Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Free Workshops Helping Local Companies Develop The Skills And Knowledge They Need To Succeed

When South Cambridgeshire business Cernunnos realised gaps in their business knowledge were holding them back from reaching their full potential, they took advantage of a range of free workshops designed to help businesses.

Established in 2011, the specialist renewable and energy efficiency construction services company had found success, but also discovered a number of challenges along the way.  “We had come into the business from an ethical standpoint, wanting to help create sustainable homes for the future,” Leemya McKeown, Business Development Manager of Cernunnos explains, “but we hadn’t come from business backgrounds and didn’t appreciate the dynamics of a business.”

Changes started to be made when Leemya was introduced to the series of free workshops provided by the South Cambridgeshire Business Support Service.  Delivered by Exemplas, on behalf of South Cambridgeshire District Council, the workshops were specifically designed to meet the needs of small and medium sized businesses (SMEs) in the local area.

The workshops immediately encouraged Leemya to start thinking about ways in which to improve the business, particularly in regards to the marketing, where a great deal of time and money had been spent on activity that wasn’t producing leads.

The workshops introduced the theory and foundation that had been missing, such as building a marketing plan, understanding and researching the target market, calculating return on investment and measuring customer satisfaction.

The Business Networking workshop was also an eye-opener, encouraging conversations with contacts from a range of backgrounds, and giving suggestions on how to get the best possible results from networking.  “It is easy to get disheartened so quickly, so to go to a meeting with a specific aim in mind, such as being introduced to a particular person, or handing out three business cards, made it much easier,” Leemya explains, “Having these steps to follow gave us the confidence we needed.”

Business support for Cernunnos continued long after attending the workshops.  A unique feature of the programme is the follow-up from experienced business advisers, designed to ensure attendees get the most from the workshops, and put what they have learnt into action.  “I found the follow-up extremely useful and was really surprised by how detailed and thoughtful it was,” says Leemya,
“I was particularly interested in getting more advice on developing a marketing plan, and my adviser took time to guide me through the process, along with providing extensive information and notes to ensure I had everything I needed.”

The impact of the workshop programme is clearly visible.  Cernunnos have begun extensive social media activity, allowing new ways to engage with potential and existing customers.  A PR strategy is in development, along with a series of questionnaires designed to help gauge quality and to be used as a management tool for contractors.

“The workshops have been an invaluable tool in developing our business knowledge and we are delighted to have had the opportunity to make a real positive change to our business,” says Leemya, “We’re now full of confidence and looking forward to taking the business forward”.

Cllr Nick Wright, South Cambridgeshire District Council’s cabinet member for planning and economic development, said: “These workshops have been a real success in helping businesses develop practical skills that can give them an edge. The programme has covered a variety of subjects and by running the sessions in small groups they have been very effective. They have been part of a bigger programme of business support we have offered as we are very focused on making sure businesses can thrive in the district.”

The Business Support Service is available to anyone who has been running a business within a South Cambridgeshire postcode for at least 12 months and can demonstrate difficulties as a consequence of the recession.  The free workshops are available to all SME businesses and individuals considering starting up.

The free service will run until the end of March 2013.  The final workshops take place on Wednesday 20th March, with a limited number of places still available for the Business Networking workshop. For further information please call 0844 346 0755 or email southcambsbusinesssupport@exemplas.com

Details of the Business Support Service can be found by visiting www.exemplas.com/southcambs or www.cambridge-plus.com/content/business-support – a website set up by the Council to help support existing businesses in South Cambridgeshire and promote the area to encourage new firms to set up.