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Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Guest Blog: Helping small businesses get ahead

Simon Allport, North West Senior Partner of global professional services firm Ernst & Young LLP, who advises businesses on how to improve their performance, draws on the thoughts of successful business leaders he has met…

Through my involvement in Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur Of The Year awards, I’ve been lucky enough to meet some of the most inspiring business people in the North West. While no two firms are the same, paying closer attention to certain areas can really help small businesses get ahead.

Get your house in order

Time and time again small businesses – especially in their formative years – struggle to balance pursuing their business goals with keeping an eye on the numbers. Winning new customers is important, but paying due diligence to the company’s financials holds equal rank. Good internal controls set a solid foundation for growth. Regular financial reporting provides a fuller picture of how the business is fairing: what are its strengths, weaknesses and areas of opportunity. Maintaining financial discipline ensures the firm will not ‘overtrade’, which puts strain on working capital.

Invest in people

The best career advice I ever received was to surround myself with talented people. That doesn’t just mean hire the best and brightest, but assess where your company is weakest and improve areas most lacking in talent and relevant expertise.

The art of delegation is critical in business. Assigning work to employees based on their skills, especially in the areas you aren't as strong, will free up your time to focus on developing the business’ wider strategy. Incentivise employees to perform. Not only will they go the extra mile, but staff retention will improve, reducing training and recruitment costs.

Explore other sources of capital

One of the most pertinent issues to small businesses owners and managers is gaining access to finance. The economic climate is certainly challenging at the moment and as a result banks are more cautious than ever. However I urge current businesses or would-be entrepreneurs not to be deterred.

If the traditional route of securing a bank loan proves difficult, don’t give up – explore other options. There are multiple alternative funding options out there which can help your business to grow. Not-for-profit organisations, such as Business Finance Solutions, are there to help in providing advice and access to a range of other sources of finance.

Don’t stand still

Networking with others in your local business community is invaluable, so you can learn from their experience and create commercial opportunities. As a small business owner it can be easy to get so caught up in your own day-to-day activity that you lose sight of the wider picture. Others in your local area or sector will have faced similar challenges and can often provide really constructive guidance. Make use of public resources too, such as the government’s GREAT Business website ( which includes advice and links to other sources of help.

While this list is by no means exhaustive, keeping these points in mind will help your business go from strength to strength.

Simon is North West Senior Partner at Ernst & Young and Non Executive Chairman of ‘not for profit' organisation Business Finance Solutions (BFS).

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