SMALL firms are paying for advice they could be getting for nothing from Government-sponsored advisers. Business Link East, which is funded by the East of England Development Agency, is urging firms to take advantage of its free services to save money in recession and to help prepare them for improved performance coming out of it. "All businesses need to keep up to date with trends and technology, ensure they refresh old procedures accordingly and have a strong and relevant business plan in order to attract customers and increase sales," a spokesman said. "Sometimes that means stepping back and taking a fresh look at how the business operates." According to a recent survey for the organisation, more than 70 per cent of Cambridgeshire businesses update or adapt their business plan annually, while just over half of respondents make producing a formal business plan a key focus at the beginning of each year. "As a result of such planning, businesses in Cambridgeshire appear to be coping well with current challenges - only five in 10 of those who completed the survey have identified planning as more critical this year, suggesting they are already coping well." A further strength of Cambs-based businesses highlighted by the survey was their consideration of potential issues and crises when formulating an annual business plan. More than 70 per cent had done previously and continued to plan for such eventualities. "It is encouraging to see that 90 per cent of Cambridgeshire businesses are taking all areas of the business into consideration when planning and all are seeking advice where necessary. In Cambridgeshire, the primary sources of advice on business planning are colleagues, family and friends, online and business advisers. "However, it has been recognised that businesses are paying out for advice unnecessarily." "It's important for businesses to identify areas for improvement and development. Even when you are very busy running a business day-to-day, you do need to look ahead, and this is where an impartial assessment by someone outside the business can be very helpful," said Pat Smith, chief executive of Business Link in the East of England. "At a time when everybody is watching their outgoings, businesses across the region should be taking advantage of the free advice and comprehensive support services from Business Link. Money saved through not paying for help could then be put to use elsewhere.