visit the "Ask the Doctor" helpline found at the BSBI website: www.bsbi.co.uk.

The British Franchise Association (BFA)

As the only independent voice of franchising in the UK, the BFA is concerned with developing high standards and ethical franchising among not only its member franchisors, but the estimated £7.4bn UK franchise industry as a whole.

The BFA reviews any company that applies to join and ensures they comply with the four central tenets of the BFA's policies, based on the European code of ethics: that all member franchisors are viable, franchisable, ethical and disclosed.

For more information about the BFA, contact Simon Wise on 01491 578 050; e-mail: mailroom@british-franchise.org.uk; website: www.british-franchise.org.uk

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