Mind the Gap!

or Why launch an affordable consultancy service for small



Government says “No”

This week sees the launch of The Competitive Edge, my big-business consultancy service adapted specifically for smaller businesses.  So why launch it now? Because over the past two years the Government has, by withdrawing all funding, created a void in the provision of business advice services for smaller businesses. Enterprise Agencies have closed and Business Link has been reduced to a website. Local organisations in Brighton, such as the Chamber of Commerce and Wired Sussex, are still providing excellent workshops and events, but one-to-one consultancy to create continuity is beyond their current remit.

Small businesses face the most hostile economic climate in 20 years and need help more than ever.  According to latest figures available from The Office of National Statistics, business deaths outnumbered business births in the two years from 2008 to 2010 and there is no reason to believe this has been reversed since.

Filling the gap

In The Competitive Edge, my consultancy services for smaller businesses, I have developed a flexible and affordable business support service that can be tailored to the needs of individual businesses. As a business owner you can choose between on-going support, an on-demand service to tackle specific issues, or you can join one of the small, informal mentor groups. You can get all the benefits of a big-business consultancy service − the experience and knowledge, the fresh perspectives, objective insights and strategic and practical planning skills – with continuity and without the high cost.


The Competitive Edge’s thirty-year gestation

In a sense The Competitive Edge has been over 30 years in the making.  My passion for providing business support to smaller businesses and the satisfaction I get from working with them comes from the time when I was one! Between 1980 and 1998 I grew a small, innovative gift business called AH Prismatic from a bedroom start-up into a company with a £3 million pa turnover, 25 employees and offices in Brighton, New York and San Francisco. During those 18 years I had practically no business support or business advice from external organisations or business consultants apart from financial input from my accountants and from Doug Scott, a supportive old-school bank manager with Lloyds Bank.

I am not writing this to boast, as in “didn’t I do well and with no help from anyone!” Far from it: if I had been able to access high quality business advice and business support and had had the good sense to take advantage of it, then the business would almost definitely have been far more successful and more importantly still be in existence today.

In fact it was very difficult to find experienced business development consultants in the 1980s and 1990s. I did try, taking advantage of various government-sponsored programmes managed by the long defunct Federation of Sussex Industries (if my memory serves me correctly). They would usually send some self-styled consultant from a totally inappropriate large corporate or banking background. Having clearly demonstrated that they understood nothing about the marketplace we operated in and more importantly nothing about the challenges of running a small business, they would then try to convince me that I should pay them for additional business consultancy.  Needless to say I never did, but that is not to say that I didn’t need some independent, objective insight and input to help me grow a sustainable and profitable business.

What I got right

During the 18 years that AH Prismatic was surviving and thriving I do believe we got a lot of things right. We clearly identified our target market, put the customer at the centre of our product development and marketing strategy, and consequently developed a strong brand presence in the marketplace and an innovative and popular range of products. We were strong on planning and using our business plan to monitor the business, and we developed a successful export strategy, which included opening offices in the USA and led to us buying out our main competitor, Holos. We worked with Lucas Films, Paramount (now Viacom) and Universal Pictures to produce licensed products, and we won the Sussex Business Award for Export in 1992.

Where I needed help

So where would the input from a business consultant with appropriate experience and knowledge have helped? Well having an objective, second opinion when assessing opportunities and risks would have been invaluable and saved me considerable grief, not to mention money. With the benefit of hindsight I think that having someone with experience in developing a management structure and building and managing a team would also been of enormous help.

However, where a business consultant could have had the most impact is on my morale, by providing solid, been-there-done-that support across all aspects of running the business. Someone to tell me when I got things right as well as helping to prevent me from doing things wrong. Remember this was a period before the existence of most of the business networks that now proliferate in towns such as Brighton, where ‘lonely’ entrepreneurs can share experiences and seek solace with fellow sufferers over a glass of budget wine and a finger buffet.

Since closing AH Prismatic I have worked as a business development consultant, working with hundreds of smaller businesses, helping them avoid the errors I made and encouraging them to implement in their businesses what I got right.

Luckily some things have changed, but with the actions by Government over the past two years, and the tough stance being taken by many banks, now, more than ever, small businesses need affordable support. The Competitive Edge is my attempt to fill the gap.

What additional business support do you think your business needs?


Coming Soon:

First we take Manhattan: my business journey from a Brighton bedroom start-up to international business with offices in Brighton, New York and San Francisco.