Transferring expertise and offering support to small and medium sized companies has long been one of the most valuable contributions which established firms can make to the regeneration of the UK.
1. Putting senior management on to the Business Link Board and backing up those managers with regular briefings on critical issues for Business Link Boards to address.
2. Seconding managers on a full or part time basis to Business Links. This could include team assignments, whereby marketing specialists could devise a marketing strategy or quality managers could advise on TQM.
3. Making available younger managers to act as tutors or facilitators along the lines of the PLATO programme, an initiative originating in Flanders in 1986 involving pairs of managers from multinationals who each mentor teams of twelve smes for a year.
4. Lending managers on a short term basis to smes, for example when a member of staff is away; Rover is doing this with Birmingham Business Link. This could be as part of a management development programme or as a transition for the individual to another job.
5. Involving Board members of Business Link as guinea pigs to test out services like Personal Business Advisers.
6. Offering secondments to experienced managers who are facing redundancy to act as mentors.
USING THEIR MARKETING CHANNELS
7. Training staff who visit target audience businesses, so that they can recognise a company which would benefit from being connected to a Business Link; energy conservation officers at West Midlands Electricity are doing this for Hereford and Worcester Business Link.
8. Making available in-company research about the sme markets with recommendations on how best to service these; Stoy Hayward, British Airways, and NatWest have done work in this area.
9. Introducing appropriate Business Link clients to the company’s overseas offices/contacts.
10. Helping to find overseas mentors/guides for a Business Link client wishing to break into a new market.
11. Identifying and referring on their own clients to the Business Link.
12. Utilities can use their own billing and other contacts with business customers to promote Business Links.
13. Banks can deliver Business Links literature to clients.
14. Banks can also proactively introduce clients in the target audience to Business Links and make on-going contact with the Business Link part of the conditions on which they are prepared to advance finance to a business.
15. Paying the Business Link commission on business obtained in the sme sector through the Business Link contacts (most appropriate for solicitors and accountants).
16. Sponsoring a regular press column on business or, if a media provider, make space available.
17. Opening up places on their internal training courses on topics like customer care and TQM to Business Link staff and clients; Proctor & Gamble have done this with Tyneside business support agencies.
18. Making in-house expertise available; British Gas has made environmental regulations/market opportunities available to Tyneside TEC, while Amersham International has helped Thames Valley Business Link with technical queries.
19. Leading or joining a team of established firms which commit themselves to providing specialist advice/guidance to sme clients of a Business Link on an “as needed” basis. This is the model for the “Business to Business Bridge” in Northern Ireland which has made more than 250 established company-to-small-business bridges during a pilot phase in Belfast.
20. Lending know-how to convert large networks of data into user-friendly, focused information.
21. Assisting Business Links with market research into their customers’ requirements.
22. Franchisers can provide advice to Business Link on managing their satellite operations; McDonalds is assisting Hertfordshire Business Link in this way.
23. Providing sectoral-specific knowledge, expertise and contacts via Business Links to smes in the same sector.
24. Providing sectoral-specific expertise through membership of Trade Associations.
25. Professional firms can work through their professional associations to publicise Business Link and get other professional firms involved.
26. Providing facilities for Business Links staff to see “best practice” in action.
27. Helping to rationalise local business support structures.
28. Influencing their supply chains to utilise Business Links for introductions.
29. Analysing overseas purchases to see if local firms can provide substitute supplies, using Business Link to publicise opportunities.
30. Organising “supplier days” through the Business Links for local smes to understand and pitch for business.
31. Running “partnership sourcing” preparation programmes with Business Links so local smes understand and can pitch for local business.
32. Providing premises for Business Link satellite offices.
33. Using their corporate hospitality facilities; ICI hosts regular promotional lunches for Halton Business Link; Birmingham Evening Post is doing otherwise.
34. Promoting/re-directing their existing enterprise support programmes through the local Business Link.
35. Developing any new corporate community involvement initiatives to help small firms through the Business Link.
36. Helping to galvanise the national network of Business Links through sponsoring back-up services for Business Links as a whole.
37. Being a business “angel” for suitable firms identified through a Business Link.
38. Becoming the product champions for the Business Link programme in their trade/sector/home area and explaining the Business Link concept.
39. Encouraging other business leaders to give help too.
David Grayson is chairman of the national Business Links Assessment Panel and is managing director of BITC’s Business Strategy Group.
Corporate Citizenship Briefing, issue no: 17 – August, 1994