If you didn’t make it to this year’s Great British Business Show, don’t despair! We have done the legwork for you and come up with our top ten picks from the event.
Read on and meet some of the best organisations in the UK, dedicated to making businesses better…
1) Angels Den
Co-founded by Bill Morrow and Lois Cook in 2007, Angels Den is an award winning crowdfunding platform that does more than just facilitate financing for SMEs. Focusing on linking business owners with lenders that have the right expertise and contacts to drive growth – Angels Den is less of a platform and more of a springboard to success.
We caught up with a pumped-up Bill Morrow, in between his numerous talks at the Angels Den Theatre, who explained how his organisation has evolved and why it offers so much to business owners:
‘When we founded Angels Den in 2007, what we thought we were was a mechanism for giving small businesses money. It took us two and a half years to figure out what we were really about…which was getting small businesses money but also mentorship, contacts plus business experience.’
Morrow says they are offering a bespoke service and that is key to their clients’ continued growth:
‘We are about ensuring businesses are still in business – we are not just a mechanism to get you equity funding. In our 8 years, 94% of all the businesses that we’ve funded are still growing…and that has something to do with the fact that we are putting in experienced business people and that we understand what the entrepreneurs need. They come to us asking for money but what they really need is mentorship, guidance and business contacts.’
With a success rate well above the industry average, it’s little wonder that this year, Bill was named the most influential person in alternative finance by City AM.
It makes complete sense that these brand consultants stood out at the Business Show. They are experts in the world of image projection and their own slick and accessible brand was drawing in the crowds.
Offering a tailored service to business start-ups or new business owners, Human aim to progress a brand from the choice of name, through to ‘logos, images, iconography and tone of voice’. They also help design and develop websites, as well as envisioning effective marketing and social media.
We chatted to Human’s charismatic founder Omar Fahmi about how their consultancy is different:
‘We chose our name because we have a more human approach – you’re not another job, you are another person. We offer a lot of one-to-one time that we don’t charge for… instead we invest time in creating a relationship.’
By listening to their clients carefully about their specific desires, instead of pushing them a certain way, Human aims to engender trust as well as producing unique and effective branding:
‘We come up with suggestions for branding and give you options for logos…we work with you, skype with you, meet with you and develop something that you really want and then we move onto the website. The process is called the ‘brand plan’ and each one is unique.’
And if you’re wondering if branding really is that important, Omar will convince you:
‘Brand breaks the ice. It’s your first introduction to a company; it’s the perception people have of your product and its level of quality. It’s the difference between you and another business – if you both have the same product, but you have a better brand - you get the customer.’
‘If the customer sees you have invested time in your brand, they feel you are going to invest time in them. A good brand is essentially your suit and tie at an interview.'
It wasn’t easy getting a few minutes with Nick Barnett, CEO of Appsme – and little wonder. He is a trailblazer in the app building field, and everyone wanted a piece of him at the show.
Designing and building apps since 2005, multi award winning Appsme works with some big brand names including Vogue, Mail online and The Independent as well as major handset manufacturers and is a leader in opening up the mobile world to small businesses.
‘Apps today are where websites were 20 years ago. At that time, it was hard to build a website – you needed specialist agencies to build it for you and it was expensive…and apps are now in the same place. If you think about getting an app your natural reaction is that it’s going to cost £10,000- £20,000, it’s going to take 3 months and I’ll have to go to digital agency to get it done. What we’re trying to do is take the position that website developers have taken – today it’s really easy to build a website and really affordable… were doing exactly the same thing at Appsme. We’ve condensed what was a long and expensive process into a two week, £50 a month process.’
He feels that SMEs that aren’t going mobile are missing a trick:
‘We believe that apps are becoming a fundamental part of the marketing mix. Consumers are now spending more time in front of their mobile phone than they are in front of websites. So if you are not on the mobile, you are missing out on 50-60% of your consumer base.’
Barnett’s mission is to ‘tear down the cost and complexity barriers’ for small businesses and make building an app ‘quick, simple and affordable’.
Attracting custom from all sectors, ‘…we’ve got accountants, doctors, dog-walkers as well as hair salons and restaurants’, Appsme is enabling businesses to engage with their customers on another level:
‘Businesses can run things like loyalty schemes within the app as well as promoting special offers and deals. You can target special offers with things like push notification where you can send messages to everyone who’s got the app installed.. and maybe encourage them to pop back to your business for a special event. You can even set up virtual zones around where you are based…so when someone walks past your business, they get a message on their phone.’
With their booth decorated with swathes of pretty bunting and a (rather incongruous) silver 1980s DeLorean, it was impossible pass by this exhibitor.
While the car, owned by Bunting’s Business Development Manager, Ben Prince, was a clever marketing ploy, the company speaks for itself.
Claiming to offer ‘the world's easiest to use website personalization software’, Bunting is aimed at any business with ambitions for growth.
Ben explained how huge online retailers like Amazon have the ability to ‘know’ their customers and make tailored product recommendations:
‘Amazon makes about 30% of their sales from those recommendations but they’ve spent a lot of money on developing that facility on their website…which is way beyond the reach of most ordinary businesses.’
Bunting aims to bridge that gap:
‘Bunting is a plug-in for your website that can give you that kind of power. It will learn from your visitor’s behaviour – for example, if they buy one thing, they tend to buy another. It’s intuitive so the longer you have it on your website, the better it is and it always outperforms human beings.’
Catering to both big and small European online retailers, there is a package for everyone:
‘The beauty of the software is the scalability – it will work just as much for a small business as a large one. Price is based on website traffic so you only pay more for the service when it’s generating more for you.’
5) Dephrisk/Cyber Skills Centre
Whilst the Cyber Skiils Centre’s focus is on educating the business community, Dephrisk (who operate out of the same building) offer low cost assessments on external systems and websites. Their service can check a business’ operating systems for over 70,000 ways a hacker could gain access and cause damage.
Dephrisk’s COO, James Workman aided the design of the centre and is also very active in public speaking and cyber-skills training. He told us:
‘At the Cyber Skiils Centre we offer short courses called ‘cyber bites’ which are very simple three hour courses for companies to get the basics of security. We also offer a full day training course called ‘Cyber essentials’ which is sponsored by the government.’
We also spoke with Stephen Wright, Centre Manager at the Cyber Skills Centre, who is passionate about protecting small businesses:
‘Cyber security is probably the most neglected aspect of any SME. Cyber crime is a rapidly growing problem and a lot of small companies don’t think that they are at risk - but they absolutely are. It’s happening to the sole trader and the ten-person business as well as the thousand-person business. People are not engaging with this risk properly.’
Wright feels all SMEs should educate themselves:
‘It’s not a super technical thing. It’s about everybody in their business and personal lives being aware of when something isn’t right and knowing what to do (and not to do) with that.’
As a first post of call, Wright recommends visiting their site for free information on what small businesses should be doing.
Business expansion specialists, Eggcelerate are all about growth. They promote the passing on of expertise and a sustained relationship with businesses, rather than one-off consultancy and claim that this is where their success lies.
The company was founded by Stephano Malfreni, who has 15 years’ experience working in senior roles for global blue-chip companies, growing businesses and start-ups. He is also a Mentor with Oxygen Accelerator and an Approved Business Coach with Growth Accelerator, now part of the government’s Business Growth Services.
Working alongside him is Ghilaine Chan, who is also a mentor with over 15 years’ experience in scaling international business practices for tech companies, within their support organisations. She gave us some insights into how their services work:
‘What we do is go into a business and look at the whole. We look at where the customer meets the business and where the business needs to go and meet the customer. A lot of the time it’s knowing who your target market is – if you don’t know that, you can’t grow your business - you are just chasing everyone.’
Ghilaine believes business development requires a methodical approach:
‘We look at what their business is actually doing, where their skills are and where they need help. Once we’ve done that, we help them with the ‘how’. We really roll our sleeves up and get stuck in and give them the map to show them where they need to go. Most people know what they need to do, they just don’t know how. We say – this is your priority – start here and work your way down the list.’
And she is clear that Eggcelerate value client relations above all else:
‘We don’t suddenly appear, make a few general observations and then vanish, leaving you with a large bill. We’re willing to work hand-in-hand with your business at a deeper, employee level. We’re open, honest, knowledgeable, committed and genuinely care about making your company a success and we’ll stay for as long as you need us.’
With a wide network of contacts in financing, PR and marketing, Eggcelerate are a one-stop shop for business growth.
‘We have built a soild network behind ourselves, to help other companies grow.’
A honey-pot for stationary addicts, the Moo booth was busy all day.
Primarily known for their beautifully designed, cutting edge business cards, Moo also produce flyers, stickers, greetings cards, postcards and labels. They are also innovators in the realms of NFC business cards (where a tap can add your details to enabled mobile devices).
The quality and range on offer is outstanding will certainly make your first introduction to customers and contacts a memorable one.
We spoke to Moo’s Project Manager, Alistair Cohen, who described some of their recent design ventures including their ‘Luxe’ range ‘where you can have a lovely colour seam running through the middle’, mini-cards or ‘square ones which really make you stand out in a crowd.’
‘We have just launched our gold foil and spot gloss business cards which I think look a lot better than some of our competitors.’
He explained why coming to Moo takes the stress out of getting beautiful business cards made:
‘Instead of having to go to a professional designer and then a printer, provide them with the right spot colours in your in-design files (which most people wouldn’t know how to do!)….we just accept a black and white pdf and your choice of colours… and then, a few days later you have your lovely sexy business cards.’
Their Moo mission?:
‘Ultimately, we are trying to bring good design to as many people as possible.’
8) Entrepreneurs Circle
Founded by Nigel Botterill – one of the UK’S top business gurus – Entrepreneurs Circle is a nationwide membership organisation that unites business owners from across the country and gives them access to a wealth of advice and valuable contacts.
Nigel is well qualified to be the ringleader in this particular circle, having built up over eight business brands with a million plus turnover as well as winning numerous awards.
The organisation offers a number of benefits to members including a monthly magazine, newsletters, swipe files, access to Nigel’s training sessions and talks and a direct line to his ‘crack team’ of business advisors and experts.
Business owners can become members at four different levels – from simply being able to access group training and getting the magazine to having bespoke one-to-one sessions with anyone on the Entrepreneur Circle team.
Nigel delivers training 4 times a month around the UK – so members can go to these events where they can also network with other like-minded business people.
We spoke to Rob Murray, one of the circle’s advisors about why the circle is great for business growth:
‘Everything we teach SMEs is through what we know and what we are doing right now. None of it is theory based. Most business owners are good at running their own business, but not good at marketing to the world – which is where we can help. Most members stay with us a long time as they value the benefit of being able to interact with others in the circle and they enjoy the benefits of regular networking.’
His message is simple:
‘The more you use us the better you will get.’
9) Get Set For Growth
There were plenty of business advisory services at the show, but none with this particular perk: being completely free!
Get Set For Growth is a business support service that aims to unlock the potential of SMEs within local communities. It has six branches across the UK – the London service being funded by JP Morgan and the other five by the government.
We chatted to Robyn Sinclair, the organisations sales and marketing advisor about the ways in which they are helping individual businesses and whole business districts regenerate and grow:
‘The majority of people we speak to don’t necessarily see that what they are struggling with is a growth problem: they have probably been running their businesses for a few years; they have managed to get their product or service to market; they probably have quite a good customer base but they suddenly hit that point where plateaued and don’t know where to go next.’
Robyn explains how they target issues:
‘Typically we find growth problems come from one of three areas – either a lack of real business direction, a lack of access to finance or that they’re struggling to access customers. What Get Set For Growth does is help them identify and resolve those particular challenges – whether it’s helping them to redefine their business plans so they are in line with where their business is today, or helping them to access finance (either banks and traditional routes or equity investors and other alternative finance) by getting them investment-ready, or teaching them what they need to do from a marketing perspective. We upskill these business owners so they can take things to the next level.’
The London project is exemplary in that it’s based in the east of the city where access to this kind of assistance has been lacking. Robyn claims that JP Morgan wanted to fund the enterprise as in the long run it will benefit the whole of the capital:
‘We are trying to get the businesses within East London to grow because by growing they start creating jobs, they start accessing finance, they start turning over more and putting more money into the economy. It’s about regeneration in an area that is struggling in comparison to others – but is actually really vibrant and is ripe to develop.’
10) London Design Works
This design agency, although London-based, caters to clients across the UK and their sole aim is to make your business look great online and extend its reach.
Focusing on website design, the company has designed sites for major retailers, universities and charities as well as SMEs.
London Design Works’ Director, Vince Rowe, shared his insights with us on what business owners should be aiming for in terms of their online image:
‘From a visual point of view, a major avenue to new business is to really understand your target market and what your customers are trying to get out of the system. It’s really about understanding their needs and looking at the bigger picture…so it’s not about whether you personally as a business owner love your website and what you’re putting on there – it’s rather do your customers enjoy it and what do they get out of it.’
The agency will work with individual businesses to try and access this ‘bigger picture’ and create a website design in response to that.
Vince explained how important it is to have a great website from the very start of your online presence:
‘A common mistake is a business going for a quick fix – i.e. doing something ‘off the shelf’ that they personally really like but may not suit their actual customer base. We get a lot of contact from people who had something up and running really quickly but within a few weeks or months it was clear it wasn’t the way to go…and unfortunately by that time, you’ve already set the precedent for what you are doing.’