Champions Round Table
Small Business Support
With SMEs (Small and medium enterprises) accounting for 98% of business in Chesterfield and around three fifths of the employment, they play a significant role in the town’s economy.
Despite recent political uncertainty and the challenges faced by Brexit, Chesterfield’s SMEs have remained strong giving weight to the town’s pledge of ‘a place to do business and invest’.
In BHP Accountants’ 2019 report listing the Top 50 SMEs in North Derbyshire, a Chesterfield business – Moorhen Holdings Limited – came out top, rising from the number two position the previous year. Within the listings, 21 positions were held by Chesterfield-based SMEs accounting for 43% of the total turnover by the top 50 SMEs in North Derbyshire.
Further growth is on the horizon, particularly in the construction sectors major developments like Chesterfield Waterside, Peak Resort and Northern Gateway start to come out of the ground in 2020.
Hosted by ra Information Systems, and organised by Destination Chesterfield in conjunction with the Derbyshire Times, this month’s round table brought together key figures from across the sector to discuss how SMEs can take advantage of the upcoming opportunities, compete with big business and also futureproof themselves.
AM – Anna Melton – Director, In the Works PR
SD – Simon Davidson – Owner, RP Davidson Cheese Factor
DL – Dave Lees – Business Development Manager and Senior Lecturer, University of Derby
JT – Jake Taylor – Telecoms and Infrastructure Engineer, ra Information Systems
IO – Ian Osborn – Commercial Property and Small Business Solicitor, Banner Jones Solicitors
RE – Rebecca Erskine – Owner, Yellow Bird Marketing and Communications
EC – Emily Coy – Owner, Business Doctors Chesterfield
MS – Martin Swain – Proprietor, 360 Accounting Ltd
What steps should small businesses be taking to futureproof themselves?
RE – It starts with recruitment and making sure you’ve got the right people in the first place. Also, having those people in the right roles and making sure there are clear induction programmes for new recruits.
DL – There are a number of potential issues that we’re facing with leaving the EU. Businesses need to think strategy and think, even if they’re not being affected by Brexit, their manufacturers or suppliers might be. They need to start thinking about options so at least they’re more prepared for things that might hit them.
I’m already talking to some organisations who have lost skilled workers because they didn’t want to stay here anymore. People from outside of the UK are deciding they want to go back home and it’s leaving skills gaps.
EC – I think futureproofing your business comes back to looking at the external environment. You should be looking at what the trends are and how they apply to your business – they could be risks which you can look at trying to mitigate or opportunities you can look to take advantage of.
IO – There are going to be changing laws and rules as the full effect of Brexit comes into force. Businesses get caught out. It’s important to have a general awareness of what’s happening going forward and keeping ears to the ground in terms of legislative changes.
MS – Businesses should look to build up a war chest. Either have savings or seek out opportunities for potential funding for a rainy day. Anything can come along and shut a business down at any time if you don’t have that war chest, so that is a good way to plan ahead for future uncertainty.
SD – I know a lot of businesses, particularly in manufacturing, are stockpiling. People are buying or making as much as they can because they know there might be a shortage for some months where they might not be able to get raw materials from the EU.
How can small businesses compete with larger businesses in their field?
EC – It’s about knowing what you’re good at as a small business. If you can’t compete with pricing, compete on another level, like customer service or quality.
DL – A lot of small businesses aren’t doing enough in terms of working together. Sometimes, you can actually work with your competitors and gain a lot of good business from it.
AM – Partnership working has really helped me grow my business. I am working with another Chesterfield-based PR company, Wellread PR to deliver a specialist client brief and it works really well.
MS – One thing you have got to be aware of, and I think it’s why a lot of people are very protective over their businesses, is people taking advantage of one another. You can be working in partnership with one of your competitors and then, all of a sudden, they’re offering one of your best-selling products and their place has become a one-stop shop for everything.
RE – There are things you can do in terms of working together that wouldn’t involve much risk – such as shops in town offering a shopping bag with lots of different town centre shop logos on them in order to cross promote each other
JT – I think a loyalty card scheme could work for town centre retailers and provide an incentive for people to keep visiting the shops and town centre.
SD – We used to offer a loyalty card scheme and it worked really well. It definitely got people coming into the shop more often.
What are the key areas of support that small businesses need?
IO – I think business rates are definitely a key issue. We hear about a lot of the rates being higher than the actual rent and it’s frightening. I know that Chesterfield Borough Council will be dictated to by central government, but I think rates are crushing small businesses in towns across the country.
EC – Chesterfield Borough Council has to use its funds to the best purposes and I think it would be a very difficult challenge to give businesses a break on their business rates when there are other needs in Chesterfield. If you’re giving money to businesses, who are you taking it away from? I think the issue goes back to central government and its policies, it’s a struggle at local level for Chesterfield Borough Council.
MS – Business rates are just another cost of running a business. It comes down to planning. There’s lots of professionals in the area to help start-up businesses and if you plan correctly, you can see what your rates are going to be and decide whether that’s affordable for your business or not before you enter into any rental agreements.
DL – I think another thing that isn’t helping small businesses in the town centre is the introduction of more double yellow lines and increased parking fees. I don’t know the solution because I know that councils have to survive and I really appreciate that, but I think it’s partly counter-productive.
AM – Chesterfield has a rich seam of business support through the council and Destination Chesterfield. Support doesn’t always have to be financial, it can be as simple as a conversation with a fellow small business owner or even with a business advisor. Chesterfield Borough Council’s Innovation Support Programme is a great free resource for any business start up.
MS – There are also plenty of grants available for new businesses, helping them with things like equipment. I know somebody who has an embroidery business and he needed a piece of equipment that cost £20,000 – he managed to get an £8,000 grant to help him pay for that.
How can schools, colleges and universities get young people ready for the world of work beyond giving them qualifications?
JT – Quality work experience is very important. It can give young people the communication skills, like maintaining eye contact, positive body language and conversation skills – that they need in the business environment.
MS – It can lead to employment as well. We’ve got a great employee that did work experience with us, we then offered him paid work in the summer holidays and he kept returning in the summer through his years at university. Once he’d finished university, we took him on as an apprentice and now we’ve got a real good member of staff.
DL – At the University, we try and turn out work-ready students by getting businesses to come into the university and work with our students. We also try and schedule students’ learning time so they have free days where they can go out to work and earn some money. We dalso offer placement years where students can work for an organisation for a whole year and really learn and gain that experience.
EC – The focus in schools seems to very much on academic acheivement rather than what the pupil is good at and enjoys. Ultimately, what makes you a good employee is if you enjoy what you’re doing. Schools should look at this more.
IO – The traditional academic route of A Levels and University isn’t right for everyone. There needs to be as much support for people wanting to choose apprenticeships as academic options, however apprenticeship combine qualifications with getting young people into the world of work. They’re a great option.
AM – Apprentices play a vital role in Chesterfield’s small businesses. As apprenticeship training is fully funded for SMEs, it’s a really cost-effective way to grow and develop your workforce; it’s also a great way for a young person to start their career.
For more details about support available to SMEs in Chesterfield, visit www.chesterfield.co.uk/business/business-support/
Destination Chesterfield is part funded by contributions from local businesses, Chesterfield Borough Council and the European Regional Development Fund. The project is helping to improve the economic prosperity of the town through a campaign to promote Chesterfield.
The local business community plays a central role in its success by both leading an independent Board of Directors for Destination Chesterfield, as well as businesses pledging their support to become Chesterfield Champions.
For more information about becoming a Chesterfield Champion, visit https://www.chesterfield.co.uk/destination-chesterfield/champions/sign-up/