Small Business Government Assistance Programs

By: Dr. Rami Schayek

Government budgets are relayed to various assistance programs whose purpose is to encourage economic activity in small businesses. It is often asked whether these programs do in fact fulfill their purpose or maybe these budgets are wasted?

A groundbreaking research jointly conducted by Ben-Gurion University and the Ministry of Industry, Trade & Labor elucidates this issue. Researchers Dr. Rami Schayek and Prof. Dov Dvir have developed an innovative model which measures the effect of government assistance programs on small businesses, identifies the most important components incorporated in the assistance program and determines which managerial, operational and behavioral activities should be focused in order to improve on business performance. The research included one hundred and thirty five small businesses which participated in the Ministry of Industry, Trade & Labor's Standard Coaching project. This project is one of several business coaching projects run by the ITL ministry and it is designed for small and medium businesses of five to one hundred employees. A business of five to ten employees is appointed up to one hundred coaching hours. A business of eleven to one hundred employees is appointed up to one hundred and fifty hours. The coaching project finances 75% of the cost of coaching. 25% are financed by the business.

Results indicate that there is a return on the tax payer's money!

Findings indicate that government assistance program involvement positively affects small business performance. The basic research model, which examined only the direct effect the assistance program has on small business performance, shows that the greater the number of quantitative components (hours of consultation; proximity of consultation encounters; range of issues incorporated into the consultation), and the higher the standard of qualitative components (level of the consultant's professional understanding of the respective subjects of consultation; level of organization and planning of the consultation process; level of trust, commitment and mutual understanding between consultant and small business owner), the higher will be the level of performance in the small business. When adding to the model an examination of indirect effects, assistance programs are shown to affect small business performance primarily through the consultant's influence on the small business owner which is expressed in the latter's motivation to take action, like as attention to the service provided after the sale, understanding the fluctuation in customer preferences and the small business's operative environment, and the need to measure and analyze customer satisfaction and respond to the customer's complaints regarding either the service or the product provided by the small business. The consultant also affects the business owner with respect to the latter's ability to manipulate business opportunities through utilization of competitors' weaknesses and an understanding of the ways in which the small business as a whole may benefit the customer. Consultation raises the small business owner's level of awareness as to the need to innovate, take risks and increase the level of activity, both in implementing changes in the service or products he provides and as regards conduct in the face of competition. In fact, the consultation process motivates the small business owner to take actions which would raise the level of market orientation and entrepreneurship in the small business, and as a result initiate an increase in its level of performance.

How is it possible to win an even greater return?

The findings of Dr. Schayek's doctorate thesis supervised by Prof. Dov Dvir, facilitate recommendation on a number of issues which could intensify the effect of public assistance programs on performance in small businesses. Thus it is important that the consultant emphasize before the client that submitting reliable and comprehensive information to the consultant, as well as willingness on the part of the business owner to implement changes in accordance with decisions reached as a result of cooperation with the consultant, is paramount for the success of the assistance process and the improvement on performance in the small business. Based on the research model, the client constitutes an integral part of the assistance program. The more involved and active he becomes in the process of coaching, the greater will be the assistance program's positive effect on the small business' performance.

In addition, the research indicates that effort must be made on the part of the consultant in improving the client's capacity of raising finance. The client's capital raising capabilities which, according to the model constitute a parameter in the improvement of the level of performance, will improve if the client is given an explanation as to existing finance opportunities and is prepared as to the manner in which one should approach and present the small business' requirements before possible financing sources (such as banks or credit companies).

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