Category: Advice Blog

Pitch with Confidence, a story of Human Spirit

When people discuss business support programmes the hot topic is usually grant funding and finance. Well, we have some news for you. The experience of start-ups who have accessed business support products show we shouldn’t underestimate the value and positive impact that the practical services delivered by professionals can have at those crucial stages in the growth journey.

Helen Nothard had come to a crossroads in her professional journey. With an 18-year career and as a Chartered Fellow in HR and having been offered a promotion that would see her travel the world, she realised that despite the benefits package, salary and status, she wanted to take the step and become her own boss and so launched Human Spirit Ltd.

Helen is an expert in her industry and had enjoyed a successful career, but actually launching a business was a daunting task and Helen hadn’t considered all of the additional processes, procedures and skills she would need to know.

Helen says: “I’d worked for someone else for 20 years and just didn’t have a clue about the things I needed to consider outside of my role. It wasn’t just about being the best at what I was offering my clients, it was about understanding how to register a company, knowing what paperwork needed filing and when!”

That was when Helen met AD:VENTURE advisor, Alan Thompson, who was able to explain about the programme and the huge range of support that it could offer to start-ups and scale-ups. 

Helen adds: “I worked with Alan to look at my business plan and he was very good at getting me to hone my message. Suddenly it made sense to focus on one thing rather than trying so hard to be all things to all people, a trap that I now realise lots of start-ups fall into.”

She had a strong network around her that could give her the expert advice she needed, and Helen also found that she could call upon her advisors to give her the additional confidence she needed when looking to pitch for larger contracts.

Helen comments: “Although I had previously dismissed tenders, Alan had real confidence in me and made me look at these opportunities slightly differently. There was a voice in my head saying ‘I can’t do this’ but we worked together to change that mindset and decided that I would look at this as a live practice and so that’s what I did.”

The outcome? Not only did Helen submit her tender but was invited to present and subsequently won the contract with a leading public sector organisation. Well done Helen!!!

She continues: “It I hadn’t had the support from AD:VENTURE I wouldn’t have had the courage to go for a tender. It’s not about my self-belief or knowing that I can deliver for my customers, it’s about taking steps that are very much outside of my comfort zone.

“Having a business can be isolating, especially when you’re used to working for big corporations, but with the support from AD:VENTURE I’ve had access to professional training sessions, advisors and a network of trusted partners, I can’t recommend the programme enough!”

So when you are launching a business, don’t dismiss the value of programmes like AD:VENTURE – Whether it’s accessing networks, pitching your product, having that honest, experienced critical friend, finding those crucial connections or understanding how to plan for growth, there is lots of help and support in addition to funding and finance.

BLOG SPOT – THERE’S NEVER BEEN A BETTER TIME TO START A BUSINESS

SME grants

It often takes people years to make the decision to start a company and even then, there is a lot of planning and preparation to make it a viable and profitable enterprise, however this shouldn’t put prospective business owners off, as there has never been a better time to start-up.

Focusing on the Leeds City Region, there is an abundance of support available to start-ups and young businesses including workshops, training sessions and seminars and many of them are free of charge!

Long gone are the days when people had to worry about how they would learn about finance, marketing, business planning and the necessary administrative skills that come with owning a business, a quick internet search will give you a lengthy list of professionals that you can turn to.

Practical help and advice from those that have a proven track record is incredibly useful when you start out and knowing that these sessions are often facilitated through universities or public sector funded bodies provides further credibility by association.

Launching a business should be exciting but it can often be surprisingly isolating too when you are working all of the hours to get your idea off the ground. Building on the practical support that is available locally, there are also strong networks which can be a real lifeline.

There are many networking groups throughout the Leeds City Region and so it is worthwhile trying them all at least once to see which suits you the best. There is no need to go along to something you don’t enjoy when you have an abundance to choose from, so consider your objectives and find the group that you feel will be of most use to you.

As well as accessing suppliers and possible customers, these organised gatherings can also give you the chance to meet with people that will become life-long friends, supporters and advocates of your business and this really can be invaluable.

Having the chance to develop trusted relationships and to speak to others that are likely to be in the same – or a similar position – will give you a platform to share your concerns, which can then be addressed in a group setting providing reassurance and advice.

Interestingly, in addition to practical support and strong networks, throughout the Leeds City Region there is also the opportunity to apply for grant funding. This can give young companies the chance to take their longer-term ideas and make them happen.

As well as focusing on short term goals, we all know it’s important to have a three or five-year plan in place and that is where grants can really come into play. Putting targets in place of what you hope to achieve is the first step and asking for funds to bring those forward is the next.

Some of the funding programmes that are available can be found in a previous article from Yorkshire Powerhouse here.

There is absolutely no reason why a business should struggle when there are programmes available that can offer professional support, networking and grants, it makes no sense what-so-ever. Taking advantage of the opportunities that are available will not only benefit your business but it’s what they are there for and the more people that use them, the more likely they are to continue.

If you want to make the most of the infrastructure that the Leeds City Region has to offer simply follow the suggestions below:

  1. Take five minutes to do a quick search on the internet to find local organisations that can provide you with practical support, for example AD:VENTURE is perfect for start ups with a growth focus!
  2. Think about the skills you are lacking and choose the course, sessions and seminars that will give you access to professionals that can help
  3. Look into networking groups and make it a priority to visit one a month – don’t overwhelm yourself by trying to do too much, it will be counter productive
  4. Write down what your short and longer-term plans are – if you haven’t already – and consider what you could achieve if funding was available
  5. Pick up the phone and speak to a dedicated business advisor about how you can get the best from the programmes in your local area

It is important to remember that unlike traditional businesses many of the organisations that are delivering support actually work together rather than competing so it’s fine to ask them if there are any other opportunities that you can capitalise upon.

They will put you in touch with other programmes that could take your business from standing start to success story.

So……what are you waiting for?

BLOG SPOT: Digital Shift – Transforming Calderdale’s digital and creative landscape

start-up advice3

By Deborah Hetherington, Business Engagement Manager at Leeds Beckett University

The Ad:Venture programme aims to help businesses within the Leeds City Region reach their full potential. There are several partners involved in the project, each of whom offer their own set of specialist skills in order to assist startup and scaleup companies to grow.

Here at Leeds Beckett, we concentrate on the support we can offer to digital businesses. This can be made up of academic support in the areas of digital marketing, business planning, pitching techniques, the art of selling and so on. We also offer student research projects, access to our app studio, a wide range of masterclasses, events, funding, incubation space, and a variety of other business support. We have branded this arm of the Ad:venture project as Digital Shift.

When I was brought on to the project, I was tasked with increasing awareness of Ad:Venture specifically within Calderdale.

Leeds Beckett’s aim in Calderdale is two-fold; we want to play a valuable part in growing the expanding digital eco-system, and we want to have an impact on local startups’ bottom lines. We want to see more startups becoming scaleups and we believe our Digital Shift offering has a genuine and credible role to play in that journey. Within my first few months in Calderdale I have managed to meet with collaborators from local public, private and third sector partners who all share the same vision. We have a great relationship with the council and it’s rewarding to work with such a forward facing, innovative organisation.

I have been pleasantly surprised at just how much activity is already taking place throughout the Valley. There is a growing digital community made up of some fantastic co-working spaces filled with successful digital companies, a range of networking activities and strong local business support.

“We want to have a tangible impact on business outputs and productivity.”

Leeds Beckett wants to add to that business support by offering our vast range of academic and industry business knowledge and expertise to digital SMEs within the region. We want to have a tangible impact on business outputs and productivity. Through meeting with a range of startups already, the feedback we are getting around the programme is very positive. The spectrum of businesses I personally engage with is incredibly broad, ranging from a chatbot specialist whose company is one month old through to an e-commerce business who already have an impressive turnover and are looking to hire a management position imminently.

The type of guidance and support we give is bespoke to the company; from basic business planning and funding, right through to the more advanced industry coaching and assistance through the scaleup process. Andy Banks, Founder of Venture Forge, an e-commerce consultancy Firm, says about the Ad:venture programme: “The programme provides a good balance of knowing where I would need value input and equally where I don’t. It gives me confidence that the support we will receive will be right for us and not some kind of one size fits all approach.”

Andy goes on to comment on Calderdale’s potential as a digital centre: “We’ve got massive potential. Calderdale is full of great businesses looking to grow digitally. With the recruitment of digital people always being challenging, being located halfway between Leeds and Manchester puts Calderdale right in the middle of two pools of amazing digital talent.”

UBC mainThe University Business Centre, that officially opened at the end of September and already has an impressive array of tenants, is proving to be a successful catalyst for engagement.

We have started running monthly digital breakfast mornings allowing the digital community to come together and network whilst simultaneously providing knowledge transfer seminars from local industry experts on a plethora of sector specific topics. We are holding full day workshops specific to taking businesses to the next step of productivity, and not to forget the three-day Digital Shift Summit we held at the end of September.

The Summit saw a range of industry experts from the likes of marketing agency Woven, through to BJSS and Sky Betting and Gaming offering their expertise and knowledge to 40+ eligible businesses. The range of workshops from the event included ‘Practical Business Planning’, ‘Mentoring to Hire’, ‘Accessing Finance’ and ‘The Future of Video’ to name a few.

Feedback from the event was entirely positive, some of the delegates commented on the business planning workshop:

“The workshop was challenging but in a really good way.
Excellent and interactive, very useful exercises.”

“Really interesting, good session, highlighted gaps in what I’m doing and where I need to spend more time.”

As a university, we are very excited to play our part in growing the digital eco-system in Calderdale and we encourage all eligible businesses and intermediary organisations to get in touch to see if we can add value to your company and business relationships.

You can read more about how you can benefit from the project here

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Blog Spot – Grant Funding FAQs.

Business Funding FAQs

Something we get asked about, ( A LOT!) when talking to businesses is grants.

A lot of businesses tell us they are put off making a grant application initially because they think it’s hard work. We wanted to share this blog we wrote for the Yorkshire Powerhouse website, which answers a lot of the FAQ’s we come across when chatting all things grants & SME funding.

The Yorkshire Powerhouse website also holds a lot of free resource and tools you might fight helpful when starting up or growing your business, and we’ve put links through the blog that you can use to access templates or further guidance.

We hope you find this blog useful, and if you want to chat with an adviser about applying for up to £25,000 in match funded AD:VENTURE Growth Grants, just give us a call on 0845 524 0210 or complete our easy programme registration form HERE

So…..here are some of the most commonly asked questions and answers to help you get started.

I heard grant applications are really complicated?

In truth, grants are no more complicated than applying to any other financial lender, and you would present your case for a grant in much the same way you would for a loan. The added benefit of a grant is that you don’t have to pay it back.

To start the process, you need a sound business plan which should evidence how and why the grant money will increase the growth potential of your company. Grants are usually aimed at delivering growth, innovation or new products to market.

In our experience most businesses that receive a grant think this is a fair price to pay for an injection of capital to sustain their growth plans.

Why is it all about jobs and growth and innovation?

Most business support programmes and grant schemes are designed to help businesses expand and create new jobs. Even where the focus is on improving productivity or increasing exports, for example, the ultimate aim is to help businesses grow, boost the economy and create sustainable growth and employment. This is often linked to development of new products and innovation. Grant applicants will usually need to evidence their plans will create growth through employment, and will be expected to provide details of any jobs created. This is often linked to the funding offer, and can mean full grant cannot be claimed until this is provided.

How can I make sure I put in the best application and not waste my time?

Grant funders want see applications that are likely to be successful, so always discuss your application with your business adviser before you apply. Most organisations offering grants have advisors who can help you through their process. They can advise you on the kinds of things that can be included in your application. This might be considering how your growth meets the criteria for the grant scheme, and ensuring you have presented your best possible case.

This is also helpful when considering a blend of finance options and understanding what to use the different funds for, maximising the benefits of your grant.

Your adviser will act as a critical friend by going over your application, and giving you advice on areas that may need development or more clarity.

Having this support through the grant process will make it more likely your application will succeed.

My business plan is in my head!

While many SMEs often start without a comprehensive business plan, when it gets to the finance-raising stage this would be a must for any lender, demonstrating why the company is viable for lending. This usually includes forecasts of revenue, outgoings and activities associated with these, market researchcompetitors and promotional strategies.

This sounds like a lot of work………how hard is it?

A business plan does not have to be 100 pages!! Our friends at the Yorkshire Powerhouse have written an article extolling the virtues of a one page business plan! Business plans vary as much as businesses do, but they should give a clear line of sight for the business’s financial forecast, sales figures and demonstrate to any potential investor or lender why you are a viable business.

Ok – so how can I get help to develop my business plan?

There are a number of ways you can get help with this, depending on your needs . If you have a plan but need some pointers, regional advisors and support programmes can offer you advice and even feedback. They can’t write it for you, but can advise you.

You can also access workshops, aimed at helping you understand the business plan itself, and events to develop your understanding of essential areas, such as marketing, branding, market research and financial forecasting. Check out some of our FREE events.

Why can I only spend grant money on certain purchases? It’s confusing!

Grant programmes are aimed at helping companies invest in growth and it’s important to note that most, if not all, will not support what would be considered running costs.

The grant is designed to help make the investment happen – for example, where there’s a shortfall between how much you need to invest and the cash you’ve got in the business or SME funding you’ve been able to raise from the bank or other lenders. Sometimes, it’s about making an investment happen quicker so that you don’t miss out on an opportunity for your business.

Most grants cannot, however, be used for general day to day running costs or overheads such as rent, wages, energy bills or for buying in stock.

To help, here are some basic examples of eligible and non-eligible spend, with a brief explanation

  • Monthly marketing costs – these would be considered an ongoing business cost and would not be eligible.
  • IT equipment – where new kit is purchased to support production and generate jobs, this would be eligible.
  • Advertising campaign – a focused time limited campaign to access new markets or promote new product with a view to generating greater turnover and increased productivity could be eligible.
  • Office equipment & furniture – where the purchases are supporting expansion activity – e.g. Desks and computers for new members of staff – these would usually be eligible.
  • Production equipment – new kit to increase capacity or add new lines and products, as a growth focussed activity would usually be eligible.
  • Website development & design – whether starting up, or redesigning your existing, as long as the activity is intended to generate business growth, this would usually be eligible.
  • Rent – this would not be eligible as this would be classed as a running cost.
  • Consultancy costs – if the consultancy is aimed at developing the company, product or processes to deliver a project, this would be eligible. However, if it was an essential to the running of the company on a day to day basis, such as a HR person, this would fall within a running cost, and not be eligible.
  • Salaries – these are not be eligible as salaries would be classed as a running cost

 

What is match funding?

Most government grants are match funded. This means the business has to match the grant cash with some of their own. The level of match funding can vary from one grant programme to another.

For example, the Leeds city region ad:venture grant scheme has match rate of up to 50%. This means, in most cases if a business had a project that would cost £20,000, they could apply for up to £10,000 in grant, which is claimed back after the spend.

The match rate can vary depending on the grant, so it’s crucial that you understand what your level of match would need to be. This sort of information would be provided the grant provider or adviser.

Does the match have to be money in the business?

Not always. It can be from cash within the business but it could also be finance raised in other ways, for example, a business loan, external investment, a low rate government loan or even personal or family loan. Your business advisor can also advise you on other financial solutions and products to match with the grant. We work with a range of partners, some who also offer lending solutions including the Business Enterprise Fund. You cannot use money from other grant schemes as match funding, as rules say the business has to contribute.

Why do I have to provide evidence and quotes for purchases?

Most grants require quotes and evidence of final purchase for any products or services purchased using grant money. This is for audit purposes – so it has to be done – and is designed to help make sure you and the grant provider get value for money by testing the market. Where it’s a product, you can easily check the costs of a like for like product. For services, this would usually be done with issue of a spec for the service, with the potential supplier providing a quote or payment schedule.

Grant advisers and local support providers can give guidance on this, and have templates and examples if this is something you need assistance with.

Do I have to buy the cheapest then? What if it’s not the best?

No, the quote process is about due diligence, market fairness and value for money. You may feel one provider is a bit more expensive but their service or product is of a higher standard. You should select based on best value and what is right for your business.

Remember, a percentage of the cash spent is yours too so you want to make sure you have the best price and right product.

We use a basic template that can be used to evidence your assessment, and to make the process easier for you.

Why do I have to spend the cash before I can claim the grant money?

Not all grants work this way, but the majority do, and it’s important to be aware before you apply. The purpose of the grant is to help the business sustain itself financially at the crucial period when an investment has been made and cash flow may be under pressure as a result. Claiming the grant after the money is spent, this ensures you have the injection back into the business at the time it’s most needed. This can be also be done in stages as you spend, depending what works best for you and your business.

Grants & Funding FAQ’s summary

It’s likely that you will have more questions than we can provide answers to!

The answers above cover the majority of the questions we are usually asked. Take a look at the links and explanations of the various regional grants available by clicking on the grants and funding page on Yorkshire Powerhouse site. You can contact the funding providers with your specific questions, or for businesses under 3 years or new, AD:VENTURE advisors can help you navigate your options, and for those over 3 years, the Leeds City Region LEP have dedicated growth managers who can support you.

A final thought…….if you are starting, running or growing a business, there is a great deal of support out there and you don’t need to navigate it alone. You can also access invaluable non financial support that adds genuine value and clarity to your business.  Don’t miss out because you didn’t ask!

Check out some examples of AD:VENTURE Case Studies of business who didn’t miss out.

Think BIG…Think AD:VENTURE