An important milestone has been reached with the publishing of the final version of the

Discussion Paper On Improving the Quality of Business Advisory Services In South Africa”. But will this lead to government policies dictating how business support must be implemented? Or will practitioners, through their professional bodies, be able to self-regulate delivery so that impact is achieved? 

It is clear that the recommendations in the discussion paper will have a far reaching impact on business advisers, hence the topic of the recent episode of the IBASA & EPI Webinar Series titled “Professionalisation of Business Advising – What should practitioners expect next?”.

The essence of this topic was succinctly summarised by one webinar attendee. As he noted in the webinar chat: “We need to regulate, not dictate!”

Webinar panelists Koenie Slabbert (SEDA), Nishi Singh (IBASA) and Carl Lotter (SASMEF) explored the thinking behind the discussion paper and the potential implications for business advisers were discussed. Practical solutions available to practitioners to not only comply, but ensure growth in their own service delivery, were also shared; and the important role of business advising within the entrepreneurial ecosystem was highlighted.

The webinar was hosted by Thobeka Poswa and Christoff Oosthuysen of the Entrepreneurial Planning Institute (EPI) and IBASA Chairperson, Tumelo Tsotetsi, represented IBASA. 

Professional bodies above government control
During a poll on the attendees’ views on the best way to ensure quality in Business Advisory Service (BAS), the preference for quality assurance via professional bodies was clear, with 85% steering away from government control of a registry and setting of standards:

  • 69% of the attendees said professional bodies should be tasked with regulation, of which 39% said professional bodies should create and implement the framework, and 30% said the government should create the framework for professional bodies to implement regulation and control of standards.
  • Another 16% of the attendees said there should be no regulation, but membership of a professional body should be recommended.

The panelists represented three different, but related, stakeholders in the ecosystem:

  • Koenie Slabbert is the acting executive for the Enterprise Development Division of SEDA (Small Enterprise Development Agency), which is part of the government’s Department of Small Business Development;
  • Nishi Singh is the KZN chairperson of IBASA (Institute of Business Advisors of Southern Africa) and an independent business adviser; and
  • Carl Lotter is an entrepreneurial ecosystem builder and SME activist working through SASMEF (South African Small and Medium Enterprise Federation) to ensure a healthy balance between the responsibility of roleplayers and the level of collaboration they practice.

Three diverse perspectives on the topic made for good interaction and participation. The diverse nature of entrepreneurs and ecosystem stakeholders makes it difficult to find one solution that will please all. Even more so, with the range in modes of business support offered by practitioners. 

Most agree however that some level of quality assurance should be applied to eliminate the “fly-by-nights” and professionalise the industry and enhance its reputation.

Setting of standards
Koenie introduced the discussion paper, it’s intentions and recommendations. He is a strong believer that true entrepreneurs realise they need to learn to run better businesses. SEDA, as a Business Development Services (BDS) organisation, uses many business advisers. Having seen the devastating impact of unscrupulous, so-called advisers, he strongly believes that BDS and Business Advisory Services (BAS) should be regulated. He shared examples such as the low quality of copy-and-paste business plans that he has witnessed been provided by some “practitioners”.

He believes that the way to ensure quality BAS, is by requiring membership of a professional body with proper processes. In addition, standards are required, with practitioners being trained and coached to ensure quality service delivery. Koenie recommended regulation through consensus regarding standards for the industry and referred to the role of SAQA, the SABS 17024 standard. He warned that standards should be embedded and not added as another layer of compliance. 

Focus on competencies
Nishi focussed on the reality of the diverse needs and levels of expertise needed to assist entrepreneurs in different types, sizes and life cycle stages of enterprises. She emphasised the importance of BAS in creating entrepreneurial success, while acknowledging that the reputation of advising and consulting may not be what it should be, and that some level of regulation is needed.

Explaining the relevance of a competency framework, she highlighted the fact that specific competencies are needed to operate effectively as a business adviser and that those competencies will differ depending on the specific entrepreneur and enterprise needs. 

She said: “Those competencies (of the practitioners) need to be packaged in a comprehensive framework to enable proper application of recognition of prior learning and experience. And (we must) ensure (that) expertise remains current with the changing landscape  through Continuous Professional Development, and implement a Quality Assurance System to monitor and improve the impact of advisory services through improved competencies”.

Nishi provided an overview of IBASA’s comprehensive Competency Framework as a workable model. The framework is made up of three dimensions namely:

  • Functional competencies (what you do – facilitation, coaching , mentoring – modes of support);
  • Foundational competencies (skills, knowledge & expertise); and
  • Professional competencies (Business competencies, Business Advisory competencies and Social & Emotional Competencies).

Sharing the objectives of the IBASA Competency Framework, she highlighted the need for professionalisation of the industry through setting advisory standards, providing quality assurance though certification and grading with designations, and enabling transformation through continuous professional development.

Nishi explained the process and benefit of grading through the IBASA system, enabling the matching of competency levels to client needs and circumstances, while providing a development framework for competencies to grow as a business adviser. A second poll during the webinar indicated that 76% of attendees considered IBASA’s Competency Framework to be very applicable to their practical situation of supporting businesses. 

Advising as part of the ecosystem
The importance of Business Advisory Services as part of the entrepreneurial ecosystem was highlighted by Carl. He referenced some priorities agreed on by Nedlac, including agreement that a supportive SMME (Small, Medium and Micro Enterprise) ecosystem is one of the enablers of growth, arguing that this makes BAS very important, especially in the post-Covid-19 economic recovery plan. 

“Business support practitioners are the vitamins feeding the living system we call the entrepreneurial ecosystem,” he said. “Practitioners play a key role in unlocking the potential of small and entrepreneurial businesses.”

Carl argued that if we correlate the agreement at Nedlac with the entrepreneurial ecosystem model, we have to recognise the importance of mentors, advisors and support systems. This alignment further extends to the common language of “supportive SMME ecosystem” in the plan and “support systems” being used.

To be able to provide SMMEs with the best level of support, advisors need to adopt standards of professionalism that will enable them to play this vital role, Carl said. He maintained that advisors should also have their own mentors and support system.

Carl emphasised SASMEF’s philosophy that entrepreneurship is the democratisation of economic opportunity. “The result of BAS must be sustainable and profitable SMMEs,” he said. “Only then can SMMEs make the contribution to the growth of wealth and jobs, or as it is called these days, national well-being.”

Carel Venter is a partner in the Entrepreneurial Planning Institute (EPI) and producer of the IBASA & EPI Webinar Series.

Watch the webinar replay << here >>