Special Reports

Creativity is key to growing a successful business

Businesses from across the spectrum are facing a wide range of challenges as economic instability and soaring costs continue to dominate the headlines. If the headlines are right then it would be easy to believe we are now living in a state of constant crisis with companies battling to survive and deal with one challenge after another. But that is not the true picture according to a group of business leaders and experts who took part in a round table organised by TheBusinessDesk.com. The debate focussed on not just the challenges but also the opportunities facing owner managed businesses. And it became clear from the conversation that having the right mindset and approach can make all the difference between success and failure. The round table was organised in partnership with financial services firm Saffery Champness.

Sam Holliday, from the Federation of Small Businesses, is in constant contact with hundreds of SMEs across the region and understands the challenges they are facing.

He said: “Over the last three years we have seen no stability and just when you think things are going to settle down something else happens. “Confidence is now at its lowest that it has ever been for several years. During the pandemic there was a sense of togetherness but that has now gone. Businesses are now getting no support at all and I think we are heading for a difficult period. The South West was always one of the most confident in the country and we are now one of the lowest.” Neil  Davies, a partner at Saffery Champness added: "What we are finding is a bit of a polarisation, there are the businesses that are doing exceptionally well. Some businesses are having record a year but at the other end of the scale some of the businesses we see are really struggling. [caption id="attachment_3109" align="alignleft" width="130"] Neil Davies[/caption] “Many of the professional practices are doing OK and the biggest struggles for them is getting the right staff. The picture is very varied from sector to sector and sometimes there big differences within individual sectors.” Jordan Berg, from SWIG Finance, says we have reached a critical moment for many businesses. He adds: “It has been an incredibly volatile few years, especially when you are talking about financing for smaller businesses and for SMEs. A large number of businesses took advantage of the help that was on offer from the government. What we are seeing now as a lender is that businesses are approaching us wanting to invest in growth but they are carrying too much debt. “If you add to that the pressures that are being created by inflation and interest rates we are at a critical moment. Lenders are being more cautious and there are a lot of businesses out there who are carrying too much debt.” Tom Nation, the South West representative of Sandler, works with businesses and business leaders offering them support advice and training. And he offers a word of warning when it comes to launching a business in the current climate. He said: "I read recently that something like 35 per cent of all start-up businesses fail because there was no market need for them. Businesses need to demonstrate their value and they also need to identify and target their client base. “If you want to be a successful business you need to identify your ideal client and then identify the right sales channel to reach them.” Bristol-based Quirky Campers started out life as a platform for people to hire unique handmade campervans from private individuals. It has since diversified into a number of areas including publishing and festivals for people who have discovered life on the road. Co-founder and chief executive Lindsay Berresford believes that for businesses to be successful they need to offer employees a vision and a purpose. She explains: “We have just had 900 applicants for a job with us and I think that is because people want different things and are prioritising different things. “You can’t just get people to come and work for you for the money. People get that we prioritise their well-being. They know when they come to work for us we are going to trust them and they are going to get flexibility in their daily lives. They are going to get autonomy and they are going to have a sense of purpose and they are going to work in a business that is genuine. “Our business is very much based on what our customers want and the skills and expertise within our team.” Greg Harris from financial planners Unividual says having an open mind is vital for any business which is looking to thrive in the current climate. He adds: “Businesses have had to adapt to cope in the current climate, but it is also just as important to be open to change and open to new ideas and ways of doing things. Those that have been able to adapt to the changing conditions have done extremely well.” Paul Hardman, a partner at law firm Shakespeare Martineau, says that there have been plenty of winners as well as losers in recent years. He said: “We have done some of our biggest deals over the last two years and there are a lot of businesses that have been thriving despite everything that has been thrown at them. “There are some companies out there who have continued to thrive and prosper. There is a lot of success out there and a lot of companies who are quietly going about their work very successfully despite the constantly changing environment.” Ryan Munn, Bristol and Bath Regional Capital, says the constantly changing environment is now starting to affect funding decisions. He says: “What we have seen in the last six months is a contracting of the liquidity in the venture capital market. The market has closed down a little bit which means the valuations of businesses have started to fall. “In response to that the focus is now starting to shift onto steady businesses which have plenty of money in the bank and have a long-term strategy. That means that people are looking at the long-term values of businesses rather than short-term growth.” Richard Jaggs, from Resolution Design, adds: “We have not had a very stable macro environment and that has certainly impacted the businesses we deal with in terms of their confidence. "We work in lots of areas and the technology and environmental sector are doing particularly well. There is good general confidence but everyone recognises that it has not been the easiest time for business. “However, it should be remembered there are always opportunities for businesses which are adaptable and are prepared to be agile.” Mithra Fernando is one of the founder members of restaurant chain The Coconut Tree which was launched in 2016 in Cheltenham.   Mithra said: “We bounced back quite well from the pandemic but we are now being faced with a different set of challenges. Prices have gone up because of logistics and increasing costs, our sales are continuing to grow but the issue for us is managing costs. “Our proposition tends to be around value for money rather than the top end of the market, that means people tend to look for us rather than the more expensive restaurants. The property market has also been an issue for us. We have been looking to expand into London but the price of property has not fallen and there are no bargains to be found.” Phil Morton, runs Morton Property Consultants, and speaks to many business in the Bristol area looking for office space. He says: “I am right at the coalface because I am talking to occupiers all the time. Generally what we are seeing is that firms in the professional services tend to be confident about the future. We have had so many different challenges and businesses have got used to operating in an uncertain climate. “There is almost a sense of just keeping calm and carrying on. The big challenge facing all businesses from the professional services to the tech sector is being able to get the right staff. It is across all sectors and in all parts of the region.” Rupert Janisch, from Turn The Tables, added: “As a business we are now at a point where we are hoping to expand and take on more work. “Our client base is very diverse which means we speak to a lot of businesses from diverse sectors. And we are hearing that businesses are finding it increasingly difficult to hire people. "There are whole swathes of the economy which are going to really struggle. Many of my clients are doing really well but that tends to be in certain sectors.” Rob Starr, from Shaw & Co, also speaks to businesses across the region often at a time when they are looking for funding to fuel growth. He says: “We saw the market contract at the end of last year as a result of all the bad news. There is now an expectation of where interests rates are going to get to which means businesses have been able to adjust accordingly. “There is caution in the markets but we now all know where things are going to be and there is more certainty which is major plus for businesses. There are issues still to take into account such as rises in taxation but for now there is more certainty in the market for businesses.”    

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