At 99designs, helping businesses grow is our specialty and passion. Small and medium-sized businesses in the UK make up a huge percentage of overall employment and turnover. Perhaps you’ve grown rapidly this year (we hope so!), perhaps you’ve had a change of structure, or you’re looking for new ways to grow. As your business develops you might need some support, and there are tonnes of specialist resources in the UK who are there to help you along the way. Here are our top picks…

1. Institute for Small Business and Entrepreneurship (ISBE)

The ISBE is a network of individuals and organisations involved in SME and entrepreneurship education, research, and policy and it offers support and advice to small businesses. Its motto is “putting research into policy and practice” and gives entrepreneurs the chance to meet, network and transform their ideas into workable businesses.

As well as the ISBE conference, this organisation helps entrepreneurs by holding workshops, policy think-tanks and a host of other special events. The annual conference is the ISBE’s big event of the year and includes talks and seminars by some of Europe’s leading businesspeople. The 2016 event was held in Paris and experts in attendance included the President of the Franco-British Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Olivier Campenon.

2. SME Insider

SME Insider is one of the top providers of news and analysis for UK SMEs. As well as giving you the top news headlines, this company offers support and advice on virtually every aspect of running a small business in Britain. This includes a thrice-weekly newsletter to subscribers which features insights from experts in various industries.

If you want to keep your finger on the pulse, you can check out the site’s regularly updated UK Business News or its business tips & advice section. SME Insider also offers advice on finding funding for your business and it keeps you up to date regarding important events in your industry.

3. The Institute of Enterprise and Entrepreneurs (IOEE)

The IOEE was founded to help anyone interested in starting their business and also offers assistance to those who are already off and running. At present, this organisation has over 30,000 members which include everyone from students with an innovative idea to established entrepreneurs. The IOEE aims to help members improve their enterprise skills to boost their contribution to the UK economy.

If you become a member of the IOEE, you can benefit from the training and qualifications it offers along with the opportunity to network with important players in your industry. The site also provides you with up to date news in the world of business including details of entrepreneurship awards.

4. The Centre for Entrepreneurs (CFE)

The CFE aims to promote the role of entrepreneurs regarding boosting the UK’s economic growth. It is an NPO founded by Luke Johnson, a well-known entrepreneur who also pens a column in The Sunday Times. It considers itself to be a ‘think tank’ and analyses the positive effective of entrepreneurship on the UK economy as a whole.

The CFE focus on four key areas which include providing resources, the generation of detailed material such as white papers which outline the benefits of SMEs, encouraging more entrepreneurship and the promotion of small businesses in the media.

5. Small Business Centre

The Small Business Centre is one of London’s leading enterprise agencies. It offers business support services for anyone living in one of the capital’s 33 boroughs. There are also specific programmes available to support local communities.

The organisation is supported by a wide range of partnerships as it seeks to deliver Pan-London projects. Such partners include Barclays, Deutsche Bank and the Arts Council of England. The site also contains an updated blog which offers entrepreneurship advice and up to date news across different industry sectors.

6. FSB

The FSB describes itself as “Experts in Business” and offers members a huge range of important business services including advice, support, financial expertise and a voice in government. Its goal is to ensure that small businesses can achieve their ambitions.

You can find out what is happening in Westminster regarding small business and the site keeps you up to date with all the latest events in entrepreneurship. The FSB has exclusive events for members each year including Roadshows which take place across four different UK venues. There are also social events such as dinners and the opportunity to network.

Whilst smaller businesses face a variety of challenges at different times during their corporate journey, three remain consistent – managing cash flow and late payments, keeping robust accounts and staying abreast of changes in the digital world.

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) offers its members advice on how to encourage customers to pay on time and also provides the option of a FSB Cash Advance service, if they don’t. This is an unsecured business loan that can deliver a vital cash injection when cash flow is serious. Repaying the loan is easy – either via a percentage of future credit and debit card transactions, or through a fixed direct debit.

Keeping good company books can be time-consuming but absolutely vital, as smaller businesses are not excluded from HMRC tax investigations costing, on average, £5000. FSB members have a lifeline of free representation, if selected, for very good reason. Between 2003 and 2014, 27 per cent of cases handled by FSB were for businesses with profits of £15,000 or less, operating below the VAT threshold.

The digital world is no less challenging, but there are tools to use. The unique new FSB Business Profiling service allows FSB members to review, for the first time, all the digital information others use as the basis of judging them. Members get two free reports, to help them pro-actively improve their digital profile, by working on key areas identified.

7. EO Network

The Entrepreneurs’ Organisation (EO) claims to be the only global network exclusively available for entrepreneurs. It helps SMEs to learn and grow through connection to industry experts, peer-to-peer learning and much more. With the EO Network, you have the chance to engage with the planet’s most influential community of entrepreneurs.

EO has a total of 160 chapters across 50 different nations with over 12,000 members. The average member age is 42, and the median annual sales of EO members was an impressive $4.7 million last year. You can attend global events or simply go to the meetings at your nearest chapter. There is also a Mentorship Program which can help you grow as a business owner.

8. Enterprise Nation

Enterprise Nation gives members the chance to grow their business and was founded in 2005. You can benefit from this organisation’s support program for as little as £4 a month. For this relatively tiny sum, you have the chance to attend weekly webinars featuring advice from a different business expert each week.

There are always challenges along the way for small businesses – it’s part of the deal, and the appeal.  For today’s small firms, apart from keeping on top of the new responsibilities placed on them by Government, including auto enrolment and increased taxation, they also need more support.  Research shows that businesses that take on board early-stage advice are much more likely to run sustainable and successful businesses, it helps them to avoid some of the pitfalls that can often be a set-back.  But getting the right advice is difficult because much of it is not targeted at smaller firms.  Our recent report into Home Businesses shows that home businesses and those that have no employees are not included in any Government stats – and don’t inform the decisions of policy makers, so that advice is often not targeted in the right way, or accessible to the right people. Our statistics show that 70 per cent of all new businesses are now started at home, so this needs to be rectified.  Small firms also want to look at exporting their products, they need help with keeping on top of digital innovations and what systems could help improve efficiency – like accounting software for example. The people we see every day at Enterprise Nation mostly start out of a passion or a skill – this often doesn’t come with perfect business skills. They need help with this!

Enterprise Nation gives you access to practical advice in the form of workshops and one-to-one discussions. There are regular meet-ups where you can network with your peers and members also have the chance to purchase crucial business items such as insurance at a discounted price.

Our Go Global Campaign ran five trade missions this year alone – to China, New York, Amsterdam, Berlin and Dublin.  We make them affordable through bringing in private sector sponsorship – for example, our latest mission to China was sponsored by Gatwick Airport, UPS, Cathay Pacific, HSBC and KPMG. It meant firms that wouldn’t otherwise have a chance to thoroughly explore overseas markets could come along and make connections.

Another campaign is Go and Grow Online – which offers digital tips and support to start-ups and small firms, including events around access to digital help.  Again we subsidise this with sponsorships from Microsoft, Verisign and 123-reg. 

9. 4Networking

One of the biggest challenges for all SMBs is getting in front of people to develop a business relationship and from that, develop business opportunities. With so many gatekeepers blocking the path to an appointment, how do you break through?

The team at 4Networking (the UK’s only joined-up business network) reckons that the best way to get business appointments is by offering to meet up at a networking meeting. There are so many benefits to this. Firstly, you’re meeting on neutral territory, so both parties are likely to be more relaxed about the meeting. Secondly, if you’ve invited someone to a networking meeting to have an appointment with them, offering them the opportunity to participate in a lively, productive networking meeting is also giving something useful to your prospect, even before you have met. And thirdly, neither party is committed to an hour-long meeting that may go nowhere after the first 5 minutes!

4Networking

The networking meeting format at every 4Networking meeting facilitate this appointment process. The final half-hour of each 4Networking meeting is dedicated to three 10-minute 1-2-1 appointments with people who you choose earlier in the meeting. So, after finding out what people do, you arrange a business card swap and then have each 1-2-1 with someone who you are interested in or who is interested in you. If you’ve invited someone along specifically to have an introductory meeting with, you simply ensure that one of your appointments is with them.

4Networking has now been running networking meetings across the UK for over 10 years and has calculated that at least 2.5 million 1-2-1 appointments have taken place!

10. FPB

The FPB (Forum of Private Business) aims to protect small businesses against the threat of legal action. It offers comprehensive legal protection tailor-made for your small business with packages available for individual entrepreneurs and small businesses with several employees.

At present, the average tribunal costs £9,000 to defend which can place a significant financial strain on any SME, especially those that are yet to be established in their industry. Its website also provides you with a huge library of free business resources including videos and articles.

11. British Chambers of Commerce

The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) consists of 52 accredited chambers with national coverage. It is an independent business network that also has a presence in several countries around the world and key markets. The BCC describes itself as “an authentic voice for British business” and is proud of its network which represents business interests in Brussels and Westminster among other locations.

It is dedicated to helping local business communities in every sector to thrive, and it provides practical advice to SMEs across the UK. It has been in existence for over 150 years and helps businesses to grow, learn and succeed.

Final Words

By their very nature, entrepreneurs are self-motivated, ambitious and extremely driven. It isn’t always easy for such individuals to seek assistance but if you want your small business to succeed, you’ll need an established support network. We invite you to check out the resources listed above as they provide you with all the advice, networking opportunities and even funding required to turn your small business into a big success. Feel free to also check out our own Resource Center aiming to help you build your brand and inspire your entrepreneurial path.