Building surveying: business support
16 August 2013
Richard Moxon outlines RICS initiatives aimed at helping small to medium-sized companies
Helping members run their practice more efficiently in today's challenging business environment is high on RICS' list of priorities. Small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) in general have faced a challenging time in recent years and firms in the construction sector are no exception, being heavily affected by the global economic downturn. Accordingly, in response RICS has launched a range of business support services to help its members across the UK.
After listening to member feedback, RICS is aiming to focus on the following key areas:
- a small business toolkit: offering support with practice management and compliance with red tape
- Assessment of Professional Competencies (APC) support: an online resource as well as a series of free regional workshops for SMEs
- professional networking: a programme of local inter-professional networking events
- affordable continuing professional development (CPD): a range of low-cost seminars and online learning relevant to SMEs.
The Small Business toolkit is a dedicated area of the RICS website that aims to help members manage their practice more efficiently. It comprises a series of practice management factsheets along with links to guidance, help sheets and support services designed to ensure compliance with RICS regulations, rules of conduct and ethics. The practice management factsheets are available to download and cover:
- starting a new business
- developing a business plan
- business development
- practice finance
- people management.
To complement the toolkit, links are provided to the national MentorSME portal, which connects companies to a network of professional business mentors available across the UK through an easy-to-use search engine. The service locates organisations that provide mentor services to small businesses, as well as those interested in starting up a business.
A mentor is normally someone who has extensive business experience or is expert in a particular area such as finance or marketing. He/she can support and guide SME firms in a number of ways:
- providing honest and constructive feedback on business plan ideas
- being a sounding board for business ideas
- listening confidentially to business concerns
- providing a counselling service
- supplying a training service.
But ultimately, mentors are there to help businesses to develop creative ideas and find solutions to their problems.
MentorSME.co.uk lists both commercial and not-for-profit organisations. Commercial organisations will charge for their mentors' time and expertise, and it is worth noting that the level of the charges will vary from company to company. For those not in a position to afford additional overheads a number of not-for-profit mentoring organisations are also available, which do not generally charge for their services. The website also offers useful resources for small businesses in specialist areas including banking and finance, marketing and HR.
Managing red tape
In addition to the RICS policy team's contribution to the government's Red Tape Challenge, which aims to reduce the burden of administration placed on small business, RICS aims to provide the tools to help companies manage red tape more effectively.
The government highlighted managing red tape as a major concern for small firms, and the RICS Red Tape toolkit is designed to assist members running SMEs to manage legislative requirements, particularly around statutory compliance.
RICS aims to provide the tools to help companies manage red tape more effectively
The factsheets and links to government resources provide guidance on business, employment, health and safety and environmental legislation. Of particular note and relevance to surveyors in construction are the Health and Safety and Corporate Manslaughter fact sheets, which can be downloaded.
There are many other areas for support for SMEs around professional networking, qualifying members and affordable CPD.
Market conditions are driving the need to network, share best practice and work more collaboratively with other surveying practices and professionals. To help SME members connect with fellow professionals, RICS is encouraging members to sign up to their local RICS LinkedIn group and is also running a programme of local events.
Examples include the Networking in Property events running throughout Scotland and the north of England, and the Property Connections regional assemblies that will run in southern England offering networking opportunities and keynote speakers covering issues relevant to surveyors.
Small business employers have voiced concerns about the resources required to qualify trainees, and in response RICS has created a Small Business Guide to the APC to demonstrate the value of investing in qualifying an APC graduate. The guide, in the form of a two-minute video, outlines the various stages of the APC, and how organisations can benefit from qualifying staff.
Small business employers have voiced concerns about the resources required to qualify trainees
Andrew Ward MRICS describes his experience: "I was concerned at first that the process would be difficult and initially the level of information to take on was tough. However, our trainee was switched on and soon got to grips with the process. It was actually very easy, not at all time consuming or onerous from my perspective.
"To anyone hesitant to put a trainee through the APC, I would say it is not as daunting as you think. There are a few forms to fill in but there is lots of support available from RICS in terms of information and training."
In addition, a series of free regional APC workshops have taken place across the UK targeted at smaller employers. These seminars are set to continue and can offer a useful insight into membership issues and training from the perspective of a small business.
RICS members have stated that they view CPD as important and beneficial, but find it increasingly difficult to fulfil because it is perceived as unaffordable by smaller firms.
In response, RICS introduced the UK-wide CPD Series in September 2012, a programme of one-hour seminars for SMEs at a cost-effective £30. In addition, the Small Business CPD Catalogue offers a range of low-cost, relevant CPD events and online CPD priced from £15.
The Small Business Web Class Series is also available, offering a bespoke programme developed specifically to support SMEs setting up in practice, managing their businesses efficiently and regulating cash flow efficiently.
The outlook remains tough for small firms, but RICS is dedicated to supporting SMEs. It will continue to develop resources designed to help surveyors navigate the currently difficult economic conditions and add value to their businesses.
Richard Moxon FRICS is Chair of RICS UK and Ireland World Regional Board