Kent has a wealth of organisations an initiatives that support, boost and celebrate the performance of local organisations. So we thought it would be interesting to catch up with one of the people making a difference to the Kent business community, Paul Brown. As a business advice expert Paul provides support to new and established businesses on behalf of the Kent Invicta Chamber of Commerce (KICC) at the Kent and Medway Growth Hub and he shared his experience of providing professional advice, guidance and information to local businesses.
What does your role involve?
As an independent business coach and mentor, I belong to a team of Business Advisers that provide support to local businesses for the Kent & Medway Growth Hub and Kent Invicta Chamber of Commerce.
I assist organisations of all types and all sizes; around 50% are established businesses — mainly SMEs but also some big corporate firms — and the other 50% are individuals looking for start-up advice.
The would-be entrepreneurs are considering self-employment for many reasons which may include redundancy, difficulty in finding a new position or just a desire to be self-reliant.
I also advise established businesses who want to move to the next level and need a third person to bring them unbiased, unemotional, external advice.
What do business owners come to see you for?
I cover all aspects of business, from helping a new entrepreneur choose the right trading form, through helping with VAT registration and dealing with HMRC, to assisting established businesses.
Through the KICC startup workshops I cover all the basics. Drawing up a business plan – even a basic one – is essential to writing down ideas and have a starting point. I encourage entrepreneurs to write a SWOT analysis as it helps them look at their strengths and weaknesses; to consider the competitive environment. Then I aim to be in touch a year down the line to see how they are doing and if need be, to help with any issues that the business has encountered.
With existing organisations, I will cover a wide range of topics such as employment law, development, and operational matters. As someone who has walked in their shoes — having managed a small business successfully for almost 15 years — I can relate to their concerns. It is often essential for a small business to have an external pair of eyes look at their organisation. With their energy focused on daily operations they often cannot see the wood from the trees.
But regardless of who I am working with, my role is to advise, suggest and encourage — never to tell what to do. I only put options on the table and let the client choose what they feel is best for their business.
What are the most common issues that you encounter?
There is often a lack of strategy in small businesses. Caught up in the day-to-day operations, businesses forget to take the time to draft a strategy that may be seen as a pointless theoretical exercise.
However, the strategy exercise that needs yearly updating enables managers to keep an eye on the future, helping them deal with the present such as making the right decisions with a view to achieving long-term operational efficiency and sustainable growth. A strategy is an essential tool to know where you are going and how you will get there.
I also often see shortcomings regarding staff management. A company’s main asset is their workforce, and HR is one of the most difficult areas to manage: it involves people, which involves emotions and needs. Good managers listen to their staff. Yet, I notice how often the HR field is just viewed as an annoyance. To succeed, businesses need to adopt a holistic approach with their staff. This means being more aware of and meeting people’s needs, whether it’s about flexible work, diversity or on-the-job training and upgrading skills. I regularly get employees’ feedback about the lack of bespoke training and guidance for the job they are doing. In a fast-moving technological and digital world, on-going staff training is a necessary investment to maintain competitiveness and employee engagement.