What are the current barriers to growth – are they more perceived than real?

Many business owners aspire to growth, but only a small percentage actually achieve growth.  Research shows that the main barriers to growth for SME businesses are

1.         Lack of realistic business plans

2.         Muddled marketing

3.         Wrong objectives, based on sales

4.         Running business in the same way when the market has changed

5.         Meddling and misspent time

6.         No financial strategy and poor controls

Some of the other suggestions put forward by the members of the Business Exposure Group included:

  • Putting up with inefficient systems, processes and procedures
  • Lack of demand
  • Lack of management time
  • Access to finance
  • Lack of skilled staff
  • Employment legislation
  • Size of premises

But less obvious is the ability of the business to grow must be influenced by the willingness of the owners to devolve decisions to staff.

The discussion confirmed that companies don’t fail because they grow, but they fail because they don’t plan their growth.  So, to achieve sustained growth – invest in ‘safe bets’ and identify strategies with a probability of success.  Start with your core business and eliminate non-core products or services on a regular basis. Change how you are servicing your customers in the light of the 2020/21 restrictions.

Some of the members thought that a business has a better chance of success if you come from a big business background or at least employ someone that does.  Yet, big companies are not great innovators and become bogged down with reporting and bureaucracy.

The overriding feeling amongst the group was that growth for any good company is not markets, technology or products, but our ability to attract and keep the right staff.

Every business has skills gaps and it is vital that those gaps are plugged if you want to move up a level.

Yet many owners felt that the main barrier to growth was lack of confidence brought about by the last 15 months and fear of losing what has already been achieved. Many members are now overwhelmed with orders since the lifting of lockdown restrictions, and are grappling with the sudden shock of suddenly having a large influx of new business and struggling to cope.

Be mindful of the 2 typical characteristics of failing to achieve growth. 1) inadequate consideration of the opportunities and 2) infrastructure that cannot support.

Now is the time to put 45 minutes aside each day devoted to thinking about growth. Do that and you have found half a day a week to work on the business and not in the business.

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How important is brand for SME’s during this extended lockdown.

Brand is the personality that identifies the product/service and the company, yet 55% of brand creators say that businesses fail to consider their target customers when developing a brand, and with face to face meetings still several weeks away, it is now more important than ever to reflect your businesses personality across all interaction.  

It was agreed by all the attendees at the Business Exposure Group meeting that the true value of a brand identity lies in the view of the target audience, and that the only way to build a robust and financially viable business in today’s market is to build a brand.  One that gets your business to stand out and emphasizes what you have that your competitors don’t.  Yet it was no surprise that considering the importance of brand, that most of the attendees at the Business Exposure Group meeting failed to discuss brand at their usual team meetings. 

This led the discussion onto a question posed by Rachel Greaves ‘Does a brand even exist among SME’s businesses, or is it just a large company issue’.  Perhaps the answer is that the word ‘brand’ within the SME world should be replaced with the word ‘reputation’. 

Clearly people prefer to buy goods and services that they feel familiar with, and the suggestion around the table, that in tight economic times, that it was not wise to bolster your brand, saying it was more akin to spending money on a high end stereo for a vehicle that doesn’t run well, was firmly rejected. 

It was agreed by all that a brand should be developed and tweaked in parallel to the business plan.  Starting with value for money, being ranked as the number one priority for SME branding, followed by reliability and trust. The business brand must take into consideration all the lessons learned during the pandemic, and reflect the way customers now want to receive our goods and services.

A brand positions a business in its niche, and if continually enhanced will become one of the most valuable assets of your business.  So, don’t underestimate the value in obtaining legal protection of all your intellectual property and ensure that any outsourced creative input has been transferred to your ownership on completion.  Otherwise, at worst your business valuation will be greatly diminished and at best the ‘creative’ will hold you to ransom when they realise the value of the brand and your need to get your ownership in order.  Quite simply, after each outsourced brand initiative, box off the ownership issue when no-one yet realises its potential value. 

The above were just a selection of the comments taken from a round the table zoom discussion during a recent Business Exposure Group meeting.

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We will look back and say pre covid and post covid, just like we say pre war and post war.

Businesses have spent much of the past 10 months scrambling to adapt to extra ordinary circumstances.

Customer behavoir has changed significantly. Spending across most industries is down, purchases have shifted from in person to digital channels and safety has become a top priority.

We will look back and say pre covid and post covid, just like we say pre war and post war.

As businesses step into the post coronavirus future, assuming the vaccines deliver what we hope, businesses need to find a balance between what worked before March 2020 and what needs to happen to succeed in the next normal.

We need to take advantage of this chaos, because in chaos there is opportunity.

Will 2021 be the year of recovery or can we only really consider this in the second half of the year.

I’ve spoken to many business owners in the last month. Most have got their head around their business situation, but what is clear is that not everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet in how to move forward, during all this uncertainty. With daily changes by the government which impacts on all our daily lives not least on our businesses. This uncertainty is waring many of us down, even though in our own micro world’s things don’t look too bad.

Now more than ever, people need extra information, guidance and support to navigate a novel set of challenges. Being able to sense check your thought process against others at the moment is really worthwhile and reassuring. That’s why the Business Exposure Group is so valuable!

Attendance at the Business Exposure Group meetings have all been on Zoom this month because of lockdown restrictions.

Nevertheless, The Business Exposure Group continues to provide valuable support for circa 150 SME MD’s and Business Owners.

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Employee Benefits- How important are they in a post lockdown business?

The pandemic has reinforced just how much we rely on staff as we rebuild our businesses to reflect the changing circumstances.

Where benefits were previously not always important to employees, there is now an opportunity to consider their new found interest.

Now that so many have experienced a financial shock, there is great scope for employers to use benefits as a tool to motivate and secure staff. However, many SME business owners mistakenly believe that they cannot afford to offer benefits.

Lockdown has impacted us all in several ways. For many it has meant juggling an already busy life in closer surroundings than ever before. Our homes have become offices, schools and leisure spaces. We are more at risk of anxiety and stress at work (wherever that is) and so ensuring your employees well being is paramount to a company’s overall value proposition.

Some of the members of the Business Exposure Group are offering a selection of the employee benefits below:


Life Assurance

Income Protection

Health Screening

Home Office Allowance

On demand videos and articles about wellbeing

Confidential employee health assistance programme

Employee discount arrangements amongst local retailers

Cycle to Work schemes

Leisure and lifestyle benefits including Gym memberships, wearables and nutrition advice

Overall companies need to address the requirements of a multi-generational workforce comprising 20’s -70+ age groups.

Is your employee benefits strategy fit for purpose post Covid-19?

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Making your Business stand out after Lockdown

With every passing month it becomes increasingly important to separate your business from the competition.  Gone are the days of copying and undercutting.  You have to get out of the commodity business and shout about what differentiates you from the rest.

So, how do you do this or has your mind gone blank with all the Covid uncertainty. This was the subject for discussion by members of the Business Exposure Group at our recent meeting.

One of the big differentiators at the moment are those businesses which pursue the face to face meeting in a Covid safe way. Many larger businesses are following business rules which prohibit meetings and demonstrations etc, but many SME’s are able to take advantage of those businesses on hold, and provide what the customer wants. It’s a great time to steal a march on competitors.

Equally take a look at your current customers, is there a common element among your best customers.  Interview them and ask why they choose to work with you, why they stay and why they refer others.  Study your competitors to establish what you could do better and what don’t they offer. 

Focus less on traditional marketing and more on customer experience.  Get personal with your customers, get to know their life story and find out the real reasons why they buy your products.  Build a relationship with them so they move from being account number 2367 in your ledger to customers with whom you have a real relationship.

7 months into this Covid pandemic. It is now time to act not react!

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Funding your business for the next 12 months.

Its going to be turbulent. There is a lack of certainty. Do you need to rethink your business finance?

Since Covid 19, financial arrangements are facing an unpredictable response from high street lenders, even when the relationship has been historically strong. Fearing the worst, many businesses are shying away from proactively communicating with their banks.

But don’t abandon the hunt for funds if the bank declines to help. Don’t become part of the “ discouraged borrower syndrome”

The key message is that it is time to rethink finance and seize the opportunities created by a changing market place.

Rethink your business finance taking into consideration recent Government help, Challenger banks such as Metro, Aldermore, Shawbrook and Redwood. Brokers can steer you in the right direction. Consider also Business Angels, Factoring, Asset Finance, Peer to Peer lending, Crowdfunding and Grants…….. Below are a selection of current grants available. These can be a nice add on!

Its important to make time to research the options to assist with funding your business during these strange times.


Business Growth Programme and Productivity Pilot

  • For help buying machinery, equipment and fit out/refurb of buildings but not the purchase of property.
  • BGP requires you to create jobs.  Productivity Pilot is focused on improvements in productivity with no net reduction in jobs.
  • Grants from £7.5K to £250K contributing up to 20% of total costs.
  • Minimum project spend £50K.
  • 12 months trading history required.


  • Aimed at businesses operating in digital and tech sector only.
  • Need 12 months trading history
  • At least 50% of sales are B2B.
  • Investing in at least £20K in equipment, refit, alteration or eligible fees.
  • Grants from £10K – £50K.

Digital Enterprise Grant

  • Capital grants from £2K – £12,500
  • Minimum of 50% contribution for projects from £4K – £25K.
  • Connectivity vouchers available up to £3K for cost of upgrading broadband connections.

Product and Process Improvement

  • For help buying machinery/equipment that enables innovation in business – example, you’ve identified a way of improving your end product but need a specific piece of equipment to achieve this
  • Grants up to £20K contributing 40% of total costs.

Access Innovation

  • Package of support available to help business access research based expertise to develop existing processes and products eg. working with Green
  • Research grants available up to £100K to help with 50% of the cost of collaborating with a research partner.
  • Capital grant pot also available to help fund 20/% of costs up to £100K ie. Max grant of £20K.

ReBiz programme

  • Grants up to £40K contributing 40% of total costs.
  • To be used to help businesses save money, material resources and carbon.
  • Includes a free efficiency audit and circular economy support, designed to help you get maximum value from your products and materials.

Manufacturing Growth Programme

  • Grants to provide access to expert advice to help you grow manufacturing businesses.
  • Access equates to 8 days across 4 months.  Also includes a capital grant element.
  • Includes help to acquire SALSA accreditation (Safe and Local Supplier Approval)

Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund

  • Micro Finance fund with loans from £25K to £100K delivered by Business Enterprise Fund.
  • Debt Finance fund with loans from £100K to £750K delivered by Mercia Fund Managers.
  • Equity Finance from £100K to £2M delivered by Mercia Fund Managers.


  • Aimed at high growth pre-start early stage business up to 3 years old.
  • Expert advice to help with planning, coaching and growth advice.
  • Must trade B2B.
  • Grants available from £50 to £2500 for start-ups assisting with set up costs (excluding working capital) eg. Office furniture, IT equipment, website design and development.
  • Grants available from £2.5K to £25K for business trading from 1 year up to 3 years to help with capital purchases.
  • Start-up loans available through Business Enterprise Fund from £500 – £25K.

Biorenewables Development Centre

  • Range of grant-based support available for businesses operating in the bio economy.
  • Support focusses on looking at ways to commercialise products and processes through a mixture of testing and research.

Spark Fund

  • Up to £20K of innovation grants to help you change your business, not necessarily the world.
  • Up to £50K for R&D funding.
  • Up to £50K for Low Carbon R&D funding.


  • Up to £5K grant available to cover 50% of cost when looking to attend trade shows.
  • Includes cost of flights and accommodation or legal and professional fees relating to international T&C’s / contracts plus more.
  • Plus, Enterprise Europe Network can help you find local partners and distributors in your chosen country.


  • Whether your business pays the apprenticeship levy or not, there is support available when taking on an apprentice.
  • An apprentice is not just a young, entry level person.

Gigabit Voucher Scheme

  • Any business can apply for support to upgrade their connectivity speed so that it is capable of delivering gigabit capability.
  • There is no application process as such with the process of being supplier lead.  Access support through the website and then find a supplier.
  • The discount has already been applied from £500 – £3000.
  • Potential applicants can apply together eg. Within the same building or business park so 5 businesses can obtain up to £25K of discount.
  • Business who trade from a home address can apply.

Skills Service

  • Wide range of training available for SME’s with 40% contribution from the grant if eligible.
  • Marketing, social media, management, business development, financial skills, H&S, law, manufacturing, construction, engineering skills all included plus many more.

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We might have been in lockdown, but we haven’t really been disrupted.

Our meetings have continued albeit on Zoom. The members have been able to benchmark their thoughts with each other. A welcome support in these strange times.

The subjects we have covered during 4 months of lockdown included:

Connecting with customers in times of crisis

From surviving to thriving

Demonstrating calm and optimism during this trying time

Providing customers and employees with safety guarantees that restore trust

Are you energised and inspired by the progress the crisis has forced on you to make

Is the concept of redundancies right for your business

How do we start planning the transition back into the office

Quick revenue recovery- should we do something different

Thankyou to all the BXG members for supporting the Zoom meetings during the lockdown period,  and although the government guidelines are constantly evolving we are now looking forward to resuming the usual round the table meetings  in Leeds, Manchester and Sheffield after the Summer break.

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The Challenge of a lifetime.

Now in our 3rd month of Lockdown and our round the table board meetings have been operating every 2 weeks on Zoom.

The following topics have been discussed to pool our joint wisdom to help all our members grapple with the challenge of a lifetime.

April 2020

Connecting with customers in times of crisis.

Business building for the crisis and beyond.

The value of external  help.

May 2020

The next business scenario – from surviving to thriving.

Providing customers and employees with safety guarantees that restore trust.

Demonstrating calm and optimism at this trying time.

Are you energized and inspired by the progress the crisis has forced on you to make.

Is the concept of redundancy right for your business.

June 2020

When should we prepare for business as “new normal”.

How do we start planning the transition back into the office.

Has lockdown helped us rediscover what’s important.

Quick revenue recovery- should we do something different in our businesses.


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Reflections-One month since lockdown 23 April 2020.

What we as business owners and leaders need during a crisis is not a predefined response plan, but behavoirs and mindsets that will prevent us from overreacting to yesterday’s developments and help us look ahead.

Our actions need to change constantly, but we must also be decisive. Our teams look to us for direction and stability. Our colleagues, who are remote at the moment must be granted authority to make and implement decisions without having to gain approval. But having talked constantly to many business owners over the last month, many of you are working hard, doing so much more, having furloughed the back office operation, with many more tasks falling to you. As well as trying to motivate yourself, your staff and reposition your business offering both now and more importantly when we emerge from lockdown.

For some businesses, near term survival is the only agenda item, others are peering through the fog of uncertainty, thinking about how to position ourselves once the crisis has passed and things move on to the new normal. You will note that I have deliberately not said – return to normal.

A shock of this scale will create a shift in the preferences and expectations of individuals. These shifts and their impact on how we live, how we work and how we use technology will become more clear over the coming weeks and months.

This crisis will reveal not just vulnerabilities but significant opportunities to improve the performance of our businesses. While physical distancing and shutdowns are freezing some businesses, others are seeing spikes in demand particularly if you operate in IT/ Financial services/Food or anything to do with the NHS.

Now more than ever, people need extra information, guidance and support to navigate a novel set of challenges and that is why The Business Exposure Group is fit for purpose.

If necessity is the mother of invention, there could be some positive outcomes from the crisis.

But with a general shortage of optimism at the moment, it may be heartening to consider a few encouraging possibilities.

  • Individuals and businesses can learn and embrace new ways to connect. Zoom shares have gone through the roof.
  • Businesses have learned how to operate remotely, at high level and at speed. These practices could well stick, making for better management and more flexible workforces- something that could be particularly useful for women, the disabled and those who prefer untraditional careers.

Businesses already have a better sense of what can, and cannot be done outside their company’s traditional processes. Many of us are beginning to appreciate the speed with which business can move. We are being forced to do more with less.

Decisions made during this crisis could lead to a burst of innovation and productivity, with more resilient industries and the emergence of a re connected world.

Thankyou for reading the April 2020 blog, stay safe, and lets hope this situation is over sooner rather than later.


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Have our websites evolved to maximise visitor engagement

Let’s assume your website has great content.  What tactics can you use to increase visitor engagement?  So, what exactly does engagement mean – when a visitor lands on your website you want them to read your content, interact with your forms, and click through on your call to action.

This was the topic discussed by members of the Business Exposure Group at a recent meeting – does your website work and do you get return visits?

Visitors spend on average 8 seconds before deciding whether or not to remain on the website.

Some useful tips to aid visitor engagement are –

  • use plenty of white space so your content is easy on the eye
  • use readable fonts and text sizes
  • pages with 1000-2500 words experience the highest user engagement
  • trend is…. – one message – one video – one click
  • make your website faster to load – Google analytics offer speed suggestions under the heading site-speed
  • visitors need to see your brand 7 times before they will commit
  • ‘heatmaps’ they let you know where visitors are hovering their cursors, clicking on buttons, etc
  • best practice is to get 20% of visitors to return to the website

Once you know your money terms you can focus all your efforts on the right subject matter eg sells safety equipment or safety equipment for operatives or safety equipment Leeds or cheapest safety equipment

  • create custom landing pages
  •  use visitor tracking -retargeting – is a cookie based technology that uses java script code to anonymously follow your audience all over the web once they have visited your site
  • but is it better to concentrate on website strength rather than chase companies who have visited your website?
  • Google Analytics or Lead Forensics are useful tools…. and then pick up phone following research through Linkedin. ‘As a proactive company we have identified that someone in your company visited our website yesterday. I took a guess that it may have been you.  Just for information the visitor seemed to be mainly interested in ….’, then pause, if it’s not them they will pass you through to someone else or supply an email address. Alternatively you could ring within minutes of them visiting the website, or ring out of hours and leave a message on voicemail to be followed up the next day.
  • send an email following up a visitor looking at your website
  • finding out who has visited your website can be a meticulous process, but it can offer great rewards if you are willing to persevere. It’s easy to show that in the past month your website has been visited 1000 times, but it tells you very little about who is visiting your website. Knowing who visited can assist your sales team.Using visitor tracking software enables you to also find out who has been back to your website for another look
  • alerts can be useful to spot cluster visits from the same company, they can also be used to spot if your competition is visiting your website

Today’s marketeers have shifted form asking ‘how many visitors are looking at a website’ to ‘who is looking at my website’.   What this all means for savvy B2B’s is that a company website can go far beyond a glorified brochure.  It can help in the selling process.


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