Landmark event from FSB will provide wealth of support to growing number of small businesses, writes Maggie Stanfield.

For a healthy and prosperous economy, Scotland needs a strong mix of businesses across different sectors and scales. There has been exponential growth in the number of small businesses during the last 15 years – there are now 361, 345 – but much more needs to be done to encourage growth and development according the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB).

Later this month (March 17-19), the FSB is running a landmark business event at Glasgow’s SECC. Free to everyone, there are two main attractions: First, a big exhibition area filled with a wide range of different experts available to advise on every aspect of business management. Politicians and other key decision makers will be rubbing shoulders with business owners, ready to discuss their ideas for business growth. There will be government agencies, big firms such as Epson and Legal & General, a three day appearance from the Google Digital Garage offering free digital business "tune-ups", telecoms, business banking, energy and legal support and a host of other help on hand.

Secondly, there are events and seminars with opportunities to meet and hear from some of the most highly visible and experienced of people running small businesses. Broadcaster and conference host Kirsty Wark will also be sharing her decades of experience at the event.

The number of people working for themselves is higher now than at any point over the past 40 years. There are now around 4.6 million individuals across the UK who are their own employers. Some 54,000 people became self-employed in Scotland between 2008 and 2013.

Andy Willox is the FSB’s Scottish policy convenor. He is excited about the event: “I think this is a marvellous opportunity for everyone either running or thinking of starting up a small business. Under one roof, people will be able to talk to and to listen to people who have been doing it successfully and to learn about the kinds of support services that are available.

“Some research we recently undertook revealed that three in five small business operators don’t understand how their premises’ rates bills are calculated. Many have learned from experience that superfast broadband in Scotland is the worst in the UK. We found 14,000 premises in Scotland don’t even have 2G coverage never mind 4G.

“Barriers to business growth also include dilapidated town centres, poor transport links and a lack of investment in infrastructure. We at the FSB are continually lobbying the Scottish government for improvements that will build businesses integrated with resilient communities contributing to resilient economies.”

FSB supports its members with a range of benefits to make it safer and cheaper to do better business. From tax investigation, legal and employment protection through to health and safety advice, banking, pensions and vehicle services, the organisation offers a package of help that covers every aspect of running a successful small business.

The choice of whether to set up a business may come through an active, positive choice or it may be something of an imposed choice. The financial crisis and subsequent recession of 2008, the pressure on public service budgets and worldwide changes in the economic climate left many people redundant.

Willox argues that these are the very people who are now running successful businesses: “Forget the pinstriped 20-something depicted by The Apprentice. You are much more likely to run a start-up if you’re a bit older, you’re from an ethnic minority or you live in a rural area. People with a long history of working for someone else are far more likely to have the background that will bring them along this route than the young person just out of education.”

Small business sectors are almost as varied as the people working in them. From cheese makers to web designers, micro-breweries to advertising sales, the only thing they really have in common is their scale of operation.

“There is no substitute for meeting and learning from other people who have experience of starting up and then running a business,” points out Willox. “Regardless of sector, the essentials to success have a lot in common. Getting the information you need when you need it requires a knowledge of what’s available and how to access it. That is what the FSB does so well.”

In numbers

As at March 2015, there were an estimated 361,345 private sector enterprises in Scotland.

They provide an estimated 1.2 million jobs.

SMEs account for 99.4 per cent of provide sector enterprises.

Between March 2014 and March 2015, the estimated number of enterprises increased by 26,090.

The number of VAT/PAYE registered businesses has increased by 3,810  in the last year to 170,335

The two largest industry sectors are classed as Professional, Scientific and Technical Activities with 53,450 enterprises and Construction with 48,135. Together, these two sectors make up 28.1 per cent of all private sector enterprises in Scotland.

Four out of five jobs in rural and remote communities are small enterprises.

Figures from the Scottish Government

Tickets for the event are available at at no charge.