The work done by Yorkshire in Business, the Scarborough-based enterprise agency which has helped establish and support hundreds of businesses since its creation in 1985, was recognised at the end of last year when it received the Customer Engagement Award 2016 from the National Enterprise Network. After the presentation, SME Magazine caught up with Jenn Crowther, its head of operations, to learn more about what was behind the agency’s success.
Jenn, tell us about Yorkshire in Business. What does it do?
We were set up to help establish and support businesses in the north east. We have a range of business advisers all who have run their own business at some point. I have worked here for 13 years and absolutely love it. We were previously known as Yorkshire Coast Enterprise but have re-branded to become Yorkshire in Business which will help us attract a wider clientele and modernise our approach to the community.
What did it mean to win your award at the NEN conference? What set you apart?
I wrote a programme to support local businesswomen in enterprise – called Totally Local Women. The programme was really close to my heart as it was based on my own experiences as a woman in business and it was a proud moment to receive recognition of this at the NEN awards.
So what is Totally Local Women and how did you come up with the idea?
I know from personal experience that being a woman in business today can be extremely tough. A lot of women have to look after children as well as a home and a business so, without support, it can be a difficult balancing act. I became involved with Totally Locally Scarborough which was promoting smaller independent businesses. I combined this with my own experiences in our family-owned bridal shop, and came up with a programme to support women to start and grow their businesses.
I wrote to the RBS women in enterprise funding and applied for a grant to support 30 women, and predicted that 10 would start their own business. The main idea was to get the businesswomen together so they could support each other and build relationships that would support their business goals. It was very much aimed at start-ups but the response was fantastic. We managed to work with 70 women, of which 30 were existing businesses, and 30 new businesses were created. I really didn’t imagine it would be so successful.
Have you an example you can share with us?
Lynne Moore, a lovely lady, is so passionate about her business. She set up Food for Thought Eating Disorder counselling as she identified the gap in the market after struggling to combat the same addiction herself. We were proud to work with her to get her idea off the ground. We are someone she can call and lean on, run her problems past and she can brainstorm new ideas with us.
Talk us through your average week.
No one week is the same. I get to work with businesses in their workplace, see them grow and develop and then have the privilege of seeing them receive awards in recognition of their hard work. I keep in contact with all the businesses I work with; social media is a fabulous tool to support them. One week I am on the Small Business Saturday Bus Tour, supporting businesses in Helmsley and Boroughbridge and developing new business ideas, the next I am organising the Totally Locally Market for Saturday. This involves meeting up with the businesses wanting to start trading in the town and discussing how to make the most of this opportunity.
Most evenings are spent engaging with the businesses on social media, promoting the businesses I work with on the Totally Locally Scarborough Facebook page. I get lots of feedback thanking me which makes us feel part of a team and not alone.
What are the main challenges you find businesses face?
Businesses face challenges from all areas. In Scarborough, we have to deal with having no customers (and to the east as we only have the sea! I know it sounds strange but that reduces your potential customer base). We are then faced with high levels of deprivation, low wages and seasonal trends.
Many of the businesses I work with must make all their earnings for the year in April to September which is why the town centre markets I organise are so vital as they can give that business the boost needed to get through the winter season. They are also faced with businesses coming and going. Because employment is so insecure many people give self-employment a go but they haven’t really thought it through and fail, which has the unintended consequence of having a negative impact on cash flow to other businesses.
What do you hope to achieve over the next five or so years?
We want to continue establishing new businesses, help the high street and create more and more success stories. We will be celebrating business success ourselves by holding our first Yorkshire in Business awards and we will continue working in the community to bring businesses together
We will be developing our services to focus on a specialist programme to support getting ex-offenders into enterprise and aim to develop new businesses run by ex-offenders which will provide work experience for inmates on release. This programme will give inmates a purpose and will aim to have a positive impact on re-offending rates.