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Getting the right advice to start your business is key

new business support
Looking for support for your new business idea? Help is out there.

There are lots of factors to consider when starting a business, including customers, finance and premises – the list goes on.

It’s no wonder that setting up a company can be a daunting prospect but help is at hand.

One of the first ports of call for anyone with an idea for a product or service is often Business Gateway, Scotland’s national business support service, which is run by local councils.

Some councils run the service themselves, while others bring in contractors.

new business support

Social enterprise Elevator delivers Business Gateway services for Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire councils, while Highland, Moray, and the island councils employ advisors in-house, and then bring in specialists to run specific courses.

“In many ways, it matters not a jot who’s delivering the service because anywhere you go there’s a core service that’s there, covering support for start-ups and established businesses,” explained Hugh Lightbody, chief officer at Business Gateway’s national unit.

He added: “The beauty of the system is that, along with that core, there’s the opportunity for local areas to focus on their local circumstances – there’s a lot of flexibility in there.

“The circumstances for businesses in the Highlands and Islands are going to be different to those in a city centre.”

Hugh Lightbody

Often the starting point for someone with an idea will be Business Gateway’s website, which includes a Planning to Start toolkit, a 10-minute questionnaire to help entrepreneurs identify the steps they need to follow and how to get help.

The local Business Gateway office then gets in touch to offer more tailored advice and support.

Its free services include templates for business plans, webinars to help develop skills, and one-to-one advice.

Mr Lightbody said: “Despite the pandemic, people are still interested in working for themselves – for some people, that’s about opportunities, while for others it’s about need.

“There’s an attitude here – just because there’s a pandemic, don’t think you cannae do anything. No matter what someone needs, we’ve got teams around the country to support them.”

The door of business opportunity awaits – but make sure you get some help accessing it.

Highlighting topics entrepreneurs need to think about when it comes to training, he said: “As a minimum, anyone starting a business should understand how to write a business plan, marketing, human resources, sales, customer services.

“They need to think about the costs involved and how they will survive until their business is making money – so issues like cash flow, bookkeeping, financial management.

“The old adage that cash is king holds true, and that’s why we offer free webinars in all these areas.”

Despite the pandemic, people are still interested in working for themselves – for some people, that’s about opportunities, while for others it’s about need.

Hugh Lightbody, chief officer, Business Gateway

Mr Lightbody added: “On complex issues – like tax, legal structures, and employment law – we’d advise people to get specialist help.

“Local authorities can provide advice on premises… and there’s specialist help available when it comes to funding.

“You take on additional pressure when you’re starting a business, but it’s important to keep that work-life balance too.”

Once businesses have passed through their start-up stages, Business Gateway can connect them to Scottish Enterprise, or in the north Highlands and Islands Enterprise, for more specialist help and advice in areas such as exporting and innovation.

Just because there’s a pandemic, don’t think you cannae do anything.”

Hugh Lightbody

Many further education colleges and universities can also provide support for entrepreneurs who want to start businesses.

Inverness College, part of the University of the Highlands and Islands, operates Create, the Highlands and Islands Centre for Enterprise and Innovation.

Create offers entrepreneurial training and development to its local business community, including courses on “business start-up, innovative and design thinking, pitching and networking”.

As well as working with businesses, the centre also provides training for students and staff at the college.

RGU expands its accelerator sceheme

Between 2018 and last year (2020) Robert Gordon University, in Aberdeen, ran its Startup Accelerator in partnership with North-East Scotland College.

It helped graduates, students, and staff at the university and the college to set up businesses, with the teams that took part in the programme creating the equivalent of 37 full-time jobs between them and having an economic impact worth more than £1.4 million for the local economy.

Billionaire invests in the future of young people in the north of Scotland

In response to the pandemic, the programme has morphed this year into the Innovation Accelerator, expanding from business start-ups to also include social enterprises, projects, and other innovations, with a global focus.

Meanwhile, young people aged between 18 and 30 can tap into the support offered by the Prince’s Trust to help them start their own businesses.

Since it was founded in 1976 by Prince Charles, the Duke of Rothesay, the charity has helped more than 86,000 young people in the UK through its enterprise support schemes.

Prince Charles is a massive supporter of young enterprise.

Each applicant is assigned a caseworker, who gets to know them and finds out about the support and training they need before putting together an action plan.

They must then take part in a short online course, which covers the basics of self-employment – from sales and marketing through to dealing with tax. Another one-to-one session with the caseworker is then arranged to make sure the budding entrepreneur still wants to run their own business after hearing about the basics.

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After that, they can sign up for another four training sessions – covering elements such as cash flow and writing a business plan, and take part in networking with other young people.

The trust may then provide micro-grants to help young people test their business ideas for six weeks to see if their product or service is viable. Further start-up grants are available to help new businesses get off the ground.

Participants are also supported by volunteer mentors from the business community, who share their experiences.

new business support
“We’ve seen a massive increase in demand for enterprise support” – Lisa Feldano, the Prince’s Trust.

Lisa Feldano, senior operations manager for east Scotland at the Prince’s Trust, said: “We’ve seen a massive increase in demand for enterprise support from young people, in the north-east in particular.

“Being able to adapt and take those sessions online has been massively beneficial because we’ve been able to support young people in places that we wouldn’t have been able to reach face-to-face.

“We’ve got young people in the Highlands and on the islands who have been able to benefit from that support, which wouldn’t have been possible face-to-face.”