Say ‘Hello’ to Business Link Mini!

Tender and contracts insights from January 2013 – some headlines:

  1. The LEPs are in full swing to create Business Support schemes in their areas
  2. They all have basically the same idea. Say ‘Hello’ to Business Link Mini!
  3. Tell us about what fun and games are going on in YOUR LEP area

One of the interesting things about wading through dozens of sources of
consultancy and business support tenders and contracts each week is the
fascinating insights it gives you into what the public sector is
currently spending your money on. (disclosure: it’s not ME that wades, you
need an adult with an attention-span that’s counted in more than seconds
for this work).

Lately we have seen a crop of LEPs going out to tender for services in
the SME Business Support arena. They all have basically the same idea:
20th Century business support models built on the activities you previously
knew and loved from the Business Links.


A Northern Metropolitan LEP has bagged over £4 million of EuroMoney for
financial assistance, mentoring etc and is out to tender for marketing and
PR for this project. The budget is a little under £35k.

Another LEP is looking for project support to create a sort of Support
Brokerage directory – embedded in the LEP’s premises the lucky
contractor will get paid ‘if the project completes successfully’.

(Members of Skillfair or Business Advisers Direct will, of course,
already know the full details of these contracts from their daily Tender

I’m not saying that ‘putting the Business Links band back together’ is
a bad thing necessarily. Something similar worked well in the popular
1980 motion picture ‘The Blues Brothers’. I mean, anyone who made use of
the Business Links will know that it was perfectly possible to have a
good experience with a business link process or adviser and indeed, I
experienced that myself on more than one occasion.

No, what I find mildly depressing is that all the schemes seem to have
been designed mainly by studying the rear-view mirror.  Recreating the
models of the past, whether or not the elements actually worked. I do see
that we pay the public sector people NOT to have imaginative or innovative
ideas and I thank them for living up to that challenge, but surely the
private sector part of the LEP coalitions could be having some new ideas?

I’m sure I am wrong on this but what it conjures up for me is the image
that the LEP boys and girls having finished all the jelly and
sandwiches, have next taken the opportunity to ‘dress up in Mummy and
Daddy’s old clothes’.  (hint: for Mummy and Daddy, read Business Links
and RDA schemes)

Please tell us what has been going on in this market place where YOU
are.  Tell me why I’m wrong (please!). Most of all, please tell me that
we aren’t really going back to the future, I know I can’t still get into
my tank top and my platform boots are up in the attic.


The dreaded ‘M’ word …. Mentoring !

The dreaded ‘M’ word

Mentoring – The dreaded ‘M’ word – forget business support or business advice, the whole country seems to have gone Mentoring crazy.

Everyone’s talking about it and organisations are falling over themselves to be identified as someone who supplies mentors. The high profile, government-backed  Mentorsme project  ( )  and the Get Mentoring training scheme are arguably the best known ones but trade associations, chambers of commerce and even local authorities are setting up their own schemes in order to get a piece of the action.

Here’s the odd thing though – a lot of this energy (read ‘noise’) is around the idea of free mentoring – it’s the big B2B society, the greater good, helping the underdog.

It brings a tear to my eye of course but how’s an honest business advisor/consultant going to earn an honest crust that way?

HOW HAS THE ‘M’ word and its close relative Coaching affected you?

Have you: Ignored it, Always had it as part of your delivery model, Added it to your list of services as a paid-for service or Added it as an initially free service with the aim of upselling to paid mentoring, coaching or daily-rate business support and advice  TELL US HERE and we’ll print the results in a cuolpe of weeks.

How to make the most of your Skillfair membership

In a competitive market, using all of the services Skillfair includes in its membership package as part of your marketing and business development  can help to make a real difference to your on line presence. As well as making sure that we have the right information to deliver leads that are relevant to you.

We hope you find the following notes are a helpful guide and reminder of what’s available to support you.

Is your Profile up to date?    When did you last review your Skillfair profile to make sure it reflects markets you are working in today and the services you are offering now? If you haven’t done a review in the last 6 months, the market may well have changed and you may not be receiving leads that are fully relevant to you now. Invest some time, it will make a difference. Make sure the skills that you have listed accurately reflect the work you are looking for. The skills you have gathered over the years that make you the expert you are now will be reflected in your profile summary and CV.  Your profile should enable people to find you, so using industry jargon may not be useful. If you do use it to show your features don’t forget to add benefits so that people know why they should contact you. Don’t forget your address and telephone numbers need to be up to date and to take advantage of being displayed on the membership map you need to include your full postcode..

Are your Quality Points letting you down?    Clients and members looking for associates are attracted by members who have the full 5 Quality Points alongside their names as this shows that you have the relevant insurance in place and at least two satisfied clients. With so many consultants and business advisers in the market, this independent validation of your professional standing helps you to stand out from the crowd. Having your professional memberships alongside your name also reinforces your standing.

Use Skillfair to improve your search engine optimisation    Internet search engines are capricious in changing the website page rankings. But you can help the ranking of your site by putting a link on it to Skillfair and making sure your Skillfair profile has your website url. Also don’t forget that putting your url & Skillfair on your social networking sites will help both your personal & site ranking.

Would you like Skillfair to publish your articles & white papers?    Publishing articles and white papers on your website is a great way to position yourself & your services. You can also publish them on Skillfair under your name although they must be subject to editorial agreement. They will appear on this Consultancy Week site in due course.

Are you making use of your Skillfair Credits?    Your Skillfair annual membership includes credits to ‘buy’ some Skillfair services such as advertising projects to other members or telling them about offers that may interest them. If you have a full membership you have 5 credits/year and if you have a 3 month trial membership you have 3 credits although they are restricted to projects and opportunities. With annual membership you can purchase additional credits. Credits cannot be carried over to subsequent years.

Are you looking for Associates to work on a project?    As well as the benefits of individual membership, Skillfair is also a large network. This means that there is easy access to other members who may have the skills, knowledge and experience to help you. All you need to do is to search the member directory or post an opportunity or a project each posting uses 1 credit.

Do you have business offers that may interest other members?    If you have a product or service that would be of benefit to consultants such as a training course you are running, or have a book that you have written you may promote these to the membership (these must contain an offer – say a free place on the course or % discount for Skillfair members) Full members can publish these on the weekly Skillfair alert. It uses 2 credits/offer. Advertising web site provision or promotional goods say can be done but as an advertiser user and this is an additional cost of £99+ vat per advert.

Are you using Skillfair’s library?    The Resource library is available after you’ve logged in under Help – Advice Articles and has a wealth of information to help you with your marketing,  business development, PR, tendering and contracts,  business document templates, knowledge exchange, or just keeping up to date with what’s on offer from Skillfair

Time to hand back the watch?

Last night I went to see Southside Johnny and the Astbury Jukes. The venue was dire and the performer well past his prime, it made me wonder who tells performers when they ought to hand up their microphones? You would suspect falling audiences and record sales but obviously despite being in a 5th rate venue Johnny isn’t getting the message.

So what you wonder has this got to do with consultancy? Well, it made me wonder who tells a consultant it is time to hand the watch back? If our clients aren’t happy with what we do then they don’t renew a contract – quite telling and something to make us think. But when that happens do we think well I must brush up on my skills or think about diversifying? Probably not to start off with but we should as consultants not just offer up our tried and tested expertise but also learn to embrace new methods of working that will continue to excite and captivate both existing clients and help us to reach out to a wider audience.

As consultants we can gather this sort of information anecdotally from our trusted network but I feel we should take some time out occasionally to add to our knowledge and to perhaps network with new people, some of whom having never met us before (like me last night with Johnny) won’t be afraid to show us where our ways of working could do with a little revision.

So for me the best event in the calendar is the Skillfair conference as it brings together at least 50 and often more consultants both as delegates and speakers with a fabulous array of topics which I would otherwise have to look far and wide over many days to cover.

Unlike Johnny who has lost a potential fan and the respect of a long term admirer I will be observing what my audience is saying to me.

Ten years and 30,000 consultants

This week saw us reach a significant milestone.

On Tuesday, the  30,000th consultant signed up for their 3 month guest consultant account. That’s an awful lot of people through our virtual doors in our more than 10 years of operation.

That doesn’t mean that we have 30,000 consultants as current members of course.

Not all guest account holders go on to become full paying members and not all full members stay with us for the rest of their natural lives (shocking but true)

The actual numbers at any time are in the ‘ball park’ of 1,000 full members, 1,000 on guest accounts and a further 10,000 ex-members, ex-guests, registered clients and people who have simply asked to be kept informed.  So we have around 12,000 people on our weekly email contact list and getting this newsletter.

That’s quite a large community divided across corporate, engineering & technology, IT consultants and small business advisers. It’s a fantastic targeted audience for members to post projects and offers to and for companies to advertise to in the weekly newsletter.

A reminder of how Skillfair works:

Every day we scan over 1,100 websites and other sources, then our UK-based analysts – led by Cath –  select and tag the best with the skills needed for the project or tender. Overnight, our system compares these with the skill-set you have entered and drops your personalised listing into your inbox around 8 am each morning. That’s a lot of legwork and expert sifting being done for less than 3 pounds a week.

Members can also search for consultants with particular skills to bring in on their projects and can put their own projects and offers into the system. We also take some commercial advertising as long as it is appropriate for our audience. We also have arrangement with some public and private sector organisations to enable them to post their projects straight into Skillfair which means that many of the projects don’t appear elsewhere.

People can also speak to the membership helpline which is looked after by Angela and she helps members to get the most out of the system, optimise their profiles and she gets to know the people who phone or email her regularly.  When clients put tenders and projects directly into our system, Angela gets in touch to make sure the client is genuine and at the end of the project contact period – she gets back in touch with them to find out how it went for them.

Skillfair isn’t just a computerised conveyor belt then. There are real people at the heart of it who are constantly working on members behalf, looking for ways to improve the services and listening to your comments about how you would like to see things improved.

If you know anyone who ought to be getting the benefit of Skillfair, please forward this message along to them and tell them to consider signing up for a guest account to try us out.

Chips off the old blocks?

So. Will they just rebuild the 9 big sandcastles that got kicked over as a series of smaller but similar sandcastles?

What am I on about?  Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPS) of course – I shouldn’t care about them, but I seem to.

The bee in my bonnet is the risk of un-thought-through obsession with so-called high growth companies.

Which comes first – the public-sector assistance or the growth?

The NESTA report  (read it here) provides figures about the often-quoted ‘vital 6%’ of businesses that give rise to 54% of the new jobs as providing evidence that we should be helping these companies more or less to the exclusion of all others.  I won’t treat you to my broken record about how if all the silent majority of businesses with modest growth ambitions merely employed one or two extra people then it would have a massively greater uplift effect in GVA and employment than a few poster-boy projects that get in to the regional business press being photographed with some well-known local politician in the frame. I also won’t rehearse the joke about the computer firm that was so successful it had to move to SMALLER premises. It was mildly amusing in the 70s when I first heard it,  the point that in the modern digital economy, growth often means a bigger server, not hiring  extra people.

Where is the research that shows the long-term prognosis for these high growth companies?  Well, here for a start ! Click to read  A Fast Track Decade

It’s a short enough read for a dullard like me and makes its points succinctly. It makes the point that a sizeable number (one in five) of high growth companies aren’t around a few years later – although where’s the control statistic for non high growth companies over the same period? It also provides an interesting comparison between the  characteristics that make for high growth in good times (timing, strength of management) compared to what’s correlated to high growth in difficult times which is differentiation through niches and innovation.

A number of other interesting points are made in the document but my real plea is that someone does some new thinking and maybe some research about whether the NESTA 6% figure still holds true, holds true across all  industry sectors and the longevity of the jobs apparently created.

In the meantime, I fear that the LEP boards may simply pick up the clothes left behind by the RDAs and cut them down to match the  new slim-line funding sources and end up doing a pale imitation of the perhaps imperfectly-targeted schemes that the RDAs were so fond of.

How about some new thinking and new research anyone?

The Brazilian Connection

This week, we have been snowed-under with the preparation and hosting of a small trade mission from Brazil and were still taking care of them at 7pm Thursday night when the giant wheels of the newsletter presses usually start to turn.

The delegation is from an organisation called FIESC which is a single hybrid business support organisation for Santa Catarina state which is one of the 26 states which make up the Federative Republic of Brazil.

As Brazil is the B of BRICS, it’s been interesting to spend 3 days hosting the delegation, showing them how the UK’s IT and consultancy sectors work and drawing comparisons with Brazil.

With over 6 million inhabitants, Santa Catarina is about the same population as the West Midlands so we can try to compare it economically to a typical UK RDA region.

FIESC is a combination of BIS, Chamber of Commerce, Business Link, UKTI, e-Skills and Technology Strategy Board with departments covering each industry sector and employing 2,000 staff to do this for an RDA-sized economy.

Then there is also the federal (national) layer which overlays these functions.

Is it my  imagination or are they really very well provided with business support in Santa Catarina?

In the many meetings we had over the 3 days, one common theme that came out was that the EU is much more internally diverse in its  business cultures than an outsider might think and that a number of uniform, deeply-held but always unattributable perceptions or prejudices were in place regarding which countries are good or bad to work with, reliable or unreliable business partners, honest or less honest counterparts.

Anyone care to guess which EU countries were the saints and which the sinners?

Have any of you got contacts or interests in Santa Caterina state or elsewhere in Brazil ?  Or are interested in getting involved in a possible future project involving 2-way exchange of expertise, products and services between Brazil and the EU?

If so, get in touch using the usual methods and depending on response, we would look at setting  up a ‘UK-BRICS opportunities’ group.

How do you deal with incoming enquiries?

I receive emails from numerous discussion forums and was intrigued this week to see a someone regaling the list with a tale of woe after trying to place some work with suppliers. The client had asked the list for recommendations for suppliers to build some specialist software, and had duly gone off and called the recommended companies, about 10 in all. 3 had failed to answer the phone at all, 5 answered the phone but couldn’t pass him onto someone to deal with his enquiry and the final 2 were the right people but wouldn’t discuss budgets in even the vaguest terms. So despite no doubt spending considerable time and effort soliciting enquiries from potential clients none of the companies came close to actually getting the business.

In theory small companies and one man bands have an advantage in this scenario – if you work for yourself there’s no question of delegating dealing with enquiries to someone else. But the story does highlight how important it is to be clear about the questions you need to ask a client to understand exactly what they need, how big a job it’s likely to be and whether you are a good fit to their requirements. We know from experience that extracting the right information from clients can be remarkably difficult, which is why we have a standard form we use to collect background information about the projects that come in to Skillfair. Given that a client calling you to ask for help is what most of us are working hard to achieve I think it’s well worth taking some time out to make your own checklist or questionnaire so you make sure that you’re the one company that does respond well to the next enquiry!

JH2MHZ73FE6N – tag for technorati – ignore 🙂

2011 – Outlook for consultants

The early results from our 2011 fee rate survey are coming in already – we asked people how they feel about 2011 and we’re getting quite positive vibes. Over half our consultants are expecting their businesses to grow this year – including those with a bias towards the public sector. Seems to be a combination of ‘any change means there’s a need for consultancy’ and a feeling that businesses are adjusting to new market conditions and just ‘getting on with it’. To let us know what you think just complete the survey – there’s a prize draw for a free Skillfair membership if you leave us your email address.

Getting together to do business

Sorry for the silence here since Christmas – having slipped on the ice and broken my wrist my appetite for typing has been a bit subdued! Just sent out this week’s newsletter talking about the importance of collaborating with other consultants to win business that you couldn’t win by yourself. Then realised that it would be a really good idea if people who already belong to established networks could let other people know about them.

The easiest way to do that was to start up a LinkedIn discussion on the subject, so if you belong to or are aware of formal or informal networks that you think work effectively please let us know here or comment on this blog.