Five steps: get free help with your business plan

1. Trade shows

Startup and small business trade shows often boast 'free business advice'. This usually entails someone from a professional services company or an advisor sitting at a booth. You book in a 15- or 30-minute slot to talk about an issue you're having. Smarta did this at the Business Startup Show at Kensington Olympia, for example, providing business plan help in half-hour segments.

You need to get in early to secure a slot: usually a few days or weeks before the show. Talk to the expo's organiser to find out when to register a place.

Be wary of anyone who tries to push a product on you at the end of your slot. You may well not need it, despite anything they say. Sadly, some companies offer the advice under the pretext of trying to make a sale.
Take your business plan along, have your questions in mind (or email them to the advisor beforehand) and you'll keep the focus firmly on getting the help you need.

Try a site like exhibitions.co.uk or the Smarta community to find upcoming events.

2. Free business plan templates

Most startup hopefuls have never seen a business plan. No wonder it's such a daunting task. How can you be expected to put something together when you have no idea what the end result is supposed to look like?

Looking at sample plans gives you a much better grasp of what you're aiming for. There are plenty of sites offering examples, but we've saved you the trouble of trawling the web. Check out more than 500 free business plan templates in our Tools section. Pick the one for your industry and adapt it to suit your business.

3. Enterprise hubs, RDAs and Business Link centres

There's more face-to-face free help available than many business owners realise. Government-run regional development agencies (RDAs) exist to help stimulate the local economy, and their websites can point you in the direction of the help you need. Find a link to your RDA's website here, then look in its business section to establish where to go next.

Business Link centres are sprinkled all over the UK, and are also government-backed, although they are managed regionally. That means the quality of advice on offer at each one does tend to vary, but you can guarantee there will be someone there who can talk you through your plan. Call the centre in advance to explain what you need and to book a session.

Enterprise hubs work in much the same way. Call to book an appointment and find your local one through Google.

4. Business mentors

Mentors have usually set up a string of successful startups themselves, so will be well-versed  in the requirements of a business plan. An experienced mentor can also prove an invaluable resource throughout the start-up process even if only used a sounding board for an hour every couple of weeks.

Read our guide on how to find a business mentor.

Once you've identified your personal guardian angel, read our guide on how to get the most from a business mentor so you can really work that relationship.

Start asking other business owners you meet at networking events specific question you think they could help with, too. Many will have done it all before and will be more than happy to spend 10 minutes giving you guidance.

And turn to the Smarta community with your questions. We set up the Q&A section to help people like you get advice. Stick a few queries up there - the community is very obliging and has a wealth of expertise.

5. Bank managers, accountants and solicitors

Your bank manager wants your business to flourish just as much as you do. They won't sit down with you for hours poring over every detail like a mentor would, but they can explain exactly what they want to see in a plan. They've seen thousands of business from companies just like yours, so glean as much from them as you can.

Don't take drafts of your plan - you'll want to impress them with the finished thing at a later date - but have a frank talk about the fact you're planning on starting up and find out exactly what they need to see.

An accountant or solicitor's help might not strictly be free, but they have an idea of how to rigorously assess a plan. Ask firms who specialise in small businesses if they offer discounts or freebie sessions for early-stage startups.

Smarta Business Builder

To help you on your business journey, we've created Smarta Business Builder, the complete online tools package for growing your business. Website BuilderBusiness PlansAccounting SoftwareLegal Documents and Email - all in one place - from just £20 per month with no contract! Try it out today.


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