GoFarFast Show

Need free support in business planning, cash flow & more? Alex Till on how NEN helps SMEs | S1 EP1

August 27, 2020 Chris Season 1 Episode 1
GoFarFast Show
Need free support in business planning, cash flow & more? Alex Till on how NEN helps SMEs | S1 EP1
Show Notes Transcript

Welcome to the first ever episode of the Go Far Fast Show... the small business talk show that gets you places fast!

In this video, hear from Alex Till, Chairman of the National Enterprise Network, on how you can get (sometimes free and locally available!) support and advice around getting started in making your business idea a successful, supported business... with support around business planning, cash flow forecasting and lots more.

Take a look at how you can get support from the National Enterprise Network here: https://www.nationalenterprisenetwork...

22:44 – Are the government taking what’s happening with small businesses seriously? It doesn’t always feel like that to the small business on the street..

26:24 - My business is struggling and I’m feeling like giving up. I’m gutted, but I’m exhausted, and it feels like there is no end in sight. Do you have any advice for me? Can you offer any glimmers of hope?

29:40 - I’ve been a freelancer, running my business as a limited company for years. I pay my taxes and I’ve always been really responsible about running my business. But I’d have been better off working for someone else or being a sole trader under the government’s relief schemes. Do you think what’s happening to the #ForgottenLtd businesses is fair? 

32:33 - I’m hearing that help (money and support) in some regions is better than others. Is this true – and should I move my business to get a better deal? I really need help.

32:33 - I feel like nobody is really listening or really committed to helping small businesses and we don’t seem to have a real voice. People who say they represent us put a ‘spin’ on what we tell them and they never seem to report back what they’re doing and what that means for us. What’s NEN doing to help? 

35:24 - How is NEN helping people with landlords – or can you help us with that? Paying rent is a big expense for most small businesses and my business is no different. My landlord is chasing me for rent that I just can’t afford to pay right now 

38:20 - What’s the benefit of being a member of NEN? Why should I join up and what will it give me that other trade associations don’t? 

Massive thank you to National Enterprise Nation for sponsoring the Go Far Fast Show – we're super proud to be supported by such a vital part of the business community. 

And, of course, sending a virtual fist bump to our awesome accounting extraordinaire, Aaron at Boffix, for being such a fun co-host! 

See you in the next podcast!

Merlie: Alright folks, it's time for the #GoFarFast show! Welcome to our first show – the show that gets you, our small business community, to the right places with the right answers fast! Don't forget to like, comment and subscribe to the channel because we're going to be doing tons of these shows with fantastic guests. We'll be getting you brilliant answers to the burning questions of today.
I'm co-hosting this show with my trusted finance buddy and business guru, Aaron Patrick, and I have to say a massive thank you to the National Enterprise Network for sponsoring the show.
 Aaron: That's right! We've also got Merlie with us at. The amazing Merlie – who has the life experience of how to start up a company and how it should be done properly. She is the face of Farillio, who's aim is to ensure that we #leavenosmallbusinessbehind.
 Merlie: Yes, I'm unapologetically fierce about that one! Thank you, Aaron. Aaron and I are super excited because this is something we've been talking about doing for quite some time. We're going to be starting by really bring the state of business today to the fore. What it's going to take for us to be confident, to stride out there with ambition, to do it well, to do it quickly, and hopefully as stress-free as we can. This period has been hugely stressful for so many of us, so this is something we're going to be interrogating full force in the coming shows.
Aaron: That's right Merlie. And the name of the show is really straightforward, isn't it? 'GoFarFast' – and that's exactly what we're going to do today. We've got Alex Till with us today, the amazing Alex Till, who's here to tell us all about how he helps to inspire and encourage enterprise. For me, he's the perfect first guest to help us continue to fight the #leavenosmallbusinessbehind initiative. Merlie, can you tell us how this all works?
Merlie: Absolutely! The format of the show is that we collect up lots of questions that you have been sending to us, sharing with us on our live chat feeds and on our social media channels. If there are extra questions that pop into your mind as you're watching the show then keep sending them to us. We will follow up with the answers to those questions too.

Aaron and I will start off by asking some of the big questions that have come right to the fore early on. Then we're going to get on to some of these much more granular questions and some of the very emotional themes that we're all facing. Alex is the perfect person to be addressing these with us.

Aaron: Alex, the viewers have been waiting long enough! Welcome to the GoFarFast Show, the first GoFarFast Show! Thank you for being our first guest and please let the viewers know exactly who Alex really is...
Alex: Hi Merlie, hi Aaron! What an introduction, that's absolutely superb. I'm Alex Till. I'm the Chairman of the National Enterprise Network and, alongside that, I do work with the Prince's Trust. I also look at how I can develop my own organisation – if we need to talk about small business – I run one and I've got the scars! I've got the 4:30 am dark circles under my eyes from worrying about the staff and cash flow.

Let me tell you about the National Enterprise Network. We've been established since 1993. We have a whole host of businesses that support, represent, promote and connect enterprise. So that's whether you've got a business idea, it's whether or not you've early stage started, it's whether or not you're looking for finance. Not only that, but a lot of our support is also fully funded, so you don't have to pay a bean for some of this.

What we do is offer advice around business planning, cash flow forecasting and the ability for an individual to start their business in a very supportive environment. We can be a bit of a national secret on occasions! Yes, we established in 1993, yes, we're all over the country – but does everybody know about the National Enterprise Network? No! So, we're out there to promote it. We work with organisations such as Boffix and Farillio to drive forward my passion for people starting their business and being able to drive the economy forwards even in times such as now.

Merlie: I think that is such an amazing introduction to the National Enterprise Network. Guys look these folks up – they are on the ground, they are local, they offer really powerful support and lots of very meaningful solutions too. I love the fact that you said it's a 'national secret'. You are one of the biggest organisations, right at the front of the COVID response and also business ambition and business growth, yet there is no ego behind this network. You don't go out and do this massive amount of PR, in fact, many other people are doing the PR for you and I think that's particularly powerful.
Alex, I also love the fact that you are leading the National Enterprise Network. Alex is a bit of a petrol head, so he has a love of cars like I do too! He is running businesses as well as leading others to support businesses, so this is really meaningful support
Let's start with the first question that we've collected from the audience for Alex: Alex, thank you so much for supporting us. What do you think are the biggest challenges faced by the National Enterprise Network's membership today – both at the enterprise agency level because you work with organisations supporting small businesses – but also those small businesses themselves? I'm sorry, we're starting with a huge question!
Alex: That's alright, big questions are good! It means we can start to drill down into the detail. Nationally we're in an environment where there's a significant amount of change. What we've got coming through to the National Enterprise Network is a swathe of organisations and small businesses who are very local, asking the very typical questions: Can I furlough staff? How am I going to manage my cash flow? How are we going to be taking forward our business when our supply chains aren't supporting us, or they can't afford to pay us as well?
All of these are real life. What do I mean by real life? They affect people's pockets. They affect whether or not they're going to be able to pay their mortgages, whether or not they're going to be able to put food on the table. We've got questions from directors about dividends and whether or not they're able to access government funding. So, at ground-level, we have real-life questions coming in every day of the week.
As we move up to the agencies themselves, I'd just like to say that many of us are not-for-profit organisations, we reinvest any surplus we make back into the delivery of business support, which I think is quite unusual in today's climate. We've got a lot of agencies out there trying to drive forward their brand, their ego, their image for financial return. So, the agencies themselves are saying 'We've got a massive tsunami of people coming forward. We don't get government funding and we've got to look at how we can actually support these people because we need to'. The government isn't always addressing the freelancers and those who are very small. They look at growth businesses. One of the things we're saying is, as agencies, how do we manage this? How do we take forward that support?
We're a national network and yes, I said we were a secret earlier, but we lobby government. We're now trying to see what that national package of business support is going to be. We're having direct dialogue to make sure that we will be able to deliver a product, service and support to those businesses that need it and enable us to continue with the work which we undertake – which is all about the representation of small business across the whole of the UK.
Merlie: Alex, that's what fascinates me about what you're doing – when you're talking about the sort of local support that you're providing. You're down in the local libraries, aren't you? You're in the startup accelerator hubs, the small groups working out of cafes. It's not just at the big organisational level that the National Enterprise Network is hearing these challenges and acting within these challenges? It is actually right the way down on the ground, isn't it? It's a proper 'boots on the ground' situation.
Alex: It's really organic. We're working with women returners to work. On occasion, there are organisations working with ex-offenders. We're working with refugees and migrants. We're actually embedded within the communities and one of the phrases I often use is 'we're non-shiny-door'. You don't have to walk through a big shiny door, into a big glass building to get the support you need. We're there to support you and we're all real business owners who have the scars from either owning, running, losing or developing businesses. We can actually talk knowledgeably – these aren't just theoretical practices. We can get in there and roll our sleeves up. if you've got questions or if, for example, you need a swearing partner, that's fine. Let's be honest, let's see where we can take this business to because, quite frankly, being a sole trader or a small business owner is blinking lonely on occasions. We're there to offer that

Merlie: You mentioned earlier (I'm going to stop pinching questions because Aaron's going to start glaring at me on screen!), you mentioned earlier that this is fully funded so the people receiving these benefits don't actually have to pay anything for them. That's amazing. How does that work?
Alex: Basically, how that works is we that always try to provide a funded offer. It comes back to our basic ethos that we never know when we're going to need support throughout our life. It's really interesting: when I was a kid my dad just said to me 'Alex, you're only a paycheck away from homelessness'. This has always resonated in my mind, so we're there no matter what stage of your life you're at. You may need support, you may want to look at self-employment, you may be a student coming out of university. There could be all sorts of things. We will always look at how we can offer an element of free support, whether that's one-to-one advice, mentoring or a place on a workshop.
We do this either funded sources, where we go through applications and tender processes to win those. We can also provide funding from the income that we've generated through some of our properties, we can then use the surplus to reinvest back into support. We try to be self-sustainable where we can but obviously we're in business. Even though some of us are not-for-profit, it doesn't mean we don't like profit. Profit is a good thing because it then enables us to reinvest back into what we're passionate about – which is supporting and establishing businesses.
Aaron: This is amazing, isn't it. At this point in time, we've got so many small businesses that need that support. There are so many people out there who need someone to talk to. You've said it perfectly already – it's even having someone just to have that conversation with. I think now is that perfect time. People are actually talking for the first time. We've not had that for a long time. I've seen small business come out the woodwork who've never had to reach out before – suddenly they are reaching out and they are trying to get that support. So, I think that we're at the best time in terms of getting out there, and what you've said so far is brilliant.
From your point of view, and I know these are big questions we're throwing at you, but what are the challenges that are keeping you awake early in the morning?
Alex: The challenges that are keeping me awake, Aaron, is almost a fear factor. There are some organisations and there are some people that are very fearful. The life and drive of an entrepreneur and of a business owner are very much 'we need to flip', 'we need to adapt', 'we need to pivot', ' we need to innovate', 'we need to change'. That ambition and that environment are still there. We're seeing a lot of businesses trying to move forward in a very focused and direct manner. They don't want things to stop, they understand that it's a changing marketplace.
The fear that's coming is a fear of the unknown – they're not quite sure where things are headed. We're seeing a lot of discussion at the moment about how can we become sustainable? How can we manage our cash flow? Where is the support? These are the big questions which we're trying to tackle at the moment, which is why we're talking to the government. We've obviously got furlough schemes coming to an end or being slightly reduced at some point. Alongside that I was chatting to a guy who runs a company a few weeks ago – he was talking about the lease period on his vans coming to an end – he needs to understand where he'll be getting funds from. All of these are real-life questions.
From the NEN's perspective, we're talking at a high level on the business banking side of things. We've had discussions, which we've opened up to small business as well, with the Small Business Commissioner. We're trying to get the dialogue moving and to say 'You know what guys, look here. There is a big issue which we need to address especially at the smaller end of the business support marketplace, which is vital'. We have so many small businesses in the UK economy and if they start to floor there's going to be a massive impact – that's where our passion and drive is.
In the last three months within Suffolk and Norfolk, there's been an increase of 80,000 people onto Universal Credits. That's significant. The route out for some of these people is going to be pre-start and startup support. We need to act now, we need to look at how we're going to support people because ultimately there are a lot of people with a lot of skills, a lot of knowledge and a lot of opportunities. We don't want to sit there at 4:30 in the morning going 'Okay what do we do with all these skills'.
We need to embrace them, and we need to look at how that's taken forward. Small business is the mainstay of the UK economy – usually under the ten-employee size as well. They're very good, very strong, very engaged businesses. That's where my question is at the moment, Aaron. We need to act, and we need to act fast. NEN is currently putting papers together for The Department for Business Innovation Skills to discuss, and we're opening the dialogue. We need to be representational of the smaller businesses – this isn't all about growth right now, it's about sustainability.
Merlie: I think you put that so well, Alex. My next question to you, and it's certainly one that I know our audience have been mulling over, is who's going to drive this forward? We obviously know that you are driving this forward, which is wonderful. What are you doing to address these challenges though? What can we expect to see, as a small business community, from all the efforts that you're putting in? I know you're talking to government, that you're pulling together solutions, businesses and packages – and making sure that they genuinely are meaningful, and they are getting out into all of the localities. This isn't just a general broad-brush approach that you're looking at, but what can we expect to see from all of this activity?

Alex: Our aim at the moment is to raise the profile of the network to show that we are from
 Leeds, Newcastle, Yorkshire right the way down to Plymouth and Devon – and that actually
 there's a network in place. We don't need to reinvent the wheel; we need to utilise the existing infrastructure that we have in place. We are already there; we are already delivering services. Yes, there are new things onboard local like enterprise partnerships, growth hubs etc. What we are doing now is pulling together that unified approach, in terms of saying 'let's look at the support available'. Let's look at how the Enterprise Agency and the National Enterprise Network members can engage with that in its widest capacity – and let's get rid of the egos and the territories. Let's talk to the government saying this is how we need to put it together– because actually, we're close to it. We can understand where things aren't being delivered and where they need to be, and then we can start putting in the provision in place
 At the moment we're doing provision and, I'll be honest, it's a little bit sporadic depending on the geographical regions that we've got. There are different funding offers depending upon the local authorities and where their funds are able to be allocated. We're trying to pull that together so it's coherent – so if you contact the NEN we can tell you where your local agency
is and they can then talk to you about the local authority which that sits within. Then you can start accessing those funds or the support that is directly needed by you. If we can't answer your question at the time, we'll get back to you as soon as we possibly can.
For us, it's about having that personal conversation and there are some tough conversations being had at the moment. We do take on a mentoring and counselling role, so there's a big effect around this. The main aim for us is to make sure that people have a direct route to market to discuss what they need to do – without just getting an email, without having to go on Google – but actually getting some knowledgeable business support and advice. If we can get it funded by the government it would be fantastic, because I think we need to start positioning where those funds are being allocated.
Merlie: Absolutely, and this is exactly what you are in discussion with the government about isn't it? Government supporting this package and this unified approach, so that it can be adapted locally and so that everybody has that level playing field access to proper solutions. We're talking financial solutions, we're talking sales and marketing, all the solutions that small businesses genuinely need in their armoury. It's not so much the nice-to-have here, it's the absolute essentials that underpin the foundation of success going forward.
Alex: Alongside that, what's really interesting is that a lot of people have legal questions right now. They need quick access to legal support, not expensive legal support. There's a big myth that if I talk legal it's going to cost me £200 an hour. People need to access information which isn't going to result in a significant amount of financial burden on them. Right now we need to alleviate all of those issues. It's important to take away the barriers and ensure that things are smooth, easy and accessible.
Aaron: Alex, you couldn't say it any better. You've already talked about the fact that you've got those tough decisions and tough conversations to have with people. I think that's really what we're hearing – although things will be tough, although there are difficult conversations to be had there is support out there. I think that's the most important takeaway we're going to get.
Alex, you've got that resource for small businesses to go to and have that support network but, just talking about support and what's on offer: small businesses are huge employers at the moment with 65% of all private-sector employment within the SME community. We know that lots of employers are having to let jobs go. What's your take on jobs, employment and small business employees for this year and the next.
Alex: I think the employment agenda is significant at the moment. What we've got to realise is that the UK had around 400,000 thousand people unemployed, that's now anticipated to be about 3.2 million. That's a significant amount. The job centres, when I've been speaking to them, and the Department for Work and Pensions have said they're taking on more staff to enable them to support those people who are coming forward.
My biggest concern now is that we may have a swathe of people who will be accessing mental health support. That's the biggest concern for me. We're looking at jobs, we're looking at support and we're looking at the way we take it forward. We need to start looking at people's skills. We need to look at how that's mapped in against their own opportunities, whether that can be through freelance support. Then we've got to give them the skills and the ability to feel confident enough to take that jump and move into self-employment. At the moment that is significant. I don't think there's going to be any organisation suddenly on a mass recruitment exercise. I think we've got to look at how we support these individuals.
Interestingly, there are programmes which are being funded around people with mild/moderate mental health issues and those who are on Universal Credits. These are the people who are getting funded support. At the moment, if you're not in that space, there seems to be a real lack of government vision. It's addressing the people who have needs, but not necessarily addressing those people who have the want and desire to move forward in a positive direction. It's really interesting for me and that's the biggest challenge we've got at the minute. There's going to be a significant number of people with a significant amount of skill and we've got to work out how we can use them to the best economic advantage that we can.
Aaron: Just to follow on from that, what sort of appetite have you seen for the apprenticeships, now that we've had the reform and we've had these new initiatives put in place? Have you seen a bigger uptake, or have you seen people looking to take on more apprentices?

Alex: It's really interesting because you've got apprenticeships, you've got internships, you've got a whole range of different things at the moment. The big one for me is that we've got a wealth of knowledge sitting within a student base who aren't currently in university. We're not plugging their skills into the small and medium-sized enterprise space. Potentially there doesn't need to be a charge – you could plug the skills from the students into the small businesses and both are winning. One's gaining the skills of business and the others are gaining the new skills of engaged young people. These students will bring a new vibrancy to it and I think that's really important.
With apprenticeships, I think we've got a real concern coming up because some people who have been apprentices are now being laid off because the organisations can't continue with them. There are apprentices who may have completed two or three years, are in the final stages, and it's stopping. That is a big concern for me because it turns the switch off progressive nature and progressive skills.

What we are seeing though, is that certain organisations are taking on interns. These may be virtual interns working from different areas and using their technological skills around social media marketing and branding. They are supporting organisations in being noisy, being loud and being noticed in the current COVID climate, so that they don't feel that they're losing their edge. So that's a very different route to using resources and actually, it's funded at a different rate, so the businesses are looking at how they can manage their way with progression.
It's not a wide discussion. I think we need to make it wider and I think we need to look at how
we start developing the use of student skills and also those who are going through the apprenticeship programmes. What you've got to realise is that training providers are also in this space, so they've got to make sure that they can survive as well. It's not a one-size-fits-all journey, it is affecting everybody.
Merlie: It's such an important question isn't it. We've put so much investment as a nation into a lot of the schemes that the government have announced. Small businesses have really thrown themselves at it. Apprentices are an incredibly valuable resource, so to then
hear that many of them in their final stages are being laid off is galling. It's not what we wanted. It's awful to think that might not continue and that we're going to have more people out of jobs and without the ability to take an apprenticeship or even an internship to get the experience on their CVs to move forward. This is definitely something that we need the government to do more on, don't we Alex? We also need, as a community and with leadership from organisations such as yourselves, to really reflect more on this.

A big question that is coming up from our audience is whether the government is taking what's happening with small businesses seriously. Are they really feeling the pain? Is it being fully recognised, because it doesn't always feel that way to the small business on the street?

Alex: To come back to my car analogy, there's a knocking under the bonnet and you're not quite sure where it's coming from. We need to do a little bit more investigation, so is it a bearing or is it a piston? We need to start looking at what those actual details are. They can see that there are issues. Let's be really honest, the government reacted absolutely superbly and put things in place as quickly as they possibly could to address the needs of businesses. We're now honing this and fine-tuning it. We've got to look at where certain industries aren't being supported. I do know that different things are coming on board, so the retail sector is going to be getting support and the hospitality sector is going to be getting some support. We've got to look at what that actually looks like and how people will be able to access it.
Is it coming later? Yes. But that's because these are slightly different nuances which are coming forwards. People are actually being noisier, which is what we've always said – you've got to talk about where the issues are. Beforehand it was almost blanket support and now we're coming into the more finely tuned detail for the organisations which need support. The festival industry, the music industry, all the technicians and everything sitting behind that – they were just badged under their small business. Actually, these guys aren't able to produce, they aren't able to develop.
There are industries being wiped out – festival food for example and the businesses like that. There's nothing happening, we can't do festival food online and we can't have it via zoom conference. We can't do 4d in terms of smelling it, feeling it and hearing it. These are the sorts of things which are now coming out of the woodwork, where we're saying we really need to support them. It's a very different marketplace, but these are the real businesses which have real support, real finances and real bills which they have to pay. That's where the fine-tuning is coming and that's where we're trying to raise the profile at the moment.
Merlie: Do you get the sense that governments are taking this seriously? I know that the National Enterprise Network are because we can see it in everything that you're doing. Is the government really listening?
Alex: Government's listening. I think what we've now got to do is to look at how that's positioned and what they're doing for it. You'll see that a lot of Local Authorities have had funds devolved to them to enable them to work in particular areas. The Local Authorities have now got to make a decision on how that works. The government's hearing it and they're trying to make it geographically positioned. Across the country, we've got urban, rural and coastal communities, which are all going to have different needs and different wants. Each one of those is going to have a different style and way in which they deliver their services to business. At the moment we are here, as the National Enterprise Network, trying to show the pathway to all of this. We're being asked by local authorities and support organisations like Age Concern and Mind about how we can support them in getting their services into a slightly different marketplace.
This is great for us because it's different stakeholders and different positioning. What we've still got to do is make sure that those businesses that need support can access it – and that it is the right support for them at the right time to enable them to be sustainable and to actually move forward.
Aaron: You've mentioned the fact that you've got the different communities and you've got the different industries. We're really passionate about the fact that we #leavenosmallbusinessbehind. That's what we do. That's the mantra and that's what we want to keep pushing. What happens if you are one of those businesses or part of that industry or community where you feel like you're being left behind?
We've got a brilliant question here, it says: my business is struggling and I feel like giving up. I'm gutted. But I'm also exhausted and it feels like there's no end in sight. Do you have any advice for companies like that? The ones who do feel like they've been left behind?
Alex: It's really interesting, and I'll bring a live example. There was one guy who was a drummer technician, so he would work all across the country and he was even travelling internationally to support those guys who played the drums on stage. He rang us and told us he'd been doing this for under a year and therefore can't access government support. He'd made a good amount of money whilst doing this, so couldn't access Universal Credits because he had savings. He was at his wits end if I'm honest. One of my advisers, Pauline, started to work with him to look at what was being done. She then went to the Department for Work
and Pensions and explained the situation. We worked out that his savings were there to cover HMRC bills and that there was a living expense in there as well. We worked through it. It was a long slog, and it was a lot of discussions, but we took each case-by-case example to make sure that we could do it. He's now been able to access funds via the Universal Credit route, which has given him a lifeline. I won't say it was exactly what he wanted, but it's given a lifeline.

We had exactly the same with a real grassroots business – a doggy day-care business. It was doing well. People pay a lot of money for their dogs to be looked after! Once again, it didn't fall within the categorisation of the government. Was it retail? Was it leisure? What was it? We went through that process once again. Could they have support for their premises? No, they weren't eligible. What we managed to do was to go through once again on a very case-by-case basis looking at who that individual was? What their business was? How long it was established? What was available? Then we talked to the Local Authority about their discretionary funds. They were then able to allocate funding on the basis that there was a
significant need for that business to be supported in their locality – because of the impact that it would have on other areas of economic growth and the support that it was providing for other people.

What I would say to anyone who is feeling distressed or concerned is don't be a stranger. Pick the phone up and talk with us. Make contact with us if you want to know who's in your locality area. Visit the NEN website and that will give you the list of all of those organisations that are available. You can then be put in contact with the people that can support you. Please, please don't be afraid to talk. There are big problems out there but, as soon as you start talking about them, we can start breaking down those barriers.

Merlie: That's great and thank you so much, Alex, for also reminding everybody of the website as well.
Alex: Shameless plug, Merlie!
Merlie, No, it's not at all shameless, this is a really valuable plug! Do go and check out that website, there is help and it is immediately available to you.
Alex, I want to talk about freelancers. We built Farillio in the early stages using freelancers. We would not be here without freelancers and the expertise and the belief that these guys had in our business. There's a question from a freelancer here on a topic that has been going around loudly, and rightly so, for some time. The question is: I've been a freelancer running my business as a limited company for years. I pay my taxes and I've always been really responsible about running my business, but I'd have been better off working for someone else or being a sole trader under the government's relief schemes. Do you think what's happening to the #forgottenlimitedbusinesses is fair?
Alex: My instant response is no, it's not fair. There's a lot of discussion going on around this. You've obviously got organisations like IPSE, for independent professionals and the self-employed, they're looking at how they lobby on this aspect. For me, it's about looking at the
mainstay of freelancers. We're passionate about them and they're doing a significant amount of work. It's really interesting because, even though you may be freelance, you're working in cluster groups. Some of these groups are the areas which I'm trying to raise and promote. You've got the gaming industry, a lot of freelancers in the music industry, a lot of freelancers in tech development. I think on occasion they are forgotten and are not necessarily seen as mainstay growth businesses. From my perspective, they're very good businesses. They're enabling people to retain a working environment which is very progressive. One of the things which we need to do is actually raise that voice of the freelancer and get it promoted in a very significant way.
NEN does not count anybody out so, if we want to start driving the freelance agenda further forward, we're more than happy to do this in the same way as with the sole trader. There is a significant amount of people out there who need support. If you feel you're forgotten, be noisy Let's get out there and let's make sure that people are working on it. As a network, we are working with a significant number of freelancers. Should they feel downhearted? No! Be passionate about what you do. Be passionate about what you're saying because that's the only way we can instil change. I really believe that, and we need to drive that agenda forward.
 From NEN's perspective, we've got a roundtable group where we're bringing a lot of people together – not to give them a kicking or anything else – but just asking 'What are the issues which you've got in your particular areas?'. We want to feed this back to government, and we want to look at the solutions. We need to understand how that works for each and every small business, or self-employed, or sole trader, or freelancer that is out there.
Aaron: Alex you're so right about this. Freelancers themselves are so passionate about what they do. They're so entrenched, and that's why they've chosen that profession. That's why they've decided to put their business on the line, and they've gone out there by themselves. They're giving their all for the projects they put through and, as Merlie said, Farillio wouldn't be where it is without freelancers. We need that community to stay there.
You mentioned about it being unfair and you mentioned the fact that they feel like it's not fair on them. We've got another question here from the audience and it's saying that some regions are better than others in terms of support and in terms of what's available for them. Some people are asking if it's better for them to actually move from one region to the other?
Alex: That's a really interesting question. I sometimes call it the 'postcode lottery'. What we find is that, even within Norfolk and Suffolk, there are certain areas where you can get grant funding if you live in a particular locality area. Should you move your business to those particular locations? That's a really interesting question. We see large organisations and multinationals moving to different countries or different areas because they can get financial benefits. I think it's a really interesting one. Depending upon the freelance role, you may be able to establish yourself in many different areas. You may be able to use different postal addresses. You may be able to access a whole range of different funds.
I think you've got to be true to yourself about where you want to be. If you move north, but you're a southerner and you like being in the south, it may not necessarily work for you. Your business may be more adaptable in some areas, it really does depend, but yes there are different funds available in different areas. Sometimes as you head north there are bigger funds for different things. If you head south then there are particular technological opportunities which you can get. It's just a really interesting environment. Some of those areas which get more funding may be slightly economically challenged, so it could be an area of higher disadvantage. We need to look at the demographics of it, so don't just base your decision on location on the funds that you get – because you may well be funded to a higher level because it's much harder to gain business.
Merlie: That's a really interesting point isn't it. I think that the real danger here is that we don't engage in knee-jerk responses to what's happening. We do need to think about shoring our businesses up right now, and also think medium to longer-term on what is right for the business, as well as us as individuals who run them. Many of us don't have the luxury of picking up sticks and moving house, children, cats, dogs as well as the office to another location. It is a very real concern that Aaron and I are seeing coming through though, aren't we? It's that sense of 'should I move somewhere else' because it seems like others are getting more attention or they're getting more sympathy when it comes to Local Authority funding
Alex: I think it's interesting and I always say be careful of the 'dash-for-cash'. If you're dashing for cash, it's not necessarily about business focus and you may get mission drift from what you're actually trying to achieve.
Merlie: That's really good advice. I'm being told by our producers that we are running out of time for questions, so I'm going to plead with them for two more questions! Aaron, I'll take this one if you take the next one...
I've got a question about landlords here, Alex. I'm wondering if you've got a view on this: How is the National Enterprise Network helping people with landlords, or can you help us with that? Paying rent is a big expense for most small businesses and my business is no different. My landlord is chasing me for rent and I cannot afford to pay it right now.
Alex: I think what's really interesting is that at the start, for those people who were in a workspace or in a managed workspace, there were grants available for up to £10k. If you haven't accessed those yet get on the phone. Get onto your Local Authority. Find out what your business rates are and see whether or not you're eligible for it.
The other part that I would also suggest is that you start talking to your landlord in a non-letter or a non-email format. Pick the phone up, have the conversation and explain where you are. I am a landlord and I have 60 tenants within my sites. The first thing I did was talk to every single one of them. They all had different needs and different requirements from me as the landlord. I also said to them that, for three months, I'll stop the service charge so we can actually get this sorted and so the tenants have got a bit of a runway. What we've noticed is that we haven't lost a tenant, so those people have been retained because of the leniencies and the discussions which we've been having. The landlord, at the end of the day, does not want to lose you. He wants to know that he's going to get some funds and he wants to know that he's got a tenant. What he doesn't want is to feel that he is being pressured into a point whereby legal action will be required. Pick the phone up and talk to them. There will be breaks. There will be incentives. There will be an opportunity to have further dialogue.
There's the very crazy phrase 'we're all in this together', and it's better if we are all in it
together, rather than someone trying to cut the rope or create an issue where there needn't be one. Funds will start flowing again. If it's a significant amount of rent which you're paying it may be worthwhile looking at how you can manage your business around it. I've seen large organisations at the moment saying 'do we really need to be paying £40k a year when only three of us are in the office?'.
The world and mindset are changing. One of the things we're looking at, in terms of managed workspace, is how we can offer the facility of 'anywhere working closer to home' because we're finding that people don't want to travel as far. There are going to be a number of different solutions which are out there and, as your organisation is positioned right now, you're going to need to understand those and to be able to manage your cash flow accordingly.
Merlie: I think as you say it's coming back to having a human conversation. Farillio's got guidance on this and we've also got a payment plan, once you've agreed on something with your landlord. It's better to be proactive right now isn't it, Alex, and to address it with a conversation. You need to be very upfront and honest about it and try to find a resolution. It's
not in anyone's interest for businesses to fail and for landlords to lose their tenants as a result.

Final question from us – and I'm challenging you to do it in about 30 seconds flat! What is the benefit of being a member of the National Enterprise Network? That's a question that we've had from our community: Why should I join up? What will it give me that other organisations or associations don't? I hope that's really clear from what we've already been discussing today and what Alex has already shared, but you've got 30 seconds Alex...

Alex: The NEN is a national organisation. We've got representation at all levels, not only from our small business community but also directly into central government. As a member, you get access to a plethora of support, whether that be around HR advice, legal or financial. We've got organisations including Farillio and Boffix which support as well. What we do is bring you into a community – please don't just see this as paying a shed load of money each year to have stuff! This is a community of people who are driven, who are passionate, and who are looking at how they challenge not only governments but also the needs of small business. We are all-embracing. If you want to be a part of something which is passionate, dynamic, and driven – join NEN!
Merlie: That is all for today's show! Huge thanks to Alex! And to Aaron of course for coming onboard and co-hosting this show. It's been super exciting, and we'll be doing lots more of the same. Don't forget to like, comment and subscribe. Send us your thoughts, send us your questions – whether they relate to questions triggered by what Alex has talked about today or questions that you want us to address later on. We've got a fabulous line-up of guests for these shows. Coming up we'll be looking at the future of retail, looking at lots of different types of issues and sectors, so please get in touch.
As Alex said earlier, if you are feeling distressed, if you are reaching out or if you do need some support, go and check out the National Enterprise Networks website. See what you can get for free from real people with real expertise who really do want to help you right now. 
For now, that's all from us. Have a great week everybody!
Stay curious. Keep asking questions. Stay in contact
 ...and #GoFarFast.