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.

Have your say

Caroline Dale
Caroline Dale

This sounds fantastic and I hope it does what it says on the tin. If so, it's a much needed resource. If I can go to one clear and reliable source for the help I need - I will be truly grateful. I wasted quite a lot of money this year on over-priced advice that didn't deliver. I know I'm not alone. Good luck and look forward to it going live.

eddie lambrick
eddie lambrick

How do I become a trusted adviser on this programme?

eddie lambrick
eddie lambrick

How do I become a trusted adviser on this programme?

Duncan Collins
Duncan Collins

What will ICAEW Practice members think about their clients being directed to consultants they don't know?

Mark Neild
Mark Neild

This looks like a good initiative and may go some way to helping more ambitious SMEs to scale up their businesses. Public rating can be good so long as it in not yet another system. It would be good to be able to import ratings from LinkedIn recommendations or Google to avoid asking clients to rate through multiple means. How does the Enterprise Nation marketplace fit into this?

Simon Fordham
Simon Fordham

There are an estimated 27,000 business advisers in the UK: mentors, coaches and consultants. Less than 1% belong to a regulatory body and or professional organisation that vet and take references, providing them with CPD, insurance, an arbitration service, a matching service etc. The Association of Business Mentors (ABM) brings regulation to an unregulated industry and has been doing so for over 6 years now. As its Chair I, and our members advocate for professional credible business advice. All our advisers have owned or run successful businesses or professional practices, including Accountants. The ABM is developing an innovative performance measurement programme that will benefit all advisers and their clients... Watch this space! Unless (your) 'trusted advisers' are vetted the platform has the danger of just being another matching service with no guarantee of quality. The advisers should have experience and knowledge of running their own or someone else's business and whilst successful at what they have achieved, have made mistakes along the way, which is all part of the rich journey of starting, running and exiting a successful business. If the ICAEW and Enterprise Nation wish to bring credibility to this platform the ABM is here for you and open to having a meaningful conversation about the future of business advisory services in this great country of ours. www.associationofbusinessmentors.org / info@fordhamhenderson.com. We/I look forward to that discussion.

emma jones
emma jones

Thanks for all your helpful comments!

We see ratings as a key part of providing feedback from small businesses to advisers and ratings that are based on engagements will help with decision making. We have aspirations to include public ratings from providers such: as Google/Trust Pilot/etc alongside profiles, so that recognised and existing reviews are leveraged but we will also be taking rating a step further within the platform, as we will be aiming to provide a 2 way rating system, where small businesses can rate the adviser and vice versa. This will be a great feedback loop for all engagements and go some way to making sure this is not just another set of ratings.

Over the next couple of months, we'll be inviting Enterprise Nation members (small businesses and advisers) to beta test the platform. Will keep you updated via the blog and member newsletter.

Thanks again Emma

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