Savvy Money Guide: Directory of Supports
This page lists tremendously useful supports that I have used myself or with which I have come in contact. Of course the list below is by no means exhaustive: I never fail to be amazed at the sheer abundance of agencies, organisations, institutions that have been set up solely to help people get started and then thrive in business.
I will keep adding to the list over time - and if you know of a wonderful resource that isn't listed here, please let me know!
State agencies that provide financial and non-financial support
In several countries, there are organizations that are funded by their governments to help people set up and grow businesses. They may provide grant aid for feasibility studies, for expansion, for trade show visits and for some forms of consultancy. They may act as a lender or a guarantor of money and may also buy an equity stake in the company. In addition, they may offer training, mentoring, market research, information, workspace and introductions.
Here are just a few:
Lots of organizations are set up with a view to giving their members an opportunity to meet each other. They can be geographical, industry-specific or based on a common thread among people.
I'm a member of the Irish International Business Network, and I attend their events in Dublin, London and New York to meet other Irish people in business. I'm also a member of the eLearning Guild, which has built up an online community of eLearning practitioners and which holds events in San Jose, Orlando and Las Vegas. And I'm a member of the CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst) Institute, as it's the professional body with which I chose to study.
In each case, I find like-minded people and businesses. I have developed an immense pool of contacts, a body of knowledge and a calendar of events through these three groups alone. It's also highly beneficial to attend events to develop knowledge, discover opportunities and meet people in similar situations.
Chambers of Commerce, professional institutes and learning centres
There is another type of organisation, one that doesn't concentrate solely on events and networking, but rather on other business needs, including education, representation, personal development, engagement with the academic community, etc.
Our company is a member of the local Chamber of Commerce, which organizes trade missions to new territories, provides member-to-member discounts and networking opportunities, and holds educational events. I'm also a member of the Institute of Directors, as it has a significant information portal on the roles, responsibilities, opportunities and challenges of being a director. It offers discounts (which I use regularly), educational events both online and offline, and networking events.
Our company is also a member of the Learnovate Centre, which harnesses Ireland's eLearning capability by bringing together smaller industry companies, larger multinationals and the research community, with a view to furthering their international competitiveness.
Recruitment companies have one primary goal in mind: matching candidate to company to form productive, satisfied employment, in order to make a profit. They are a great way of finding a good position for you in the labour market by pairing you with a suitable employer. In addition, many offer CV advice, interviewing skills, information on salary levels and employment conditions, and various other valuable services.
I went to Edinburgh for a summer in college and arrived in that beautiful city without knowing anybody at all. I interviewed with a number of recruitment companies and told them the nature of the job that I was looking for at the time. They placed me for the full time that I lived there and were immensely helpful.
Incubation centres are larger buildings that house tens of start-up companies at a time. It depends on the centre itself, but their benefits can include workspace, internet, parking, catering and printing facilities, a company address, a place to hold meetings, training programmes and guest speakers. Our company migrated from my home office to an incubation centre within the first month. We have all of the aforementioned benefits, as well as many additional ones from our relationship with Dublin City University, where the centre is based.
Our incubation centre has several 'Resident Experts': larger professional services firms that give us some time for free or at a very low cost, depending on the ask. Once we were doing business with a client who required us to sign an agreement with some potentially unfavourable terms. I felt it was a little out of our depth, so I approached the Resident Expert legal firm, Arthur Cox. A senior member of staff reviewed the contract, pointed out the possible pitfalls and armed me with the right questions to ask.
Finally, it's fantastic to be surrounded by other people getting started in business. I love to sit in the caf and watch everybody buzzing around the place, catching snippets of their conversations about their latest deals, trials and tribulations. It's a hive of activity. Judging by my experience, becoming part of an incubation centre is a super way to start up in business.
There is an abundance of information on the internet. LinkedIn is a vast, deep and incredibly useful source of information, discussion, recommendations, activities, etc. It's a great idea to set up a profile and build your own virtual network. You can also learn a lot from participating in as well as reading the conversations on LinkedIn Groups. There are innumerable forums where participants discuss various topics as well as blogs where people write their own articles. Social media is an immediately responsive tool that enables users to get answers, market research, opinions and thoughts very quickly from those who are of interest to them.
There is a supranational European agenda across the EU that supports international trade, transfer of innovation, cross-border visits, cultural integrations, sharing of best practices, etc. Billions of euros are available for the pursuit of these objectives, and there are often people employed to help applicants figure out which programmes are for them, navigate the process and ultimately put the money to work. I referred above to my fantastic experience with the Enterprise Europe Network.
Intellectual property ( IP )
Our generation has produced thousands of inventors, innovators and explorers. It's very important to protect intellectual property through trademarks, patents and copyrights. This can be a complicated world - when dealing with it, let your eyes glaze over at your peril: loose legal shelter can be extremely dangerous. There are several bodies, including the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), that help people and companies identify, retain and shield their IP.
Personal finance portals and helplines
Many governments have procured, developed and expanded state-funded organizations to educate its citizens about various personal finance issues including budgeting, pensions, making a complaint, insurance, bank accounts, loans, money saving and investment. Often people don't know that they have resources, helplines, tools, information and lists of useful contact details available to them, and yet all this work to help them manage their money optimally is provided by their taxes.
Online information portals
The biggest information site in the world, at the time of writing, is YouTube. It is a tagged video directory with content on just about any topic that you could possibly imagine, and it is of course totally free. There are also streamlined education websites that operate on a subscription-based model where you mould your own educational journey. I regularly use www.lynda.com to upskill myself on various forms of technology and software. In addition, iTunes have lots of free business podcasts on various topics.
If you set up a company, you can sell part of that company to an investor. We have become accustomed to watching these transactions play out on Dragons' Den. There are lots of organizations that match investors to businesses.
Awards are a fantastic resource - awards and grants are a way to earn recognition and publicity, and very often to receive a significant prize to help your business. Yet they're woefully under-applied for. Why do so many people act as if awards are unworthy of their time?
I have spoken to many award organizers over the years, and they often throw their eyes to heaven as they speak of their struggle to get people to submit an application. In many cases, we don't think that we're good enough, experienced enough or have enough of a chance to win and therefore we don't try. However, there are lots and lots of people who also think the same and leave it to others to walk through that open door. If you actually apply, you have already set yourself apart from all those who haven't.
Our class in college was told about a plethora of awards, scholarships and exemptions that were available to us. Only a tiny fraction of students went forward for any of them, but those that did all benefited, either financially or otherwise. I joined the CFA Institute when I initially enrolled for their Level 1 exam. I paid for the exam myself and began to study. A couple of months later, I received an e-mail to say that the Institute was offering scholarships to those who had paid out of their own pockets. I thought that I hadn't anything to lose and so filled out the short form. Lo and behold, didn't I win it?
When I'm presenting to entrepreneurial groups, I often ask how many people have ever nominated themselves for specific accolades, and I rarely get an enthusiastic burst of hands in the air. Believe me, you have less competition than you imagine. Also, if you're looking for a point of differentiation on a CV, for a testimonial from an authoritative body or kudos within your industry, an achievement recognized by a third party in the form of an award can be the perfect answer.