Interview: Social enterprises are helping start-ups find success (Part 1) » SMEInsider

Interview: Social enterprises are helping start-ups find success (Part 1)

With 2015 looking like a record-breaking year for start-up creation in the UK, SME Insider is looking to find those who are dedicated to helping first-time business owners.

In the first instalment of a two part-series, we get to know Allen Pluck, chief executive of Portobello Business Centre. PBC is a London-based social enterprise that is dedicated to providing support to those thinking of creating a micro or start-up business.

In this edition, Allen explains how PBC helps small and microbusiness owners succeed in today’s competitive industry. Pluck also shares his frustration with people’s attempts to digitise business support networks, and he also reveals his one key piece of advice to anyone interested in starting a business.

Tell me more about Portobello Business Centre?

PBC is a social enterprise specialising in business support and has been providing quality services to London business owners for over 25 years.

We’re an organisation that’s simply passionate about supporting people in all things in the small and micro business world. We believe that those who start micro businesses are the very essential essence at the heart of local communities

We help people consider what’s involved in being self-employed before they take the plunge into the business world. We then provide services to help first time SME owners start up, survive and grow when they decide to go ahead.

We are a not-for-profit organisation which means that every penny we make gets ploughed back in to providing yet more services to help more people.

How are you specifically trying to help small and micro businesses in the UK?

We try to provide what I call the “complete entrepreneur” service.  Of course a lot of what we deliver is still about business advice, guidance, training and consultancy, but for us this isn’t some cold service delivery, it’s about getting involved.

My team get to know an awful lot about our clients on a personal level.  We are about inspiring, understanding and confidence building; we challenge thinking and push barriers for the people we work with so that they feel the whole entrepreneurial experience.

PBC helps aspiring business owners get to grips with some of the fundamental lessons of running a business, such as finance and marketing.

We are also starting to look at physiological and psychological impacts on running a business, including stress, health and wellbeing, as there is not much point being a successful entrepreneur if it puts you into an early grave.

As PBC is a social enterprise, we try and encourage every single one of our clients to put something back into their community.

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Half of all UK start-ups fail within the first five years. Why do you think this is and what one piece of advice can you give to microbusiness owners who want to stand the test of time?

There are always noticeable differences in business survival rates quoted by the government and rates quoted by local business organisations.

Our survival rates are certainly much higher than 50 per cent and closer to a 70 per cent survival rate at five years. We work with start-up owners on a day-to-day basis so have a unique insight into how successful UK businesses are run.

My advice for start-up owners who want to stand the test of time is to seek out good sound quality business advice from someone who’s in or been in business themselves, because right now, I don’t think start-up owners get enough personal help.

My frustration is that there seems to be this persistent headlong rush in the world of business support to digitise everything.

It seems there’s a website, blog, twitter page or infographic for every conceivable thing you can think of. In creating business solutions online, the face to face experience is being designed out of the equation. This should not be happening.

If you have a question relating to your situation, you’ll struggle to find a person to ask. The very essence of running a small business is about being able to be flexible and quickly react to change, not spending hours scrolling the internet and reading 26 different opinions.

I just wonder how much this added time consumption is contributing to business failure.

This failure statistic is always one that’s often quoted in the press, as a big warning notice. To be honest I’m never that comfortable with the accuracy of these figures.

I’d like to understand if these statistics simply measure businesses that have closed in distress, owing money or failing to bring in sales, or whether they measure all businesses that have closed naturally?

I think there is an inherent danger in lumping survival rates together in this way as it sends out the wrong message.

Keep your eye out for part two of our interview with Allen Pluck, which is coming soon.

In part two Allen covers UK banks, women in business as well as giving more words of wisdom to potential business owners.