PUTTING THE PIECES TOGETHER
There’s an old story about a man who has some leather, nails, and thread, and is asked why he doesn’t make himself some shoes. Thing being, it takes the desire for shoes to realise what resources you have at hand. And even then, the trigger to successful action often comes not from the shoeless person, but someone wiser who’s seen this kind of thing before, and can help barefoot people to realise a solution.
Something similar happens with what I do. I’m approached, and the request is to rain money where it’s dry, more or less. And sure enough, that’s what I do. The trick is realising that the solution is already there, and just hasn’t been assembled in a way that’s functional. And there are times that can be relatively straightforward. Finding a place that’s ripe for investment, checking what can be done there, offering a solution that creates training and employment is work that calls for research skills, the ability to get answers from people who don’t always want to part with them, and a head for finance and project management. All of that then goes into putting together a funding proposal, often from a mix of European money and local support.
On other occasions, more ingenuity is needed. What to do with an island where the economy is sluggish, and agriculture is important to sustainability? Well, in this instance, the realisation that tomatoes can be grown there, and that there were grants available for making passata, created an opportunity that can do wonders for the place.
Or how to help someone with aerospace industry experience start up a business in the sector – with no funds? Brian needed £150,000 to cover premises, plant, and equipment. I secured him £165,000 as follows:
That arrangement, put together in 1992, led to the creation of 120 jobs in a company that had a turnover of £14 million. In the process, £750,000 was injected into Brian’s pension fund.
Making those connections calls for an up-to-date knowledge of the latest project funding available, and just where it might be found in the overwhelming range of data about EU projects that’s out there. That data needs to be seen through the filter of priorities in the region. And with some enterprising people on the ground, you’re well on your way to having a credible case for grant assistance, whether you’re looking for a way to attract funding to your tomato surplus, build a business around your passion for aeroplanes, or something else. You could even employ people to make shoes, if you’ve got the right quality leather and a few other items…
THE MOST IMPORTANT QUESTION TO GROW YOUR BUSINESS IS ‘WHERE?’
One of the problems many businesses face is planning growth. Often, people making those decisions veer on the side of caution. Look at it another way: set a limit on your ambitions, and you determine how far you can go.
Historically, this is where venture capital seemingly has an edge. There’s a methodology for getting companies from start-up to their first explorations of the market, and again for stepping up to capitalise on bigger opportunities. But at every stage in that growth process, entrepreneurs are faced with losing chunks of their business to investors whose intentions are inevitably short term.
There is an alternative. Look to grants, think big, and think ahead. And a lot of that thinking is best devoted to location.
I worked with a Scottish company that specialised in dry powder coating, in Elgin. They’d got to a point where they wanted to expand to make the most of the business available to them, and applied under their own steam for funding to do so. And they were rejected.
Fortunately, they came across me. And I looked at the situation in a new way. There were two issues. One was the company’s fairly large assets. The other was location. By setting up a new company, one was created that didn’t have assets that could get in the way. And locating this new business three hours south in Cumbernauld presented advantages too, based on plans for economic activity in the region. The proposal was presented to the same person who’d turned down the previous one. This time, it was accepted.
It often makes sense to follow money available to a location. In Nottingham for instance, it’s feasible to get around 10% of the financing you need. Move to Wales, and the figure rises to 50%. Shift to Poland, and it becomes 75%. There’s a clear message: don’t let your own location blind you to the potential you have to make the most of the funding available elsewhere.
START YOUR BUSINESS KNOWING WHAT YOUR DREAM IS
There’s a quote I came across that sums up the basis of my approach to working with companies and organisations to grow. “The future exists first in imagination, then in will, then in reality.” It comes from influential thinker Barbara Marx Hubbard. And though it may sound abstract, the implications of those words are thoroughly practical.
When I first work with a client, I typically find that they are thinking ‘realistically’ about their ambitions. In practice, when people say ‘realistic’ in this context, what they mean is they put a ceiling on their ambitions. They’re often affected by expectations created by family and friends rather than what’s truly possible.
To address this, I spend time with clients investigating what is essential for them to have, what would be nice to have, and what they dream about. Please note in that sequence that the limitations of each are not objectively true in any sense. They merely describe the way that someone conceives of their capabilities, often linked to what they feel they ‘deserve’. Again, we’re getting into the stuff of psychology, and the ways that people allow themselves to be limited. Those constraints are, as the poet Blake said, “mind forg’d manacles.” And busting out of them is necessary if your business is to reach its potential.
It’s just that territory I’ve been exploring with someone who came to see me talk at ??? (event/location) recently. He’s got a promising business called Demon Barber that manufactures pomade. It’s a quality product, and there’s plenty of opportunity to expand his market. The starting point in a situation like that is to understand the distinction between what a client thinks is possible, what relevant data suggests is feasible, and what they’d truly love to achieve.
With a bigger vision, larger sources of funding become attainable if a project is approached strategically. Sometimes that’s about location – because of the historic presence of Boots, there’s a focus in the Nottingham area on the health and beauty sector, which could be relevant for a company like Demon Barber.
Given how pragmatic business can be, and how rooted in real world decisions it is, it might seem surprising that the best starting point for an entrepreneur is to dream. But without one, what will you work towards? Dream wisely, and dream big.
A TALE OF TWO DEVELOPMENTS
There’s something I keep an eye out for in looking to create opportunities for clients – the intersection of location, employment opportunities, and training. Find a way to provide a solution to those needs in an area where those issues are a concern, and there’s the potential to create a big win for a number of parties.
My first experience of this was in the 1990s, when I spotted that trinity of factors at work in an area near Junction 30 of the M1 in Nottinghamshire. What emerged in Barlborough was a 300 acre site. Half of it was taken by a golf site, and housing took up 50 acres. And the economic core was a 90 acre industrial park that created opportunities for a number of businesses. In turn, they offered jobs and provided training, making for a much-needed route to employment in an area still suffering the effect of pit closures. There was even room for a McDonalds.
Solutions like that require vision, patience, and a strategic approach to working with partners. It’s difficult and time-consuming, but the results are worth it – creating real jobs, adding to the skills of people who get them, and offering the potential to add wealth to society and earn it for entrepreneurs is truly rewarding.
More recently, I’ve done something similar in Blyth, in the Bassetlaw area of Notts. Here, the site is 55 acres, and two planning applications had already been turned down before I got involved. As usual, I approached the situation with a different vision. Third time round, thanks to the scheme I devised presenting employment opportunities in offices and warehousing, the application was accepted.
Developments like Barlborough and Blyth aren’t about supporting one business. They’re about having a vision for a specific area which makes sense in terms of its economic situation and the funding available to it. I’ve crafted solutions like this on a number of occasions, and if you believe this approach is viable in a location you’re familiar with, we should be talking.