SME Agony Uncle: Bobby Kerr answers all your business and work-related questions

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Each week broadcaster, entrepreneur and agony uncle Bobby Kerr joins The Hard Shoulder to answer all your employment-related questions.

If there is one thing that can be said for business networking sites like LinkedIn it’s that it has never been more socially acceptable to ask a complete stranger out for coffee.

This week however, Newstalk’s agony uncle has been asking if this kind of “empty networking” is all just a waste of time.

For Bobby, building a meaningful network is not about attending unstructured industry mixers or carefully cultivating an online army of LinkedIn connections - it is about real life relationships and those take hard work, dedication, and time.

“LinkedIn for me [...] there is always more in it for the other fella than there is for you,” he says.

“What I am against is this kind of blind networking that is kind of random and you expect that everyone has time to give you a cup of coffee when you are not really being specific about what you want.”

Bobby’s tips for the brave new world of networking include:

  • Have a clear idea of what you want
  • Abandon your ego
  • Invest in colleagues and their time
  • Don't waste time
  • Follow-up

“I agree with networking but I agree with it in a more closed sense,” he says.

“You have a network of colleagues, you have a network of relationships that you have built up over the years, suppliers and all that; they are all people that will genuinely help you.”

Bobby’s advice is to harness the networks that have built up naturally throughout your life - whether that's through school, work or in your social life.

“That is the way the world works,” he says. “I don’t think there is anything wrong with that.”

“But you need to be specific about what it is that you want - this blind sort of hopeful latte buying wont work in my view.”

Hi Bobby, I was wondering if you could help. Is there anywhere you can go to for a mentor I could meet with? I have started a business but I’m struggling to find a mentor who can help. I have been working with enterprise, but I feel the mentors are not really helping me. Laura

While there are “loads of places” you can go to find a business mentor, the first step for Laura is to decide exactly what it is she wants.

“Every mentor; they are all going to be different and you need to find one that works for you and is on the same page as you,” says Bobby.

Once you know what you want, there are plenty of options out there from to the Local Enterprise Board.

Although Laura has had some bad experiences with the connections on offer at Enterprise, the challenge is to find someone who understands her business and where she is coming from.

“You just need somebody who is on the same page as you," he says. "And I have seen a lot of mismatches in this area."

“You would be amazed - and I have found this over the years - you would be amazed how many people actually like being asked to help.”

Hi Bobby & Ivan, I am a small employer and a few years ago I also built some industrial units with finance from Anglo Irish Bank. This loan was subsequently sold to one of the so called "Vulture funds" who eventually came to an arrangement with me. I have been attempting to get credit from our mainstream banks to pay off this fund but am having no luck whatsoever despite ample repayment capacity and security with a loan to value of around 25%.

The term "Slow No" seems to be the general consensus when I ask around from other entrepreneurs and business owners. It took almost 10 weeks just to finalise an application with one bank! Are any of our banks actually supporting business with credit? It seems the only option is private unregulated finance at exorbitant rates.

From Joe, a very frustrated and disillusioned business owner.

While this is a complicated query, there are a few steps that can help set Joe on the right path.

“The first thing is, banks hate refinancing unless it is clean,” says Bobby.

“You have to make sure that any request deals with all your finance issues and leaves no tails.

“In other words it is very hard to refinance if there are other debts that are not resolved somewhere else.”

While the final terms may not be absolutely palatable to Joe, there are a number of lenders out there - including First Citizen, Finance Ireland and Pepper - that will provide finance to get you out of the hole; even if it is at a premium rate.

Bobby’s advice to Joe is to go and talk to a qualified financial consultant - someone who operates a mortgage brokerage or a regulated debt management service.

While the right advice may cost a commission or maybe even a small cut of his business - if Joe can get all his ducks in a row, it could be a small price to pay.

“If he gets the right advice, it is worth it in my view,” says Bobby. “Let them be paid for what they do.”

You can listen back to all of Bobby’s employment advice from Tuesday’s The Hard Shoulder here:

If you have a business or SME related query you would like answered - you can get in touch with Bobby each week by simply sending a short mail to