Small businesses in the North struggle to plug skills gaps

digital skills
It was found that these businesses in the North also hire 43 per cent more external consultants, than those based in the South. Data suggests that, because there is over a third fewer registered businesses in the North, compared to the capital, this results in a limited pool of external experts and consultants and therefore less competitive prices. Overall this leads to inflated fees in comparison to those in London.
Small business owners in the North, on average, spend 48 days per year engaging experts. This equates to a fifth of the total number of working days available in 2017. This sits in stark comparison to London, where the average SME invests just eight and a half days across the year sourcing and briefing experts, again highlighting the ease of access to a wider pool of exerts in the Capital.
Even though these businesses invest heavily in both time and money to plug skill gaps, a high proportion of northern businesses still cannot obtain the necessary expertise they require. The research identified that digital expertise was in high demand, highlighting the digital skills gap in the region with 49 per cent of small businesses seeking external consultation in cyber security, 38 per cent in social media, 25 per cent in SEO and 21 per cent in web build.
Once they did engage external experts, over half of SMEs in the North analysed the level of expertise on offer was disproportionate to their needs, with almost one quarter claiming the advice was too complicated. Sixteen per cent noted that longer term contracts and project fees were required for short term queries or one-off needs, highlighting the desire for more flexible access to consultants and access to experts.
Almost a third of businesses in the North claim the consultants they hired were not value for money. When asked why, Northern businesses owners cited: the advice given didn’t meet their business requirements – 70 per cent, fixed fees were inefficient – 54 per cent, advice was too complicated – 24 per cent, long terms contracts were required even for short term requirements – 16 per cent and unprofessionalism and inflexibility – 16 per cent.
In comparison, only 15 per cent of small businesses in London did not feel external consultants offered value for money.
Nationally, the research revealed nearly half of small business owners don’t expose themselves to the best talent, as they simply rely on an existing pool of suppliers they have met through business networking.
Business expert and author, Dr David Fraser, commented: “Smaller organisations should not be attempting to source all the expertise they need internally. That’s not affordable – but nor is the kind of exorbitant fee larger consultancies typically want to charge, often for recycled material not really tailored to the true needs of the client.”
“There’s definitely a need for an efficient way for businesses to access diverse external expertise in an only-buy-what-you-need fashion and, of course, the best external experts will always put the client’s needs ahead of their own business goals. Buyers should look for quality and experts who truly understanding their issue.”
Daniel Hedlund, Co-Founder of Zeqr, comments on the findings: “Our new research shows that access to experts is a postcode lottery. Moreover, Northern business owners in particular face huge financial investment to access this expertise. With businesses often relying on an existing or small pool of suppliers, this often results in less than satisfactory outcome that don’t help their bottom line.”
He continued, “We launched Zeqr after struggling ourselves to access the right level or expertise and advise on business queries. We found we were limited to flat rates and project fees, which far exceeded the very specific and small pockets of advice or expertise we searched for.”