The South Wales Chamber of Commerce and Centre for Business are joining forces to launch a new MicroZone membership initiative to support micro- businesses and help grow the Welsh economy.

MicroZone is focussed on supporting sole proprietors, new start-ups and smaller companies in Wales of up to three employees with a turnover of less than £100,000.

Signing up to MicroZone will provide micro-businesses with a range of essential support services including three years’ free banking, access to a 24 hour legal helpline along with other business benefits designed to allow them to grow while keeping costs down.

The new initiative will be officially launched as part of the ICAEW (Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales) Business Advice Week, which runs from June 25–29,
offering free events, seminars and conferences on a number of business subjects.

Graham Morgan, director of the South Wales Chamber of Commerce, said: “The micro-business sector is a vital and dynamic part of the Welsh economy, and has the potential to be a driving force for economic recovery.

“In the past, support mechanisms for micro-businesses in Wales have been difficult to access with a duplication of provision across various support providers, meaning that small businesses simply don’t know which way to turn.

“We wanted to streamline this process and create a membership organisation that was specifically aimed at meeting the needs and requirements of this essential sector in Wales.”

Micro-businesses are an important part of the Welsh economy.  They account for 193,010 or 94.5% of all businesses in Wales in 2011 and are responsible for 33.2% of private sector in employment in Wales, or 331,400 jobs.  This is proportionately higher than the UK as a whole, where micro-businesses provide 31.4% of private sector employment.

From 2003 to 2009, the growth of employment in micro-businesses in Wales exceeded that of similar businesses in the UK. However, from 2010, employment growth from micro-businesses in Wales fell by around one per cent, a decrease which was not observed in the UK.

Graham Morgan continued: “It’s worrying to see that, while the growth in microbusinesses in Wales has generally outperformed the UK average for six years, this has dropped off over the past year.

“This is precisely why this service is important in Wales right here, right now. We need to champion this sector as it has the ability, with the right support and conditions, to be at the forefront of development and economic growth.

“The service is designed to be interactive and dynamic, as well as easy to access for businesses across the whole of Wales, especially those in rural communities that can be neglected by membership organisations.
“We anticipate that we will support up to 7,500 micro-businesses over the next five years.
Our aim is to nurture them and to help them grow into active members of the South Wales Chamber of Commerce.”

One local business which is interested in signing up to be a member of the newly launched Micro-zone initiative is Ivy Wood Bookkeeping in Newport.

Ivy Wood Bookkeeping was set up in April 2012 by Iona Callaghan after she was made redundant from the accountancy firm where she had worked for the last five years.

Struggling to find a part time position that would allow her to work around child care, Iona decided to put her accountancy experience to good use and set up business for herself, offering book keeping, vat returns, self assessment and payroll services.

She said: “I was really interested to find out more about MicroZones and what is being done to help small and start up businesses.

“Banking costs are a real worry and three years free would certainly relieve some of my immediate financial pressures and allow me to concentrate on building up the business.”

The other challenge faced by Iona has been building up a client base and she has struggled to make herself heard in a busy market place.

She said: “I think I would really benefit from attending more networking events but in the past I have been put off by the cost of attending. The membership prices for networking events and other benefits, such as the website and further support, are all really appealing and I am sure would help to reach more clients.”

Full benefits to micro-businesses will include:
•    A 24 hour legal helpline supported by Composite Legal;
•    three years’ free banking;
•    member prices at all South Wales Chamber of Commerce events;
•    copies of the South Wales Chamber of Commerce Chat magazine quarterly;
•    access to website and printed information which will signpost further avenues of support;
•    access to Glooberry – an online, inter-trading platform that facilities the buying and supplying of goods on a local, regional or national level

Annual membership will be just £56 + VAT.