New Start, ACT, NfEA and the State of Business Support

New Start Magazine have published an article about the recent NfEA conference to launch ACT – a new network for enterprise support professionals.  It certainly got my juices flowing.  Below are my comments submitted in response to the original article.

I am glad the launch of ACT went well.

When I was invited to become a supplier for ACT the prime criteria for selection was a willingness to pay NfEA several thousand pounds for the privilege!  Of course others do this kind of thing to – but that does not make it the best way to secure high quality and innovative learning for business support professionals.  When I managed BLU the only criteria for being included as an associate was that you had something great to deliver and that you consistently got good feedback.  Selection as an associate was based on a rigorous and open selection process – against priorities and learning needs identified by advisory groups consisting of civil servants and business support professionals who were collaborating to deliver public policy as effectively as possible.  It was not based on ability/willingness to pay.

I am also glad that SFEDI are reviewing the ‘issues’ with the accreditation of business advisers.  As the lead body with responsibility in this arena it will be very interesting to see what they come up with!  My money would be another ‘much has been achieved but much remains to be done’ report.  I am not anticipating any turkeys voting for xmas on this one!  I have sat with SFEDI in many a meeting where both standards and assessment procedures have been dumbed down significantly by those ‘charged’ with improving skills and enterprise just to make sure that they have an ample supply of affordable, accredited advisers to deliver the latest government funded business support wheeze.  The reality is that this is about hitting the numbers promised by politicians and civil servants, rather than ensuring that the owner manager gets access to high quality business support.

NFEA, SFEDI, IBC/A/C have been working to improve the standards of business support for decades and in that time have presided over a general decline in the quality of advice and support available through the public purse, primarily in my opinion because of political interference and the imposition of the successive waves of ‘reform’ in the delivery of business support.

George is right, there are some very good advisers out there.  Some younger than others.  But in general I believe that both the quality of the advisers, and the power of the business support process to inspire and transform our entrepreneurial base have been significantly eroded by short term thinking, too many initiatives and political interference.

Am I the only one that sees it this way?

A further observation if I may.  Anyone who seriously believes that effective business support is about ‘showing people the way’ – based on knowledge and experience of previous recessions is seriously off the pace.  Our job is not to show them the way – IT IS TO HELP OUR CLIENTS TO FIND THEIR WAY – in a world that is massively different and rapidly changing.  To help them develop their vision and follow their intuition and insights.  To adapt and innovate, not to mimic and comply.  Our job is not to ‘tell and show’.  Nor to ‘diagnose and broker’.  It is to facilitate and enable.

I remember a few years back, when I was assessing business advisers, watching one tell a young entrepreneur that he should obsess less about his need for a laptop.  “I ran my business for decades without using a laptop” he said.

And another who said that we should not worry too much about developing a good online presence for business support services because “proper business people don’t have time to surf the web”.

Web 2.0 is a very different world.  Yet how many business advisers have read Cluetrain Manifesto?  Or even Tom Peter’s Re-Imagine?

How many have the courage and the skills to bring these insights to the world of informing, diagnosing and brokering?

No, much of business support is still in a world dominated by the technologies of the past – like benchmarking; in a world where we believe that academic institutions and training providers can develop qualifications that keep up to date with emerging technologies and provide us with a workforce with the skills needed in todays’ world.   In the modern world technologies move too quickly to be codified into qualifications and training programmes.  Skills have to be learned on the job.  Most providers are teaching tomorrows’ workforce how to use yesterdays’ technologies.

I look forward to the business support industry giving up fighting the last war and recognising that there is a brand new one to be fought requiring very different methodologies.

My guess is that no-one live twittered the ACT conference!


  1. stuart says:

    Hi Mike

    Top marks for mentioning ‘Cluetrain’ which in my world has been compulsory reading

    Agree with much of what you say here


  2. I have been asked to make a factual correction to this post. I wrote:

    When I was invited to become a supplier for ACT the prime criteria for selection was a willingness to pay NfEA several thousand pounds for the privilege!

    It should have been:

    When I was invited to become a supplier for ACT a prime criterion for selection was a willingness to pay NfEA several thousand pounds for the privilege!

    Apologies to all concerned!

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