Getting support to raise your game

We take a look at some government-backed schemes designed to make SMEs more competitive and resilient amid economic uncertainty

The government has provided many valuable financial support measures to help firms weather the storm of the pandemic, ranging from furlough to CBILs loans. But businesses cannot afford to just take the money, hunker down and wait for pandemic-driven economic uncertainty to pass, argues Martin Brown our CEO.

“Enterprises must be pro-active and agile to remain competitive and resilient,“ he says. “One way to start is to take advantage of government-funded training schemes designed to make companies better able to compete within their own markets or pivot to new ones.”

Leading the way

A relatively new and government scheme worth considering is the Small Business Leadership Programme (SBLP), designed for companies with two to 249 employees. Delivered via 20 leading Business Schools, the free 10-week programme is designed to help businesses deal with the impact of Covid-19 while developing their productivity and long-term growth potential.

Two senior managers from each company take part in interactive weekly webinars and peer-to-peer sessions and receive personalised support from a range of business school experts covering areas including HR, operations and supply chains, productivity and profitability, sustainability and how to be more resilient.

Driving performance

Jane Pallister, Entrepreneur in Residence at Staffordshire University Business School, manages the SBLP scheme for Staffordshire and beyond. She says: “The programme removes senior managers’ feeling of isolation in dealing with the commercial impact of the pandemic and consolidates steps they’re already taking.

“We share new marketing, finance, operations and employee engagement models to drive performance and productivity, while also focusing on employee support and wellbeing. We’re currently recruiting for the next cohort, due to start in January 2021.”

Participant Kevin O’Mara, Managing Director of Staffordshire-based specialist executive chauffeuring business, Advanced Journey Chauffeuring, says the scheme has been a lifeline.

He explains: “We were losing revenue and visibility through the pandemic but the course inspired us to launch a communications exercise to let our customers know we were back in action and the steps we’d taken to ensure Covid-safe travel, and really put ourselves ‘out there’ on social media platforms and virtual business marketing groups.

“As a result, we’ve attracted major new corporate clients who’d lost their incumbent service-providers through Covid-19. We couldn’t have turned things around without the help, expert advice and support we received to navigate us through some critical decision making.”

Peer networks

Another programme designed to strengthen businesses is, which brings together small groups of SME business owners across the UK to collaboratively develop solutions to common business challenges, such as EU transition, recovering from Covid-19, HR, technology and finance.

Led by the UK’s 38 Local Enterprise Partnerships, Peer Networks is free to join and offers access to one-to-one mentoring, coaching and advice, with each group led by a skilled professional facilitator. Martin says: “It provides the benefits of group learning in a collegiate and non-intimidating environment, offering the benefits of knowledge-sharing and being in a team to examine business, culture and related personal issues in a pragmatic way.”

It’s also worth taking a look at the government-supported Recovery Advice for Business Service run by Enterprise Nation, which gives SMEs access to business advisers and experts on business topics across all sectors to help them bounce back from the pandemic.

Get advice

Summing up, Martin says: “The highlighted examples are just a taste of what is available – but trying to make sense of the bewildering choice of state funded and private options out there is a challenging and time-consuming task.”

This article is written for the St James’ Place Entrepreneurs Club newsletter.