What role can a business membership organisation play in helping your business? In particular, how could a business support structure play a part in your company's success?
Michael Osborne, of Business First Network, explained this and much more during an insightful ProfileTree Business Leaders interview.
Michael began by explaining how he came to be Director of Business First Network."I've been running my own businesses from the early eighties, from a small painting and decorating business I started when I was in university through to one of the first pizza takeaways in Belfast.
"I've been involved in the telecoms industry, the IT industry, some managed services and latterly in business membership organisations.
"I've run and grown and sold a number of businesses, granted when I sold the painting and decorating business it was the ladders and brushes and paint!"Since that time I've talked to well over 10,000 business owners.
"The pizza business was especially instructive for Michael, as the arrival a major player meant an opportunity to learn from a giant of the sector.
"In the last couple of years Domino's came along, a very impressive company, so we learnt a lot from their structure and processes and the things they do.
"We always thought that we were pretty good at marketing, we would do 20,000 - 30,000 leaflets per week, but when Domino's came along they were putting out a couple of hundred thousand leaflets per week in the area.
"Back to the present day, what is Business First Network?
"Business First Network is an independent, commercial membership organisation for business owners.
"We started in 2014 and have recruited over 3,500 members, all self-employed business owners.
"If I was to give you my seven word pitch: we keep business owners out of court. How we do that is by providing the business owner with five helplines.
"We have 24 hour legal advice, 24 hour HR advice, advice on tax, advice on VAT and advice on health and safety?
"Michael outlined how this major benefit of the Business First Network works for company owners.
"We would say we give peace of mind, we're there to handle all those compliance issues and the difficult issues that business owners have to deal with.
"If you have a business with a couple of hundred employees and lots of sites and managers, you just ring downstairs to the HR department and say 'sort that for me' or 'there's health and safety, get that done'.
"But if you're starting a business, growing a business or running a family business or SME, you need to have access to those services.
"We act as that HR department 24 hours per day and you can phone for legal advice 24 hours per day, if you want a quick direction on a tax issue or a health and safety issue you can get through.
"What kinds of advice can the service help with?
"Just being able to get a bit of legal reference if you're going into a meeting and you're not 100% sure where you stand, or if one of your staff has raised an issue and you're not 100% sure what to answer you can get on the HR line.
"It might be maternity leave, it might be paternity leave, it might be a holiday issue but the business owners need to be able to access that quickly and efficiently and in a cost-effective way.
"All business owners have a team of outside professionals, like their accountant or solicitor, but it isn't always that easy to get a quick answer.
"I phone my solicitor, who's a great guy, but sometimes it can be a couple of days before he gets back to me.
"We can get information to the business owner immediately.
"During his interview, Michael also touched on some of the challenges of running a B2B company.
"I think all businesses, B2B and B2C, have challenges.
"It starts with start-up finance, which is always a challenge for business owners. The biggest challenge then becomes cash flow.
"HR, and recruitment especially, is always tough for business owners. There's a lot more compliance today than there ever was."