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ICAEW and Enterprise Nation to build UK's first data-led business platform

Two of the UK's biggest small business communities are joining forces to create the first data-led business support platform that will give small British firms access to affordable external expertise instantly.

The £1m platform is designed to re-think the way smaller companies find and take advice, bringing it into the digital age.

Emma Jones, founder of Enterprise Nation, said: "Something has got to change if small firms are going to get the best help to grow.

Over the last 12 months, we've heard loud and clear that the two key reasons founders don't take advice is because they don't know who to trust - and crucially how much they'll be expected to pay. It shouldn't be that difficult.

"We're addressing these key barriers and building a platform that will enable advisers to demonstrate their experience, whilst allowing entrepreneurs to quickly find an adviser who, whether that be geographic proximity or sector skills, can offer bite-size or longer-term guidance.

"The more we can close the advice gap in Britain, the greater rewards we'll see across the small business base."

The news comes after research, commissioned by Zeqr, revealed UK-based SMEs spend over 570 million hours researching and briefing externals specialists.

While it showed around 50% of small businesses still don't have the level of digital skills needed to grow their business, it identified that the average small business owner in the UK spends £11,351 accessing expert help and three working weeks a year briefing them.

The research also found nearly half (49%) of small businesses avoid hiring external consultants because of what they perceive as 'over inflated costs', whilst many found the level of expertise was disproportionate to their needs and 22% claiming the advice was too complicated.

Others felt they needed immediate bite-sized advice, without the need for long and often expensive contracts.

The data revealed that nearly half (43%) of small business owners prefer to call on contacts they have met at networking events and as a consequence, the report says, they are not getting access to the best talent.

The stakes are high. £9.1bn is spent on accountancy advice every year, with another £3.3bn going on payroll and pension experts.

Amanda Digne-Malcolm, practice director at ICAEW, said: "It is in part this reluctance to commit time to finding new expertise that is limiting the opportunity for small businesses to grow.

"Understandably, they'd rather be spending time bringing in the money to pay the bills than taking hours out to research good consultants.

"Our new digital platform will challenge that by making access to new expert talent easy and fast using automation. SMEs will be able to take on board as much or as little advice as they want.

“Making expertise affordable and accessible for the UK's small businesses is key to allowing them to compete at the highest level and achieve their potential, with the greater profitability that this brings."

The platform will crunch data to suggest matches.

Usability and visibility will be paramount, advisers will be publically rated, making them come up more or less regularly in searches.

Tips and filters will make the site fast to use, taking the friction out of accessing decent and appropriate support.

The platform is expected to be unveiled in the New Year.

It is being developed by lead Microsoft agency, Ashton Court, and supported by a new tech team recruited by Enterprise Nation.