Experts gather to support businesses in Peterborough

MORE than 80 representatives from businesses from across the city heard advice from experts in training, finance and international trade at a conference in Peterborough on April 29.

The event, called Business Solutions in a Recession, was organised by the Learning and Skills Council. The headline speaker was Digby, Lord Jones of Birmingham, former Minister for Trade and Investment at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and ex-head of the CBI (click here to see separate report).

Laurie Kay, regional director of skills at the Learning and Skills Council, told delegates that less than 10% of employers in Peterborough have accessed the LSC’s Train to Gain programme and that they are missing out. “If we are to take people on a journey, now is the time,” he said. “Money is there. Train now for the recovery.”

Steve McAteer, director for marketing and partnerships at Business Link East presented Ten Ways to beat Recession Depression, which is also the subject of a Business Link booklet. The advice is:

  1. Maintain relationships. Make sure you hold on to customers and suppliers by keeping in regular contact with them. Consider taking your best clients out for an end-of-year meal to thank them for their loyalty and to keep them on side.
  2. Exercise strong management. It is crucial to make strong management decisions and follow them through. Update your business plan on a regular basis, and be prepared to adjust your strategies and targets. You will feel more confident if you are taking control of the situation.
  3. Retain your passion. However much pressure you are under, don’t lose sight of why you started the business in the first place. If you have a genuine passion for what you are doing, you will naturally have more energy to overcome difficulties.
  4. Network with other business owners. Spend time with other small-business owners, perhaps by attending local networking events. You might pick up some tips on how to resolve the problems faced by all small firms, while also building up useful contacts.
  5. Seek support. Ensure family and friends are supportive, and that they understand when you need to work extra hours. Be prepared to seek additional support from a professional adviser or to bring a mentor on board to gain an impartial viewpoint.
  6. Create a comfortable working environment. You may have to work long hours, so don’t forget to take basic steps to ensure your workplace is comfortable. As trivial as these might sound, they can improve your productivity. Ensure your workplace is a comfortable temperature, your chair is at the correct height for your desk and you aren’t straining your eyes to see the computer screen.
  7. Celebrate success. If a contract is won or a big project completed, get staff together to celebrate. Equally, if someone has some personal good news they want to share, let everyone know in an email or make an announcement.
  8. Build a team atmosphere. If you have staff, incorporate team-building exercises into training sessions to reinforce the feeling that everyone is in it together. Organise an after-work drink or staff lunch to help generate a friendly atmosphere and keep everyone’s spirits high.
  9. Reward people. Buy staff a small gift in the run-up to Christmas so that they feel that you appreciate their efforts. Equally, providing your most loyal customers with a discount will show that you value them.
  10. Take some downtime. Ensure you are taking enough breaks away from your workstation. If you have employees, look at their calendars and encourage them to take any outstanding holidays. You might benefit from taking at least a day or two off to relax and refresh yourself for the challenges ahead.

According to Jon Pulford, area director for Lloyds TSB Commercial, UK business confidence is at a 16-year low but Lloyds TSB in Peterborough is doing its bit to get the economy moving. He said lending balances have grown by 29% and that £108million has been invested in local businesses. Mr Pulford added: “Ability to repay is in the best interest of our customers and ourselves but our primary goal is to support small businesses to survive and thrive.”

Chris Kubicki, senior international trade adviser for East of England International urged companies who aspire to export to go to his organisation and pledged its help and support. He also advised all companies to concentrate on delivering good service. “Only the best companies will survive,” he said. “Poor receptionists or phones and emails not answered just won’t cut it.”

Linda Jones, executive director at Peterborough Regional College presented the vision for University Centre Peterborough, which will see more than 4000 students studying on the stunning Park Crescent campus five years from now. “University Centre Peterborough will raise skill and educational levels in the city,” said Ms Jones. “It will improve economic prosperity and enhance the city’s image.”

Skills development at Peterborough City Council was the subject of a case study presented by Pat Carrington, assistant principal at Peterborough College of Adult Education. Ms Carrington explained how the process gained support from managers, identified the council’s needs, recruited, audited and then delivered a wide range of training programmes.

The conference was chaired by the BBC Look East presenter Stewart White.

Speakers at the Business Solutions Conference, Peterborough

Speakers at the Business Solutions Conference, Peterborough