We want to give our members here in Northern Ireland a platform for telling us all about their experiences as an SME in NI and their reasons for being a member of the FSB. Following the success of the #ThinkSelfEmployed campaign last July we are delighted to get the “Small Business” story from a member’s persepctive. To start off the 2019 we speak to Conor Devine, an active member of the NI Policy Unit and director of Clearpath Finance based in Belfast…he tells us about his journey
In 2016 we brought Clearpath to the market to try and solve a huge problem which was affecting the business community in N Ireland – Access to finance for SMEs. Post the Global Financial Crisis, our banks have continued to take a very cautious approach to lending and this was having a very negative impact on our economy as business owners were finding it difficult to access finance and grow their business.
Why did you join FSB?
I joined FSB as I felt it was the best local business organisation to get involved with and also it appeared to be the more popular organisation in terms of the amount of members it now has in N Ireland. There is a lot of support available through the FSB, and I have found the organisation has a very strong online offering, which again is great support to SMEs.
Have you used any FSB services so far and how has this experience been/helped your business?
I have been to a number of events that the FSB has organised and I am also a member of the policy committee which I have found to be extremely rewarding in terms of my own development and giving me the opportunity to engage and at times do business with other FSB members.
What is the single greatest challenge for any SME at the minute?
I think there are lots of problems facing the business community at the present time namely cashflow issues, sourcing suitably qualified staff, access to finance and credit issues and the two big elephants in the room being the fact that we have no machinery of government in operation and we are on the brink of crashing out of Europe with regards to Brexit which clearly will bring a lot more challenges to all of us.
What are the opportunities and positives for SMEs at the minute?
It’s really all about what value are you bringing to the market place. If you can figure this out and have the right plans in place, then there will always be room for you and your company to do well and be successful in my view.
For ourselves the opportunity is to grow our share of the lending market in N Ireland, grow the business in ROI and also mainland UK.
FSB key campaign issues at the minute include: Brexit, Small Business Rates Relief, GDPR, Prompt Payment, local Bank Branch Closures, Broadband. Which is most important to you and your business at present and why?
I would have to say Brexit, as the entire episode has been extremely toxic and bad for business right across the islands. It would be in everyone’s interest that we can try and find a way forward with that as its had a very negative impact right across the board and dominating a lot of the conversations in the business community today.
Your words of advice to anyone starting a small business?
You need to figure out what problem you are solving and then try and find a way of communicating your message / product / service to the marketplace and your customer base. You might be the best company in the world at what you do but if no one knows anything about you, you will not be in business very long. In my view every business is a marketing business so make sure you hire the right people to advise you on this and how you are going to take your product or add value to your prospective market and customer base.