Small businesses say support given by East Devon Business Support Programme was exactly what they needed

East Devon District Council’s Enhancing Productivity Programme has been offering a range of fully funded workshops and one-to-one support for pre-start and existing businesses across East Devon.

In 2018, the council’s Economic Development service appointed Business Information Point (BIP)and local IT experts Cosmic to provide local businesses with the support they need to plan and launch a business and be more sustainable by using the latest technology.

The programme ran from October 2018 to March 2019, during which time a total of 13 workshops were delivered, reaching 91 individuals. A further 43 clients were given 1:1 business support with over 150 hours of support provided.

Further funded workshops were delivered by Cosmic in April, covering website design and search engine optimisation, how to make the most of Microsoft OneNote to improve efficiency, and getting organised: Making use of Trello and Slack to improve project management, organisation, prioritisation and communication. Further details can be found on the Cosmic website: https://www.cosmic.org.uk/edep

A wide range of business ideas were supported by BIP under the pre-start support area of the project, including several health and wellbeing businesses, tourism, retail, graphic design services, gardening, personal trainers, a special events venue, a bakery and manufacture of beauty products. One-to-one consultancy support was provided by Cosmic for existing businesses across a diverse range including scientific consultants, holiday accommodation, health and fitness, ethical products and gifts, and dog clothing and accessories, reflexology and nutrition, and craft courses. Feedback on the support provided by both BIP and Cosmic has been very positive, with satisfaction and advisor knowledge ratings of excellent across the board.

Examples of individuals and businesses supported through the programme include the following:

Ann Harrison is looking to start her own business manufacturing bespoke wet pastry pies. Her business goal is to move into her own premises and create employment to enable her to focus on the business development of her brand.

Although she has previous experience in the catering business Ann recognised the importance of a robust business plan at the start of the process. Thanks to the East Devon business support programme she was able to talk through her business idea with an advisor from Business Information Point who helped Ann to shape her business plan in terms of operational regulations, marketing opportunities and pricing strategy. 

Speaking of her experience with BIP, Ann said:

The advisor was able to look at my business idea and suggested alternative approaches I had not thought of, such as using village halls in the short term. I just need the confidence that I know the steps that I need to take and that I am going in the right direction. I have since been in touch on a number of occasions; it is really comforting to know I have an advisor I can relay my progress to.

Ian Richards is behind Little Oak Meadow, a wedding and special occasion venue, which will cater for locals and visitors looking for a rural location with exceptional views. Ian has previous management experience, but has not been self-employed before. His challenge, supported by an advisor from Business Information Point, was to develop a business plan, which clearly identified the required actions to ensure the business would be viable and sustainable.

Ian summed up his experience with BIP as follows:

The whole experience was completely just what was needed – not only at the initial meeting but in follow up conversations to discuss progress. It really was positive and informative with lots of information and advice shared in a short space of time.

Suzanne Pashley is Managing Director of Happy Dogs. Suzanne attended three Cosmic workshops in February and March 2019: Digital Tricks, Moving to the Cloud, and Boost your Website with SEO and Google Analytics.

When asked what helped her the most from these sessions Suzanne responded that:

It highlighted areas of Office 365 that I didn’t know were available, for example the Periodic Table. I’ll be looking on the form for customer self-reservation bookings.

Suzanne also felt that advice on how to incorporate Twitter and blogs into company websites was valuable as well as tips on how to link these things together into a recognisable brand.

In terms of the difference the workshops have made to her business, Suzanne said that she has investigated looking after her passwords, using Gmail and One Note. Suzanne also identified how she will be able to implement productivity improvements:

Tools such as Toggl and TripLog will be especially useful for our business as we have a number of dog walkers out in the van and we can log their mileages and put that straight into spreadsheets for the tax returns.

Suzanne also expressed her desire to attend future workshops:

I find these workshops useful as it’s a confirmation that I’m going in the right direction with my own self-learning. Working within your own business you need the external help to keep you up-to-date.

Leanne Fennell from Articulacy attended two Cosmic workshops in March: Moving to the Cloud and Boost your Website with SEO and Google Analytics.  Leanne found the sessions to be of immediate benefit to her businesses.

After the session we were able to create a self-booking form for schools to book themselves online, rather than sending a Word document. I love training that teaches you something that you can do straight away. We have downloaded Google Analytics to help boost our website. I have set it up or a couple of pages and I plan to use this tool in the future.

In terms of the difference the workshops have made to the business, Leanne said:

It has already helped us become more professional, for example using App links instead of attaching documents. As a direct result of working with Cosmic we now have an Exeter University data analytics student working with us on a part-time placement. The university pay him to work with us as part of his course. We will be bringing the student to further sessions – both to continue with my learning and understanding and also to help the student.

East Devon’s Economic Development team is now busy exploring opportunities with BIP and Cosmic for a further programme of support for the 2019-20 financial year which once again will be offered free of charge to East Devon businesses and individuals needing help to get their business ideas off the ground and to improve productivity.