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Aussie methods boost Cumbrian businesses

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Nici Hewitson

The Business Improvement Program (BIP) is an intensive two-day workshop that aims to help business owners create more profitable, valuable and enjoyable enterprises. It comes with a no-quibble, money-back guarantee.

Nine sessions, led by experts in management, finance and communications, explore issues such as “staying alive in business”, “leadership and culture” and “making your business fly in a digital world”.

A final session looks at exit and succession plans, and the learning is broken up by roving CEO sessions where delegates in small groups take turns to be leader and use the team to brainstorm solutions to specific business challenges.

BIP was developed by Alec Blacklaw, a former business owner and long-time business mentor and adviser based in Melbourne.

It was brought to the UK by the Cumbrian accountancy firm Armstrong Watson, which held the first BIP in Wetherby, West Yorkshire, last year and a second at Armathwaite Hall Hotel near Bassenthwaite, Cumbria, this May.

Alec flew in from Australia to lead the sessions. Other speakers included Singapore-based Paul Dunn, a four-times TEDx speaker who chairs B1G1, which aims to help businesses make a positive impact in the world.

Alec said: “The key piece of advice for business owners is to get really clear on why you exist and, more importantly, what your customers and your team and your clients get as a result of engaging and working with you.

It can be quite insular running a business. You are not always aware of what other people are doing.

“In effect, how your products and services help them to live a better life and feel a lot better. In other words, for you to emotionally connect with them to have an outstanding experience for all parties.”

Many of those attending the Cumbrian BIP were able to defray the cost – £1,005 plus VAT per delegate – with a Subsidy Scheme grant through the Chamber’s Cumbria Business Growth Hub.

This enables ERDF-eligible businesses to access a 40% contribution, up to a maximum of £2,000, towards consultancy to support their growth plans.

Participants included Howard Speck, a director of J&E Enterprises, which operates the Highfield and George hotels in Keswick, and the Royal Yew pub at Dean in West Cumbria.

He said: “We’ve been running the business for 14 years and I saw it as an opportunity to take time out from the day-to-day to look at the bigger picture, to see if there was anything we were missing.

“It can be quite insular running a business. You are not always aware of what other people are doing.

“The big think took from the course was learning about online marketing and social media. I picked up a lot of new stuff.

“The rest of it was reaffirming that what we are doing is right, because you sometimes doubt yourself.”

The business received a Subsidy Scheme grant of £402 towards the cost of BIP.

Howard said: “The grant was a crucial. For a small business like ours to spend more than £1,000 to go on a course would be extravagant.”

Nici Hewitson worked for Border TV the BBC and Cumbria Tourism  before setting up the PR agency One Little Bird four years ago.

Her clients include the Brimstone Hotel, Augill Castle, Ast Transport Branding and Treetop Trek, and the fast-growing business has just recruited two new members of staff and moved into a new office in Cockermouth.

Nici said: “I attended the programme because my accountant recommended that it would be beneficial. I have a small business that has almost quadrupled in size over the course of a year.

The grant was a crucial. For a small business like ours to spend more than £1,000 to go on a course would be extravagant.

“I found the two days very helpful. It was nice to sit and have a look at the business and have the luxury of time to do that. It was good to work on the business as opposed to in the business.

“The advice was inspiring and motivating, and helped me to look at my business in a different way, from a more objective point of view.”

She too received a Subsidy Scheme grant. She added: “The grant was incredibly helpful and much appreciated.”

Armstrong Watson has no immediate plans for another BIP session, but the Subsidy Scheme remains open to help businesses cover part of the costs when they buy-in professional consultancy services to further their growth plans.

A wide range of consultancy services are covered by the scheme.

They include marketing advice, web development, accountancy and finance, social media consultancy, legal advice and public relations – and that isn’t an exhaustive list.

Our advisers help businesses put together a brief to select and manage the best consultant for the task.

Consultants can also bring forward their clients to use the Subsidy Scheme to contribute to the cost of work.

A separate Subsidy Scheme applies for business start-ups, offering grants covering 40% of consultancy fees up to a maximum of £1,000.

For more information on how your business can benefit from the Subsidy Scheme, click here or call 0844 257 84 50.

ERDFThe Subsidy Scheme is receiving up to £2,528,767 of funding from the England European Regional Development Fund as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020.  The Department for Communities and Local Government is the Managing Authority for European Regional Development Fund.

Established by the European Union, the European Regional Development Fund helps local areas stimulate their economic development by investing in projects which will support innovation, businesses, create jobs and local community regenerations. For more information click here.

© Cumbria Chamber of Commerce

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