The continued uncertainty of what may happen with Brexit means these are uncertain and stressful times for small businesses. While the temptation can be to concentrate only on core activities, it is important not to overlook the value of training and development. Investing in yourself and your team is vital to the growth and management of risks in your business.

As well as the huge issue of Brexit, other challenges remain for many small businesses in the current climate. These include financial management, keeping up to date with the latest market trends, business regulations and knowledge, the impact of technology, and how to innovate and develop your business. Taking the time to invest in training and development can help with all of these.

Historically many small businesses have not prioritised training. For example, a 2017 report from the Federation of Small Businesses indicated that only 43% of British SMEs invested in training and development. Despite this, most small businesses (91%) recognised that it increased the value of an employee's contribution to the business and employee retention. According to this report, cost is the main reason (43%) that small businesses do not offer a training and development programme. Over a third (34%) of small businesses also indicated a lack of relevant training providers near to them. 

There are several options open to small businesses to overcome these issues, including individual consultants, training companies, Local Enterprise Partnerships, Chambers of Commerce, and online providers. But there is another opportunity that is perhaps less well known - the opportunity to work with the UK's world-class business schools, recognised by the Small Business Charter award. 

The Small Business Charter (SBC) is an award given to UK business schools that play an effective role in supporting small businesses, local economies, and student entrepreneurship. It was developed by Lord Young, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, and the Chartered Association of Business Schools. 

It is given to business schools after a rigorous assessment in three key areas:

1)         How the business school supports small businesses.

2)         How it develops and supports student entrepreneurship and enterprise.

3)         Its involvement in and support to its local economy.

Small businesses, start-ups and students can receive expert advice, training and courses from business schools based right across the UK. To date, 36 UK business schools hold the SBC and have given direct support to more than 18,750 small businesses.

A good example is Salford-based furniture manufacturer, Forest Sofa, which received support from Manchester Metropolitan University's Faculty of Business & Law. Managing director Ryan Mohieddin was supported by the University's Greater Manchester High Growth Network which provided a programme of workshops, peer growth group sessions and action planning for growth.

He says: "The High Growth programme helped me focus and I was able to define clearly the path that I wanted to take. I realised that my previous approach had been too scattergun. I had been pushing in all the wrong directions and going nowhere."

Thanks to the help of the team at Manchester Metropolitan, and the wider business network, Ryan has now amalgamated two of his company's existing retail brands into one clear channel. "The longer the course went on, the more I realised that dedicating time to working on my business was far more productive than being in the office every day. I developed confidence in the direction I wanted to take the company, but I also learnt about the importance of taking the team with you and improving communication techniques to achieve this," he concludes.

Mechatronic, a Midlands-based robotics company, grew over 400% in five years after receiving help from Aston Business School's small business development centre, Aston Growth. Managing director Richard Evans cites the business school's help as significantly improving the company's financial footing and future prosperity. "It's been great, and it's embellished my passion. I love my business and I love being an engineer. It's given me new tools - the biggest one is actually for myself - to find a new way to engender the same sort of spirit in a management team, and to follow through with leadership.  It's brought about a transformation in the business."

A long-term benefit of the SBC is the developing network of UK business schools in which the latest thinking on enterprise, entrepreneurship and business engagement is developed and shared. This has prompted more business schools to develop their support to small businesses. Since receiving the SBC, over half of business schools have increased the volume or variety of offerings to small businesses, and a majority have seen an increase in the number of small businesses engaging with their institution and participating in business support programmes. Our impact research also shows that, for business schools, the SBC award acts as a catalyst for collaboration with other stakeholders within the business support ecosystem, including representative bodies, government support agencies and fellow award holders. With 5.7 million small businesses in the UK, it's imperative that education, public bodies, and business work together, to ensure this vital section of the economy thrives.

Business schools are actively looking to help small businesses. I would encourage you, to get in contact with your nearest school. SBC business schools and their specialist areas can be found by clicking here