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Can business schools help take your business to the next level?

  • Blog
  • 22 October 2018

Man Climbing Stairs made of Books

The UK boom in the number of small businesses continues, with SMEs now accounting for 99% of all private sector firms and 51% of all private sector turnover in the UK.

But while entrepreneurs are getting businesses established, finding support to help them grow - or even finding the time to look for that support - can get overlooked.

Many new business owners will not have done an MBA or have any formal business qualification.

And once the business is going, they may struggle to find the time and money to spend on learning more about scaling up, exporting, long-term strategy or improving digital skills, because they are concentrating on the day-to-day challenges, often working alone.

So when the business faces a step-change, like taking on its first permanent member of staff or starting to export, where can small business owners turn for much-needed support?

One option could be their local business school.

Once seen as institutions creating the next generation of executives for large companies, they are now increasingly reaching out to small firms, as more of their students harbour ambitions to become entrepreneurs themselves.

Business schools benefit from better links with local SMEs, who can become case studies and share data about how their business is growing to inform research, or can offer work placements for students.

And they offer a range of courses - from developing digital skills and planning for growth to exporting, overall strategy and hiring new people - many of which are free, as well as mentoring, networking and in some cases, hosting incubators offering support, advice and investment.

"We are here to help small businesses grow," says Michelle Ovens, chair of the Small Business Charter, a mark of excellence award for business schools doing the most to support small businesses.

Since the first awards in 2014, 35 business schools across the UK have received the SBC and the scheme says they have directly supported 18,750 small businesses, via workshops, mentoring and more.

But with around 5m UK small businesses out there who could potentially benefit, Michelle says business schools are a hugely untapped resource that could benefit small businesses which are keen to expand - and potentially help turn around the UK's slump in productivity.

"My sense is that it can be so much more if small businesses knew what to ask for and where to go, it could be an incredible game-changing resource across the UK," she said.

While SMEs might turn to each other for support, there can be a reluctance to go beyond that for fear it will cost too much - or take too much time, when they are already juggling management, marketing, sales, HR and more.

"That's the hard bit, making time in your business to think about the future and the strategic approach, particularly when you are worried about cash flow."

Michelle says much of the help, advice and support that small business owners need is often available, sometimes for free, at their local business school.

Improving "practical and impactful" business education for SMEs who want to expand, export and innovate was among suggestions in the "Unlocking UK Productivity" report by Goldman Sachs.

But small business owners without an MBA or other formal business education, may be a bit nervous about approaching business schools for help.

"I do understand there can be nervousness, the difficulty of putting your hand up and saying: I don't know about forecasting or marketing," says Michelle.

"I would say that the reality is way less intimidating than expectations. Business schools by their nature are outward reaching, they will embrace small businesses, you certainly shouldn't be scared of going to talk to them."

"Be brave - it's only going to lead to good things. The first step is to go and have a chat. Find out what's happening at your local business school."

"This doesn't have to cost money and this is going to give you huge value, it's worth taking a little bit of time out of your day."

On 5 November the SBC are hosting a free briefing about how small businesses can tackle the risks and complexities of Brexit, with FSB’s Brexit Policy Chair Neil Warwick as one of the speakers. You can sign up to attend here: https://smallbusinesscharter.org/event/brexit/

For more information, visit the Small Business Charter website where you can find your nearest business school: https://smallbusinesscharter.org/find-business-school/

The FSB has its own service, FSB Creation, aimed at helping and supporting new start-ups: https://www.fsb.org.uk/benefits/business-creation