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Three ways economic development can help business today


What are the three ways economic development can help business today?

Collecting the bins and planning are statutory functions at most local authorities in England, economic development  (ED) function is not a statutory function.  So it is right that we ask what is the value of economic development and what contribution does it make to business growth.

This article sets out the three ways economic development can help business today.   So here we go, we hope this article contributes to the discussion about what local government can do to boost business.

  1. Bring together local agencies
    Economic development should have a focus on bringing growth and investment to the area.   As an economic development professional your role is to stay focussed on this.  In England local authorities cannot set the tone and direction for economic development by themselves.  Economic development has a collaborative attitude which recognises the uniqueness and value that other organisations can bring.  Economic growth comes through collaboration.   Central government, Local Enterprise Partnerships, Councils, Chambers of Commerce all have a part to play.   Success will only come from these agencies collaborate.

  2. Share insight
    There is such a wealth of information and data available to us.  We do not need to rely on who shouts loudest in the room, or those with fixed opinions based on personal prejudices.

    By sharing data we can bring different sources together to build a nuanced, clear picture of the current situation.   This will then lead to insights and perspectives on the problem.  For example at a recent client meeting we were able to bring new data on road traffic patterns which fundamentally changed the ways the client “framed” the problem of traffic exiting a business park.

  3. Set out and own a vision for the district
    We’ve been saving the best until last!  It is not the job of business to create and own vision for the locality.   Business look to local authorities for vision and leadership of place.   Leadership and vision is central to economic development

    So let’s get to work!



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How (not) to sell infrastructure projects

What do we mean by Infrastructure?

Infrastructure – roads, rail, sewerage, airports are often big projects which offer benefits for future generations.  But infrastructure projects also often have big implications – including big disruption for the residents who have to contend with the traffic diversions, noise and change.

OK, give me some examples…

Red Potato have been involved in the project specification for minor road changes which will offer business benefits to those most disrupted.  The projects will help make it easier for businesses to get to, and from a business park.  Why is this important?  Because it directly effects business performance.  For instance, the ability to attract high quality employees.  If potential employees are faced with choosing to sit in traffic for upwards of an hour to travel a couple of miles or take a job somewhere else; it is an easy choice. Most employees want quality of life, to be home in time to go the gym or read the bedtime story.  Not be sitting in a traffic jam.   So infrastructure projects are important and can deliver real benefits.

So what needs to change?

If infrastructure is so important, why are we so bad at demonstrating the benefits?  Too often projects are into the mechanics of delivery and they loose focus on what problems they are seeking to solve.  So here is the plea…keep the focus on the what drives the project.  Without this focus we loose sight of the project objectives and ultimately that infrastructure, roads, rail, airports must be able to show clear benefits.  And those benefits should include how communities improve not just some Treasury statistics.


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Don’t miss the HS2 train! SMEs need to get on board

Our journey with HS2 begins

The HS2 train hasn’t yet arrived for passengers, but for small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), it is already time to get on board.   OK, enough of the puns, but you get the point.  For SMEs to benefit from large scale infrastructure opportunities the time to get involved is at the early stages of design and development.  But, for SMEs to win a seat at the table, SMEs have been told that they will have raise their standards.  This blog post looks at one area that HS2 have emphasised in their supplier briefings.

In July, the winners of the major construction contracts for Britain’s new railway were announced  (17 July 2017).  The government has said that the £6.6 billion contracts will be supporting 16,000 jobs across the country.   Crucially about 60% of opportunities are aimed at SMEs

How will local communities benefit through employment and contracts from this kind of opportunity?  This is an important question because major infrastructure improvements have their own momentum.  For small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) it is not always obvious how they can become involved in these opportunities.  Supplier Roadshows can help, but they are only the first step.  For instance, EDI (Equality, Inclusion and Diversity) is critical to the success of HS2; but how many SMEs are able to meet the standards set by HS2?  And what has EDI got to do with fast trains?

Well, the answer lies in the vision for HS2.  The HS2 vision is to be a “Catalyst for growth across Britain”, and that involves more than fast trains.  To attract new people to the sector, requires a commitment from the supply chain. Perhaps most importantly it will require suppliers to move beyond a “tick-box” exercise.  Suppliers need to start to exercise leadership in their sector.  The ability to evidence real outcomes and impact will be key.  Let’s see if EDI really can the difference for SMEs.

Over the next few months you will be able to follow our journey as Red Potato attempts to become a supplier to HS2. We hope you enjoy the ride!


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Some nice workshop feedback…thanks!

Education workshop feedback

Since our intervention, Red Potato staff have received this great workshop feedback.

Many thanks to @welhatcouncil for these kind comments:

“We would like to thank the The Director of Red Potato, Jay Wheeler, who led the Education Workshop on Apprenticeships, Skills & Training at the Welwyn Hatfield Annual Alliance Conference on the 12th of November 2015. Delivering this key workshop played a valuable part in contributing to the overall success of the Conference which saw the launch of the Welwyn Hatfield Economic Development Strategy 2015/2016.”

At the conference it was great to hear from local schools, colleges and business leaders.  Most noteworthy was the way everyone committed to improving the prospects for young people in Hertfordshire.

So, as a consequence of the conference, it seems business and schools will work together more effectively.  If as a result of our intervention at the conference, we make this happen more quickly, so much the better!

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Red Potato announced as finalist in Hertfordshire Business Awards

Fantastic news Red Potato is a finalist in the “Commercial Business in the Community” category at the Hertfordshire Business Awards!  This is a great privilege, and we were really pleased to hear the news last week.  While we hope to go on and win the award, we also recognise that business investment in the community should be a long term commitment – not least because it takes time to achieve lasting change.
We believe that growing a sustainable business requires good preparation, regular enrichment and and strong “roots” – business values that will sustain through the tough times.   Although much of the UK economy is through the tough times, for local government a further round of austerity looms.
It is against this challenging background that public sector organisations are working with Red Potato to help local young people set up their own businesses; by delivering training, support and mentoring.
Red Potato are currently running #BusinessBootCamps for students at Oaklands College, in Hertfordshire, just north of London.  The temperature was surprisingly warm at our last “camp”: It is not often that it is too hot for coffee and the demand is for more cold water in mid October England!  The students were great – as were the business mentors Moore Social Media and The Welwyn Florist – and had some really great ideas.  We love the way students who lack belief before they enter the room, later leave the #RedPotato #Business BootCamp with the confidence they can take the next steps to develop their business idea.

We love the journey – the stumbles, the strides and the setbacks – to success!

#RedPotato #BusinessBootCamp
Red Potato Business Bootcamp journey
Thanks to Death to The Stock Photo for this photo!
#Herts Business Awards, #RedPotato
Red Potato are a finalist in Herts Business Awards
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What does it take to be an entrepreneur?

Well first of all, if our straw poll is anything to go by, most entrepreneurs wouldn’t describe themselves as “entrepreneurs”!

In our survey the most common words business owners used to describe themselves were “positive, determined, optimistic”.   Not one of them described themselves as an “entrepreneur”. This is understandable, because the truth is not all business owners are “entrepreneurs”.

If Wikipedia has quoted the Austrian Economist, Schumpeter correctly then “Entrepreneurs are innovators who use a process of shattering the status quo of the existing products and services, to set up new products, new services.”   So using Schumpter’s definition, to run a business you do not have to be an “entrepreneur” – you could run a very unsuccessful business, you could be very fortunate to receive finance from a benefactor, or you could inherit a customer base unable or unwilling to move.  There are probably lots of other ways to run an “unsuccessful” business, but this article is about business owners and entrepreneurs who need to innovate to deliver results.

Businesses need to innovate to make money to employ people, sell more, invest to grow the business, pay suppliers and contribute to the wider community.  The ability to make money from your vision, hard graft, and superior offer is what drives a successful business owner.   To do this the business owner has to have a firm grasp of their value.

The value of the business owner could be defined by existing customers. What do the customers perceive to be of value? Is it the business owners insight, experience, customer focus – if it is all of these things you are running a successful business! Equally the business owner needs to understand the monetary value of their time, and stay focussed on the business goals


And if all this sounds like hard work, then you are right it is- that is why as well as the ability to innovate, true entrepreneurs have to be “determined, positive, and optimistic” – so better get on with it!


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What does the business value? The 3 reasons why clear values are essential for business profitability

Jay Wheeler, Red Potato.

Why would an independent business owner want to take the time-consuming, uncomfortable journey of developing, interpreting and running a business in accordance with clear values? Because ultimately it effects the bottom line.  This article shows why, when it comes to business values, the journey is as important as the destination.

In many corporate organisations there is a cynicism about business values. The cynicism is usually something to do with the hypocrisy of the organisation saying something like “we value and respect our employees” and then making those “valuable” staff redundant in a less than respectful way. One person told us they received an email to meet “Human Resources” to be told their role is likely to be affected by the latest reorganisation and they are on “gardening leave” with immediate effect! And there are far worse stories…


So given this discredited approach, why would fiercely independent business owners want the additional uncomfortable process of developing and interpreting values for a variety of stakeholders – and also crucially running a business in accordance with these values?  As Keith Shephard, Policy Associate with the ELGH consultancy says, “values have to be evident in the day to day business to have any meaning…values simply imposed top down will not carry the same weight as those developed through deliberation”.   This takes time and resource – both of which are in limited supply.

In this article we will look at how “business values” can enable an independent small business (SMB) stand out in a crowded market place, and by standing out (- in a good way!) from its competitors ultimately win more profitable sales, which whether we like it or not is the bottom line for most SMBs, as this infographic from the Federation of Small Businesses shows.

First of all what do we mean by “values”? The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) defines values as “the regard that something is held to deserve; the importance, worth, or the usefulness of something”. That though is only the first of six different definitions in the OED! If the dictionary isn’t illuminating, perhaps we can turn to our shared understanding of values. Ask a group of British businesspeople about what are British values, and you’ll probably hear things like “fair play” and “stiff upper lip”, perhaps said slightly “tongue-in- cheek”. The reason for the sheepish grin? Well most of us know that values change with time, and maybe British values should also include “instant gratification” and other more modern values to reflect the lives we lead today.

Maybe it is easier to lampoon, correction “focus”, on big corporates and their value statements. Predictably there are lots of howlers with bland statements about accountability, leadership, integrity etc. However it doesn’t all have to be corporate b.s. Virgin Media has some interesting value statements we particularly like the “insatiable curiosity”!


Moving on from corporate enterprises, do SMBs really need explicit value statements, don’t small businesses have values as part of their DNA: If you run your own business, everyone knows you, what you stand for and what you believe. One of my colleagues, Mike Meldrum of Mortgage Mine, always ends his presentation with the words “Far too tight to let any deal go down without a fight” – and everyone who knows Mike believes him!

But what about when your SMB company needs to reach out beyond the immediate network. Do your business partners understand and appreciate your business values? When the company expands and new employees join, will they be able to say what the business stands for? This point is made by Michael Scutt, Head of Employment and Dispute Resolution at solicitors, Crane and Staples…”It’s when businesses grow that they risk losing sight of why they exist. For small businesses the challenge may be in communicating those values – which is why social media provides such a powerful tool.”   In summary if your values are also your business values, the company will always revolve around you and this could well make it difficult to expand and grow the business.

Which brings us to the three reasons why clear business values are essential to SMB business profitability:
1. Your customers want to feel some affinity with your company. If customers share some of your values they may purchase more of your products and services

2. Most businesses operate in crowded competitive markets. By having clear values you can make your business stand out from the crowd. By standing out from the crowd, your business is likely to receive more enquiries, which can be converted to greater sales

3. Clear values can help build a dialogue with your customers. For instance Red Potato has a strong partnership focus to our work, this is reflected in our values and this informs all our customer engagements.

We hope this article has helped stimulate a renewed discussion about business values and small businesses.   The article discusses the link between clear business values and “The Bottom Line”.   But is there more to business than profitability?  In our next article we’re going to look more broadly at business values  and their wider context within the communities we serve.

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Promoting apprenticeships to SMEs: Training providers need to wake up and smell the roses

The florist said “they never send me anyone who can work out the cost of half a dozen flower stems to make a bouquet and be trusted to write a greetings card without making a spelling mistake”. Everyone nodded their heads in agreement and the discussion moved on.

We were talking about apprenticeships at one of the many business networking groups that run each week across the UK.  These networking groups attract business owners from small local businesses, with the prospect of building new business contacts and new clients over breakfast.   Small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) accounted for 99.9% of all private sector business in the UK, employ 14.1 million people and have a combined turnover of £1,500 Billion,  so they need to be on board when it comes to apprenticeships.  The conversations we’ve had with many SME business owners suggest that the comment from the florist is not untypical, and there is some scepticism about apprenticeships, particularly among small and micro-size businesses.

Yet Recent research by ICM showed that employers rated qualified apprentices 15% more employable than those with other qualifications.   On closer inspection the employers interviewed were mostly large blue chip corporates, with HR departments and dedicated staff who can focus on employee learning and development.   In SMEs the business owner, may also be in charge of HR, aswell as cashflow, sales, marketing and production – it is no wonder that anecdotal evidence suggests that small and micro businesses are not taking on apprentices.

The reasons for low take-up of apprentices by SMEs vary, but the two most often reasons cited were the inability of recruit someone with the right skills and competencies and secondly that there was insufficient work to employ a new fulltime employee for at least 30 hours per week – one of the criteria for recruiting an apprentice.    Perhaps surprisingly none of the business owners we spoke with said that they weren’t prepared to take on an apprentice because of the time to train and develop a new person.   Business owners understand the need for a succession plan – and they want to make sure that any apprentice coming into the business has the core competencies they expect of other employees.

In many ways setting a “high bar for entry” is reassuring and a good sign.   The Apprenticeships Agreement “reflects the fact that an Apprenticeship is primarily a job rather than training”.   So business owners are right to have the same expectations of an apprentice joining their business as they would for any other employee.

Apprenticeships can help improve the business bottom line, but it needs to be made easier for small and micro sized businesses to recruit and employ apprentices.   To do this training providers and colleges need to get out and engage with their local SME community.   Training providers must listen hard to the objections, the misunderstandings and prejudices of business owners and then systematically prove that their organisation can address those concerns effectively.  The solution could be designing a programme whereby an apprentice is “shared” by a group of SMEs or simply checking that the apprentices they send to a florist can work out the what is the most profitable bouquet.

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Mentoring for life: Are troubled teenagers and business entrepreneurs made from the same stuff?

When it comes to mentoring it can mean very different things to different people: ranging from social befriending through to a strict focus on shared objectives mentoring.   Befriending may include things like helping someone to take small steps to overcome a fear of open spaces for example.   The warmth, encouragement and support from befriending can be crucial in helping, as sometimes statutory services are more interested in measuring the output of their work and encouraged to maintain a professional distance from “clients”.     Other benefits such as building confidence may occur following from those first steps outside the home, but in the case of befriending this isn’t the aim.

In my opinion, strict enterprise mentoring involves working with the client on agreed objectives which are stated and agreed from the start – for instance how to prepare a business for trade sale, or entry to a new market.  Any social relationship achieved is incidental to the business objectives.  SFEDI (Sector Skills body for Enterprise) says that mentor/mentee relationship should enable the mentee to “develop goals that will have a positive impact on their business enterprise”.    There is a clear focus and aim for the mentoring relationship.

In contrast to the business objectives of enterprise mentoring, community mentoring is about helping adults and children develop as individuals, so that they find their true self.  To do this the mentor needs to understand their own personal boundaries.  Without an understanding of their identity, the mentor can end up confusing the mentee about who is the client!

So having established the differences between enterprise and community mentoring, I’m now going to say in many ways they are also very similar.  For instance building a relationship based on equality, openness and trust is common to all types of mentoring.    Perhaps less obvious though is the possibility that those same troubled young people could with the right form of guidance and mentoring  go onto to set up and run the next generation of enterprises.   Even if you ignore the other reasons to get mentoring, the powerful impact of mentoring on life chances and entrepreneurialism, should be a strong motivator for business people to get mentoring.