Until relatively recently, it was easy to point them in the direction of Business Link, safe in the knowledge that they would at least get an initial hearing without charge. However, that has now all changed!
Two problems now exist as a result of the government's decision to close the service –
1. There is no obvious replacement on a national scale and
2. Because, Business Link as a brand was so strongly promoted (if not supported), there is still an expectation that business start-up advice should indeed be free.
If you are considering taking the massive step of setting up on your own it is wise, if not, absolutely vital that you should seek the advice from someone who is suitably experienced and/or qualified enough to tell you whether you are making the best move of your life or are about to make a disastrous mistake.
You will be pleased to hear that there are still opportunities to find free help and some of the best ways of unearthing these gems are listed below. Whether you follow some or all of these lines of enquiry, it may also be worthy considering actually paying for advice!
Shocking as this may at first sound, it is a concept that may have to be grasped more and more as time goes on. As you will find out, many of the 'free' offerings come with strings attached. For example: the bank manager/accountant/business adviser will almost certainly want your business after the free initial consultation and why not? They are all running businesses too. In fact, the Business Link service was also run on very similar lines – free to start with and then paid for as you progress.
To locate the help and support that it available in your area, we can suggest the following:
1. Google. A search for 'business advice + the name of your town/county'. (The word free can also be added!)
2. National Enterprise Network The NEN is a membership organization for business advisers and enterprise agencies. Their site contains a search facility to help you find local support.
3. Local Library. Your main local library will almost certainly keep a register of business support organisations.
4. Local authority. Your local council will have a department responsible for the economic well being (and development) of the region. It is in their interest to encourage new enterprise as this could lead to income for the economy, occupation of commercial property (payment of business rates), and possibly even additional employment.
5. Word of mouth. Ask friends/relatives/local business people/attend local business networks and pick the brains of as many people as possible. Identify whether they have received advice and if so, who from.
6. Others. Citizens Advice Bureaux, Jobcentres, Local Directories, Newspapers, local colleges, business organisations, local chamber of commerce.
The appeal of 'free' advice is understandable but it is almost certainly going to be better in the long run to obtain the 'best' advice, even if there is a charge attached. Having said that, a free initial meeting to see if you suit each other is a fair and reasonable expectation.