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Northern firms spending three times as much as London peers to plug skills gaps

70% of Northern small businesses are dissatisfied with advice from external consultants compared to 15% of London firms

Small businesses based in the North of England are spending more than three times as much (£43,000) on external consultants as their London peers (£12,600) every year in an effort to plug skills gaps in their workforce.

The survey of 250 firms from Zeqr revealed that Northern companies also hired 43% more consultants and spent an average of 48 days every year engaging with external experts – equating to 20% of all working days available in 2017. In London, the average small business owner gave up just 8 and a half days a year to consultants.

The report suggests that a more limited pool of external experts is leading to inflated prices in the North and despite spending more time and money on experts, digital skills were still in high demand, with 49% seeking consultants in cyber security, 38% in social media, 25% in SEO and 21% in web build.

70% of Northern respondents said the advice given didn't meet their requirements, 54% that fixed fees were inefficient and 24% claimed the advice was too complicated. 16% said they had to engage in longer term contracts and project fees just to access short-term queries or one-off needs and another 16% bemoaned unprofessionalism and inflexibility. Just 15% of those surveyed in London were unhappy with consultants.

Daniel Hedlund, co-founder of Zeqr, commented: “Our new research shows that access to experts is a postcode lottery. Moreover, Northern business owners in particular face huge financial investment to access this expertise. With businesses often relying on an existing or small pool of suppliers, this often results in less than satisfactory outcome that don’t help their bottom line.”

Dr David Fraser, business expert and author, added: “There’s definitely a need for an efficient way for businesses to access diverse external expertise in an only-buy-what-you-need fashion and, of course, the best external experts will always put the client’s needs ahead of their own business goals. Buyers should look for quality and experts who truly understanding their issue.”

You can find expert advice about taking on staff here and find out how you can build a superstar team for your business here.


Henry Williams
Henry Williams

Henry has been writing for since 2015, covering everything from business finance and web builders to tax and red tape. He’s also contributed to many of our industry-renowned annual indexes, including Startups 100 and Young Guns, and created a number of the site’s popular how to guides. Before joining the team, he reviewed films for a culture website, and still harbours ambitions of being a screenwriter.


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