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The benefits of external support to SMEs: “Hard” versus “soft” outcomes and satisfaction levels

M. Ramsden (CEEDR, Middlesex University Business School, London, UK)
R.J. Bennett (Department of Geography, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK)

Journal of Small Business and Enterprise Development

ISSN: 1462-6004

Article publication date: 1 June 2005




Aims to provide an assessment of the role of external business advice for small to medium‐sized enterprises (SMEs), comparing “soft” outcomes (improved ability to manage, ability to cope), “hard” outcomes (profitability, turnover, reduced costs), and overall satisfaction levels.


A telephone survey using a stratified random sample frame provides a representative sample that allows comparison of the benefits of advice to SMEs in different size categories.


The paper demonstrates a large and varied supply of advice with no evidence of reluctance by owners/managers to seek advice. “Hard” and “soft” outcomes tend to be combined for many SMEs, but the widest effects of external advice seem to be intangible, such as reassurance or reducing uncertainty. There is less variation between SMEs of different size than expected, but strong variation between types of external suppliers of advice. The level of regulation of suppliers and extent of their reputation or brand appear to have positive association with the level of their use, impact and satisfaction levels. Public sector advisers have special difficulties of managing quality and better relating marketing to what they can reliably deliver.


The research provides to researchers a better understanding of the form of intangible benefits that businesses receive from advice, and how these interrelate with “hard” benefits of reduced costs and increased profits. Private sector advisers need to note the interaction between feelings‐based and “hard” outcomes. Public sector advisers need significantly to improve their consistency and better relate marketing to their capacity to deliver.



Ramsden, M. and Bennett, R.J. (2005), "The benefits of external support to SMEs: “Hard” versus “soft” outcomes and satisfaction levels", Journal of Small Business and Enterprise Development, Vol. 12 No. 2, pp. 227-243.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2005, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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