Small Talk: Chance for small firms to win support on a special Saturday

Initiatives like these can sometimes feel gimmicky, but in  the US... the results have been tangible

What will you do to take advantage of Small Business Saturday? The idea is to encourage as many people as possible to place their trade with small, local and independent businesses, whether that’s their local coffee shop, an online specialist retailer or the plumber round the corner. If everyone in the UK were to do two bits of business with a small enterprise on 7 December, the impact would be incredible.

Initiatives like these can sometimes feel gimmicky, but in the US, where Small Business Saturday was established in 2010, the results have been tangible and valuable. Their day takes place on the first Saturday after Thanksgiving, traditionally one of America’s busiest shopping days of  the year, with people encouraged to use a small, independent business in their  area.

Last year’s event generated sales of $5.5bn (£3.4bn) for these small businesses on the day itself – plus it encouraged shoppers to engage with their local enterprises, often for the first time, which will have generated at least some repeat custom.

One notable feature of the US experience is the high-profile support it has attracted, both from politicians – President Obama made sure he was pictured visiting local shops last year – and from celebrities. It’s therefore encouraging to see similar levels of support building here. Although it was Labour’s shadow business minister, Chuka Umunna, who really got the ball rolling on a Small Business Saturday initiative for the UK, it has subsequently attracted cross-party backing.

Last week, the Prime Minister agreed to support the initiative and it is to be hoped he will put his money where his mouth is on the day itself. A range of small-business organisations are working on the initiative, which is also getting help from large companies such as American Express and O2. Local authorities are doing their bit too.

Ultimately, however, its success    will depend on the extent to which small businesses themselves embrace the idea. Ingenious Britain, the campaigning group that works to promote small and medium-sized businesses, is urging them to capitalise on the initiative – and offering a range of materials to help them do so.

Get started by registering your  support for the idea on Facebook – see www.facebook.com/SmallBusinessSaturdayUK – and then think about what you can do to promote the day. Ingenious Britain is promising to publish a range of material to help small businesses do that, ranging from digital images to physical signs and banners.

There’s also a Twitter hashtag – @SmallBizSatUK – to help you publicise what you’re doing. Many small businesses are working on incentives to encourage people to shop with them on 7 December – discounted prices, special offers or even free gift-wrapping.

But it’s important to stress that Small Business Saturday isn’t only aimed at retailers. Business-to-business companies can also get involved and offer promotions of their own.

The aim is to get critical mass – the greater the number of small businesses that embrace the idea, the more success it will have, particularly if they can find ways to work together. That might mean independent retailers getting together on the high street to promote the initiative, for example, or perhaps online businesses offering joint promotions.

Ingenious Britain says it has now contracted every MP and every local authority in the country, but individual requests and proposals for support from local businesses will add to the pressure for them to get involved.

Aim starting to show recovery signs

Has the Alternative Investment Market finally turned the corner?

Figures published today by the accountancy group UHY Hacker Young reveal that more companies joined Aim than left the junior market during the third quarter of 2013, the first  time this has happened for six years. In all, 20 companies joined Aim between July and September while  16 delisted.

 The last time new joiners outnumbered leavers was during the third quarter of 2007, just before the financial crisis exploded.

 “There is a definite sense of optimism around Aim at present,” said UHY Hacker Young partner Laurence Sacker. “Returning to growth for the first time since the credit crunch is a very significant moment for the market.”

That optimism reflects the general market climate, with a steady increase in IPOs seen on many exchanges this year, as well as specific initiatives such as the Government’s move to  allow ISA investors to buy Aim shares.

Still, Aim’s recovery is from a low base. While the 56 companies that have joined Aim over the last 12 months have together raised £881m from investors, 56 per cent more than in the previous year, the equivalent period during 2006 and 2007 saw Aim fund-raisings worth £8.8bn.

A code update task for QCA’s new broom

Good luck to Michael Higgins, the chairman of the Alternative Investment Market-listed media business Ebiquity, who was last week unveiled as the new chairman of the Quoted Companies Alliance. The QCA’s mission is to champion the interests of small to mid-sized quoted companies.

But there isn’t always broad agreement on where those interests lie – and one priority for Mr Higgins should be to address the Corporate Governance Code that the QCA publishes for its members. This year’s update was pretty cursory.

The code is a useful guideline for smaller companies that do not have to comply with the corporate governance requirements that larger quoted businesses face. Naturally, its suggestions are less demanding, which is only to be expected. But there has been a feeling among corporate governance groups that smaller companies too should be doing more to improve their practices.

The QCA says the onus should be on companies to explain themselves to shareholders, rather than to comply with a rigid set of rules. One takes the point, but a more demanding framework would improve the reputation of the small-cap sector.

Small Business Man of the Week: Daniel Callaghan, co-founder, MBA & Co

We founded the business in 2009 because we realised the inefficiencies and cost of traditional consultancy firms were making it difficult for companies with constrained budgets to bring people in to help them with potentially high-growth projects.

MBA & Co offers an online database of skilled independent consultants. To be listed on our site, you must have a postgraduate qualification from one of the world’s top 50 business schools and at least five years’ experience in business.

We now have listings for 16,000 consultants in 50 countries. They like working this way because it gives them greater control over their working lives and they can undercut the consultancies while still charging good day rates. Companies like the arrangement because it enables them to hire people with ultra-specific skills.

We don’t charge for listings or for businesses to search the site. We get paid a share of the project fee when a hiring is made – and even then, we only receive milestone payments as the work progresses.

Our turnover will be about £5m this year, 100 per cent up on 2012. We think this can expand very rapidly. What we’re doing is enabling the smallest start-up to access the same level of intellectual capacity as the world’s largest corporates.

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