Small business employers are missing a trick! The fools? It’s right under their noses.

Incredibly, there are 5 million businesses in the UK. Even more incredibly, 99% of them are SMEs (small or medium sized enterprises). Collectively, all the SMEs together employ many more workers than the big corporations, in fact, two thirds of all UK workers (18.5 million) are either self-employed or work for an SME. Another interesting fact you should know is that only 25% of all UK-registered business actually employ anyone. In other words, 75% of the SMEs have just one worker – the self-employed boss, salesperson, project manager, business strategist, secretary, ops manager, invoice chaser and bottle-washer – all rolled into one.

It’s not difficult to see why new business startups fail on such a spectacularly massive scale. That only one in three new businesses is alive to see its third birthday. It’s not only that starting a new business needs a brilliant new idea at the right time and at the right place. It’s also not only because starting a new business takes money and time (time also being money for the entrepreneur between salaries). I believe it is largely because, as a sole trader or a micro-business, there are simply not enough skills and experience in the business to enable it to operate to its full potential.

Big businesses have divisions. In each division they have departments. In each department they may have business units. Each business unit will have one or more managers, each with a team of multi-skilled and experienced people at his/her disposal, each with specialist job roles. Each team will have administrative, secretarial, financial, HR and other support staff at their disposal. Imagine what a micro-business could get done with that sort of human resource muscle.

Instead, small businesses spend most of their time delivering products or services to their clients. They typically don’t have enough time to do their marketing, and certainly very little time to strategise. They’re too busy achieving service delivery excellent, fire-fighting and chasing payments. And they certainly don’t have the money to build a multi-disciplinary, multi-skilled and experienced team. Or so they think.

The vast majority of small businesses grow their staff (profits permitting) in increments of permanent specialist employees. The founder’s first plus-one would typically be the sales manager or the office administrator, employed on either a full- or part-time basis. This might be followed by a personal assistant or financial controller or ops manager. Hiring is expensive and spending a minimum of £10K to £15K per annum for each part-time specialist skill quickly adds up to a large annual wage bill, made even larger by tax, National Insurance and additional overheads. How can a small business generate enough extra revenue to cover these costs, and is it sustainable, i.e. is the new team able to deliver more than the sum of its parts?

Along with technology and communications advances which make operating a small business cheaper and easier, and the recent innovations of ‘Agile’ and ‘Lean’ startup approaches, small business also need to embrace a much more flexible approach to building a dynamic impactful team capable of rapid and sustainable growth. After all, in the modern business world, the cost of human capital is the greatest single business cost. Period. Imagine if small businesses and business startups could build an effective multi-disciplinary team with all the skills and experience they need, and could do so affordably. Wouldn’t that give them the best chance of success? Wouldn’t it enable them to grow and achieve their full potential? Of course you agree, but I also hear you say that it would be nice if it rained £20 notes too.

The reality is that this is achievable. You just need to know where to look and what to look for. Let me pose some questions to you:

  • Would small businesses benefit from skilled, committed workers? Obviously.
  • Would small businesses benefit from highly experienced workers offering discounted rates? Sounds too good to be true.
  • Would small businesses benefit by only paying for these workers when, and for as long as they need them? Clearly.
  • Would small businesses benefit from hiring more self-employed, contract or freelance staff? Yes, provided bullet 1 above wasn’t jeopardised.

Well then. Here’s the answer.

Skilled, experienced, flexible, dedicated, committed and wise: the Plus50 workforce!

Demographic shifts have opened up a new population group – and an amazing opportunity for small businesses. When retirement was invented, people went straight from a career into old age. Now, as life expectancy has moved towards 90, a 10- to 15-year healthy life space has been created between the full-time career and older age. Research has indeed proven that people in this space are as productive as those in their twenties. People coming into retirement now are IT literate (many have been emailing and internetting since their 40’s, and Facebooking along with the rest of us). They’re as likely as not to be able to out-hike, out-jog, out-crosstrain, out-swim many half their age. They are also more positive, balanced, emotionally intelligent and resilient than younger workers. And typically they’re not looking for full-time careers – just to keep active, stimulated, keep their hand in, and give something back. They’re also usually available flexibly and at short notice, and equally happy to be employed, self-employed or work as a freelance contractor. It’s amazing the early-retired skills available on your doorstep – offering 30, 40 years of work experience.

Build the team of your dreams. Make your business awesome. Tap into the plus50 resource pool today. It’s common sense!

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Do public servants really serve the public?

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I accept that in many, if not most, cases a job is in fact just a job. Few people find their true calling or are lucky enough to earn by doing what it is they truly enjoy doing.
But when it comes to public service a job should not be just a job. Public service demands something more from people – something in addition to the more selfish financial and gratification aspects of a job. It requires a commitment to support and promote the welfare of others, something that should come from an internal desire to help, not something that need be mandated.

The public servant is driven by the smiles, satisfaction and progress of citizens who have benefited from their endeavours. The public servant’s moral compass is true, unwavering and does not dim with the passage of time, no matter the setbacks.

But, reality (in my experience) is different.

Here is a small anecdotal case in point. An example of the apathy of the many and the proactivity of the few.

A fortnight ago I wrote to every London borough council. I sent five personalised letters to each. Two to the councillors responsible for adult service and local regeneration. And three to the chief executive and the two directors, also of adult services and local economic regeneration. I wrote, addressed and signed a covering letter informing them of the existence of Trading Times as a new and free social enterprise to help over 50s and family carers find paid flexible work opportunities. I politely asked for mention to be made of Trading Times in their local newsletters, social media and other communications for the benefit of their local communities. I also enclosed five A5 flyers and a copy of our 6th of January press release. (I have attached a copy of all of these to this blog).

33 councils. But I didn’t include Barnet as I’ve already received and continue to receive massive support from this borough council. In fact, a key component of my covering letter was the keynote quote from the Director of Adult Services of LB of Barnet, one of our biggest supporters. So 32 councils, 160 letters.

That was 14 days ago.

All I can say is, ‘Thank You, Hillingdon!’

Were the rest all too busy? Were they all on holiday? Too lazy? Did they just not care? Possibly it’s a case of ‘not invented here, so can’t be any good’. Maybe they don’t read their mail.

OK, I am the founder. And I am completely biased. Of course, Trading Times is an incredible must-signup-to service. What’s not to get or like? But, one out of 32! How difficult is one tweet or a post? How difficult is a couple of sentences on the extranet or in the local newsletter? Trading Times has credibility (winner of Design Council & Department of Health “Design Challenge”, winner Barnet Big Society Innovation Bank award). Trading Times has received grant funding from UnLtd and Nominet Trust. Trading Times is a social enterprise with a big socio-economic impact objective. And it’s free for all over50 and carer candidates. We’ve also recently extended it to include all single parents (fathers and mothers).

The leaders in Hillingdon council get it. They tweeted, they emailed me, they included Trading Times in their newsletter and on their extranet. In the two days that followed, more than 200 Hillingdon residents visited the TT website, many of whom registered with the service. I am looking forward to visiting the Hillingdon plus50 and carer forums and meeting with the local regeneration team.

All this from just one interested civil servant doing what they’re supposed to do – looking out for the best interests of their local residents, particularly the more vulnerable, marginalised groups. It probably took no more than an hour in total, but it had such a big impact, one that will probably gain momentum as it makes its way across the Hillingdon social newswires.

Laziness, apathy, lack of interest are all dangerous things in public service. Not everyone is suited to it. I’m not sure I have what it takes. To truly care, to strive for the best, to be always aware, constantly questionning, to never stop looking for the next service innovation.

Barnet gets it. Hillingdon gets it. I am really surprised more do not.