Alterations to funding in business support have encouraged some organisations to offer qualifications for business start up, some of which are funded by the Skills Funding Agency.
For eight years, our own business start up workbooks have successfully been used by individual start ups, and by enterprise agencies and Chambers of Commerce to deliver their own funded training programmes. Now they are also being used by training companies, work programme providers and colleges across the UK for people looking to gain a qualification.
Getting the critics in
Our workbooks were originally researched and written, eight years ago, for people starting a new business. We were keen to produce the best products we could and knew that we couldn’t simply rely on our own experiences of starting and running our own enterprises. So, after writing the first drafts, we sent them out to 60 or so people — business owners, business advisers, business experts and so forth — to read them, critique them and tell us what was missing. We then added, amended, changed and improved them, before publication.
This meant that the workbooks ended up containing a lot of information across all areas of business and, since publication, have been used to help lots of people start and run their own business.
Two years ago, the workbooks started to be used by people working towards a qualification to start their business. After a few months of this happening, I began receiving emails from people on the various courses (and sometimes from their trainers), asking, “Should I bother doing worksheets X and XX when they’re not actually needed for the qualification?”
They sometimes even asked, “Is all this work necessary?”
My reply? Well, I tried to get across the importance of working through all the material, by saying:
“In business, you need to know a lot about a lot from the day you start trading. To run a business you require skills and knowledge of a wide range of issues, and ignorance of each could get you into difficulties. These can range from simply not making enough money to survive because you’re underpricing or aiming your products or service at the wrong customer, to breaking the law because — without knowing it — you’re trading illegally.
If your particular qualification, for whatever reason, doesn’t include information about, say, the importance of cash flow, how crucial your market research will be or how important it is to check the rules and regulations that apply to your particular business, then you could quickly end up in trouble”.
The qualification, in other words, is just one part of the process.
An important part of the bigger picture
The notion that you can learn how to run a business, simply by gaining a qualification in it, is flawed, in my opinion.
Whilst it is a very good idea for people who are starting a business to be provided with well-written information presented by good trainers, as well as a requirement to present proof of your understanding, ongoing support and information are also needed.
The best way, in my mind, is to combine the two: use your workbook, or course materials, listen to your lecturer or trainer, gain the qualification… then get yourself along to your local enterprise agency or Chamber of Commerce to fill the resulting gaps. Because there will be gaps.
The difference between a qualification in starting your own business and a qualification in most other subjects, is that any gaps in your knowledge of those other subjects are unlikely to result in you losing your life savings, your home, your relationships… or worse.