Thursday, 25 March 2010

From Business Link to NHS Shrink

Where are the business support agencies at the end of a dream?

I feel that business failure is an area which needs serious attention especially in the current climate and, having spoken to other business failures who have felt 'abandoned', I do not believe mine is a one-off 'sob story'. I hope to take my experiences and offer them positively both as 'worst-case scenario' for pre-start ups and as moral support for post-failures, two aspects of the business life-cycle that are sorely lacking, in my humble opinion.

When Small to Medium Enterprises succeed, agencies that provide 'free' start-up help and advice will bask in reflected glory, deriving kudos from having enabled those businesses to survive and thrive, and putting pictures and stories in their newsletters, on their websites and in local papers. Where, then, are those (salaried?) positive-thinking ‘shamans’ of business support agencies when SMEs fail? "Better to have tried and failed," I don’t doubt - but better still to have avoided any ‘free’ help, support and advice at the beginning from totally-unaccountable agencies who, under the current arrangement, certainly won’t be there at the end. 

When dwindling coffers become less than empty, entrepreneurs fall prey to rapacious insolvency practitioners and unscrupulous debt solution agents; faced with Kafkaesque nightmares of welfare benefit claims, CAB waiting rooms, - and, in the worst cases, calls to Samaritans, and the vagaries, waiting lists and delays of health service Liaison Psychiatry - all we have to rely on is ourselves (if we can avoid total despair) and our true family and friends.

We who end up saddled with debt, broken relationships, vulturesque offers etc., can, in our rational moments, put it down to na├»ve decisions as a risk-taker.  However, we are not merely rational creatures, and we need balanced advice and support at the beginning, i.e. from both sides - including a ‘devil’s advocate’ with real-world experience of worst-case scenarios and the effect on things other than the infamous ‘bottom line’.

Such a devil’s advocate is missing in practice, whereas it urgently needs to become not only a requirement but also an integral part of all business start-up advice. 

The agencies involved in the promotion and provision of so-called 'free' services to support and kick-start our dreams of enterprise - agencies that contribute to our initial enthusiasm by pumping us with advice and information (and in some cases, even finance & grants) to keep us positive - should be required to demonstrate that their interest in our participation means more than just another slice of government pie. 

Perhaps publishing detailed accounts of each stage of their involvement in our stories of business failure - were these agencies ever prepared to disclose, without being prompted, just what they didn’t do, say or tell us - might go some way towards helping others avoid great pain and despair.

Until then, however, advice and support agencies will continue to distance themselves from business failure; when Small to Medium Enterprises fail, friends and fellows, those agencies that provided 'free' start-up help and advice no longer want anything to do with us.

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