How accountants can help small businesses find help

Help is available but do businesses know where to find it? Accountants can provide the vital link.

There has probably never been a wider or more in-depth range of free or heavily subsidised support for small businesses in the UK, but much of this remains a mystery to start-ups, scale-ups or even those who have been in business for many years.

As accountants increasingly add value by providing business advisory services, rather than simply crunching the numbers, they can play a vital role in raising their client’s awareness (as well as their own) of the plethora of opportunities available to help small businesses not just survive but thrive.

The British Library Business & IP Centre

The British Library Business and IP Centre is probably one of the best-kept secrets of the business world but the invaluable help and advice they offer should be shouted from the rooftops given so few are aware of what it offers.

The Centre helps small business owners and entrepreneurs to start up, protect and grow British businesses.

For London based businesses trading for less than 12 months, its impressive start-up support programme is highly recommended.

For small businesses with a turnover above £100,000 and plans to scale-up, the Centre offers £10,000 worth of free support through its Innovating for Growth programme.

Similarly, irrespective of where a small business is based, its size or what stage it’s at, the Centre offers a wide range of completely free webinars, masterclasses, one to one advice sessions and events. What’s more, the Centre has a network of 19 regional offices from Devon to Glasgow making access easier for those not located in or near London.

High quality management training

Poor management disproportionately impacts small businesses. With almost half of all new businesses failing within three years, the Chartered Management Institute found that bad management was to blame for 56% of these business failures (2011-2014). Of course, that was before the additional challenges of a global pandemic, Brexit, supply chain issues, a widespread financial squeeze and labour shortages, all of which are proving great challenges even for the very best of managers.

In response, the new “Help to Grow Management Course” provides a fantastic opportunity for small businesses to develop a business growth plan that will help SMEs realise their full potential.

The “Help to Grow Management Course” is run by Small Business Charter accredited business schools across the UK (amongst some of the best business schools in the world) and is 90% funded by the Government meaning small businesses need only pay £750 for a 12-week programme of 50 hours of world-class learning, one-to-one mentoring and access to a potentially valuable alumni network. Find out more and sign up here

Digital adoption

A recent report by the OECD and the Centre for Entrepreneurship found that “…despite the benefits and opportunities digital technologies bring, and the significant increase in up-take in recent years, many SMEs continue to lag in adoption, and for smaller SMEs, with 10- 49 employees, digital adoption gaps, compared to larger firms, have grown over the last decade.”

Technological adoption among UK companies is low by international standards and whilst our very best performing companies quickly and successfully adopt new technology, this is rarely the case for SMEs.

In an attempt to address this major problem, the Government has just launched “Help to Grow: Digital”.

Free online support on digital technology and productivity is available to any business that:

  1. has been trading for more than 12 months,
  2. is registered in the UK at Companies House, and
  3. employs between 5 and 249 employees.

Furthermore, in a few weeks’ time (from December 2021) those businesses that meet the above criteria will also qualify for a discount of up to 50% towards the costs of buying approved software, worth up to £5,000. This includes accounting software as well as customer relationship management (CRM) and e-commerce software. To register for free, SMEs simply need to insert their Companies House number here.

In addition to the above management and digital schemes, a range of tax reliefs and financial support, Government seems to be waking up to the need to help the small business community, which will in turn boost tax receipts and stimulate the economy. For instance, it now has a target of paying 90% of its invoices to SMEs within 5 days, and all of them within 30 days and this target is largely being met. It is strengthening the powers of the Small Business Commissioner and after a lengthy and committed AAT campaign to halve the Prompt Payment Code maximum payment terms from 60 days to 30 days, it did so earlier this year.

Earlier this year it also launched Find a Tender where small businesses can view public procurement notices published by UK contracting authorities. It’s also worth registering with Contracts Finder to keep updated on new and upcoming contracts with the government and its agencies.

And for those SMEs rightly concerned about climate change and what they can do to help meet ‘net zero’, the launch of the SME Climate Hub provides a helpful start.

In summary, there’s a wealth of help, information, advice and guidance for SMEs but they need help finding it. Many accountants are already assisting their SME clients in this area; more could do so and inevitably will.

Further information

Several years ago, AAT established Informi a freely accessible website dedicated to providing help and support to those thinking of starting a small business or already running one. This includes free information about marketing, legal, finance, administration and technology in the small business sector. Visit Informi here

Phil Hall is AAT's Head of Public Affairs and Public Policy.

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