A genuine interest in supporting businesses and the ability to use your own experiences across a range of specialisms is more important than a specific degree subject

As an employed or self-employed business adviser, you'll provide information, support, coaching, advice and guidance to business people. This could range from individuals looking to start their own business through to supporting established businesses to grow, scale up, change or diversify their business model.

You'll provide specialist services depending on your expertise. Many business advisers specialise in supporting start-up businesses to move their business from concept to reality. This involves providing specialist finance and funding advice, consulting on organisational change and offering advice on innovation in technology, right through to supporting a business to develop international trade agreements.

Key areas include:

  • providing information on finance, funding and grants
  • offering mentoring and coaching to help a business through a period of change
  • providing support on the business planning process
  • giving advice on business improvement techniques
  • introducing businesses to networks and associates
  • supplying specialist support to specific business sectors
  • offering specialist support to develop international trade agreements
  • informing and influencing government policy on business support
  • designing and delivering training seminars to provide business support to a wide audience.

Responsibilities

As a business adviser, you'll need to:

  • possess an in-depth knowledge of the business support landscape and the ability to advise businesses on the range of options available
  • undertake diagnostic needs assessments with businesses, including analysing the needs of the business and working with the client to put a business action plan in place
  • develop your own professional network of associates who can provide a broad range of business and enterprise support services to your clients
  • build positive relationships with clients, partners, associates and networks
  • have excellent mentoring and coaching skills
  • attend meetings with networks and associates to ensure you keep up to date with global, national, regional and local business support initiatives to ensure your business clients benefit
  • undertake research on behalf of a business
  • communicate with clients, networks and associates
  • provide start-up businesses with advice and guidance to assist them to successfully set up and commence trading (and go on to maintain their own sustainable business)
  • provide tutoring on, for example, suitable business plans and cash flow plans
  • organise and deliver business networking events and business education seminars and workshops.

Salary

  • Entry-level salaries for start-up business advisers range between £18,000 and £25,000.
  • More experienced and specialist business support advisers and coaches can earn up to £40,000.
  • Economic development advisers and management consultants can earn significantly higher salaries.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Working hours are typically 37 to 40 hours a week, Monday to Friday. You will be required to attend breakfast and evening networking events and seminars.

Part-time work is common, many business advisers are employed on fixed-term contracts to deliver specific projects, which are government funded.

What to expect

  • It is essential that you can travel and have use of a car as you'll spend much of your time out visiting clients.
  • Smart dress is required to maintain a professional business relationship with clients.
  • Flexible working patterns and some home-working may be possible.
  • Self-employment or freelance work is possible for experienced business advisers who choose to become independent consultants.

Qualifications

Although no formal qualifications are required, a business-related degree would be an advantage.

Many business advisers are graduates from a variety of disciplines, who started out in a professional and financial service such as HR, recruitment, marketing, accountancy, finance and banking. Many business advisers have worked in industry and have run their own businesses. Other business advisers develop their skills within local government, working in economic development advisory roles.

Small Firms Enterprise Development Initiative (SFEDI) is the awarding body for enterprise education. It delivers nationally-recognised qualifications in enterprise support, which are often requested by recruiters. Relevant qualifications include:

  • Level 8 Diploma in Business and Enterprise Support
  • Level 7 Certificate in Professional Business and Enterprise Coaching Services
  • Level 5 Certificate in Professional Business and Enterprise Support Services
  • Level 4 Certificate in the Provision of Skills Development Advice to a Business
  • Level 3 Award in Enterprise Mentoring.

Skills

You will need to show:

  • business acumen
  • a good understanding of business functions such as sales and marketing, finance, operations, leadership and management
  • strong verbal communication skills for articulating ideas to clients
  • excellent written communication skills for producing plans, reports, evaluations and funding applications
  • strong numeracy skills and a good command of English, with the ability to adapt these to a range of clients
  • the ability to listen and interpret clients' needs and requests
  • good analytical skills to conduct needs assessments, analyse data and produce clearly defined reports and action plans
  • close attention to detail and accuracy
  • organisational skills with the ability to collect and disseminate information
  • the ability to work independently and flexibly
  • a capacity to prioritise your work and to work across multiple projects
  • a high level of interpersonal skills, including team-work and the ability to build effective relationships with clients and deliver excellent customer service
  • creative skills to enable you to solve problems and contribute new and innovative ideas
  • the ability to work well under pressure and meet deadlines
  • networking and consultancy skills
  • knowledge of the existing and emerging business support landscape
  • excellent IT skills and knowledge of social media platforms.

Work experience

Local government, local enterprise partnerships, charities and social enterprises, such as the Prince's Trust, are good places to look for work experience. While studying, find out what enterprise initiatives are available through your university and Student Union.

Gain experience of starting your own business, or spend time shadowing a small to medium-sized enterprise (SME) to develop an understanding of business operations and the challenges they face.

Employers

As a business adviser, you're most likely to be employed by local government, charities, social enterprises and local enterprise partnerships.

Look for job vacancies at:

Later in your career, when you have gained experience, built a professional reputation and developed a network of contacts, you may choose to work on a freelance basis.

Professional development

You'll need to develop and maintain the broad base of skills, knowledge and understanding expected of a successful business and enterprise adviser. This means keeping up to date with government and international funding opportunities and continuing to develop your coaching and mentoring skills.

For your continued professional development (CPD), SFEDI provides a range of courses at various levels leading to nationally-recognised qualifications in this field.

You could consider joining the Institute of Enterprise and Entrepreneurs (IOEE). It offers a full range of SFEDI qualifications as well as a variety of resources, connections and support.

The Institute of Leadership and Management also offers training at a range of levels in leadership and management as well as coaching and mentoring.

Career prospects

Many business advisers start their careers in a business function then gain professional qualifications through SFEDI or the IOEE.

Once you have gained experience, a professional reputation and developed a network of contacts, you could apply for promotion to another organisation or choose self-employment on a consultancy basis. Opportunities exist in local business support organisations or national organisations like the Great Business support line.

Some business advisers go onto roles as business analysts, economic development officers and management consultants.