Advice on how to work with public sector business advisors – I wrote this 10 years ago. The network and its goals have certainly changed, but the lottery that is the allocation of business advisors remains. Someone, somewhere, needs to fix this. Would love to hear your experiences, and your thoughts on how best to change the system so entrepreneurs get the support they need, when they need it.

I WAS once invited onto a radio programme because my views about the local enterprise network were “controversial”. They haven’t changed. And this week my fire was well and truly stoked with the news that there’s money to be made in the dotcom world from exploiting the gaps in the market left by local enterprise companies (LECs).

The system, as it stands, stinks. And worse still, it doesn’t work. One of the key roles of the LEC network is to provide grant funding in support of start-up and growing businesses. But they don’t. At least not effectively. Apparently more than £100m worth of grants go unclaimed every year. Not surprising, really, based on the current process.

A couple of smart dudes have spotted that this nation-wide example of shocking customer service on behalf of the LECs is actually a real entrepreneurial opportunity and have launched an e-commerce business set up with the whole purpose of matching grants with the needy. Much respect!

The free search service, www.j4b.co.uk, claims it can cut through the inordinate amount of red tape and beaurocracy facing businesses, particularly SMEs, and gain access to information about grants available across the country.

It’s a truly invaluable new service. It’s hard enough starting-up or growing your own business without the additional hassle of interrogating your local enterprise company-provided business advisor to establish if there are any business grants that might be remotely beneficial to your needs.

I actually thought – tres naively it turned out – that LECs and their advisors were supposed to be supportive, that they would genuinely want to help you, that the advice they spouted was of value, and that they had money to give you to help in a variety of ways.

Hah!  How foolish. I learned quickly enough that access to worthwhile advice, support and hard cash was not the norm. Indeed a businessman or woman’s needs are met in a lottery kind of a way. That’s the Camelot type of lottery – give out small amounts to the really needy, high profile cases and keep a huge wad of cash back for the Fat Cats – and not the Branson type – give it all away and to hell with the Fat Cats.

A business finds itself is wholly dependent on one business advisor and their interpretation of what is right or wrong, good or bad in business, and their whimsical, nay nonsensical, view of whether or not your business is worthy of financial support from their bosses.

So, based on my hard-earned experience, here’s my advice on how to get the very best from your local enterprise company.

1.    Before you start-up in business, ask around and find out which area has the most supportive LEC and move there.  If you already have a business in a good area then, cool, you’re on your way. If, however, you’re in an area that doesn’t have a great reputation for supportive LEC business advisors then I’m afraid you’ve had it. You might as well give up hope and start considering other options.  Such as moving to an area with a supportive LEC.

2.    Be real choosy about your business advisor. Interview them as rigorously as you would a new recruit to your company. And then interview them again, this time even more rigorously than the first. Genuine business experience is unlikely, but if you find it, you may just have struck gold. In any case, you absolutely MUST like this person. Any dodgy gut feel and ask to meet someone else. The relationship just has to work.

3.    Give them as much information as possible about your business. Share with them your dreams and ambitions, your goals and strategies, your successes and failures. Tell them – honestly – the problems you anticipate or are already experiencing. Good relationships are built on integrity and be sure your lies will catch up with you at some point in the future; usually at the worst possible juncture.

4.    Devise with them a yearlong plan which covers when you need support and in which areas. Get them to agree in writing to the support – financial and advice – that they can deliver.

5.    Show willing to participate in promotional events, dinners, training seminars, business lunches and the like, which are organised by the LEC. You scratch their back … etc etc etc.

6.    Above all, use the money you are given for the purpose for which it was intended. Don’t try and cheat the system. That just makes it increasingly hellish for the rest of us to convince advisors that we are dead honest, guv.

7.    And finally, if you find a great advisor then spread the word. These gems are rare and treasure such as this should be shared. But be warned: don’t tell their bosses, ‘cos they’re liable to move them up the career ladder and into a role a million miles away  from what they’re good at.

I think it’s about time the enterprise network realised there is a real threat to their “business” from entrepreneurs who have spotted great gaps in the market that the LECs purport to serve.  In the Internet world, the David and Goliath legend lives on.