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The “C” Word

The “C” word

We said the “C” word and there was a look of disbelief among the delegates.

Everyone was looking shocked. Were we really saying that the “C” word was something that needed to be discussed on a course aimed at improving the skills needed to secure a job in hospitality?

The delegates on the course were unemployed, some had chequered employment histories, several were claiming ESA (Employment and Support Allowance).  All of the delegates on the course had had a tough time.   There were people recovering from addiction, people with learning disabilities, people who were recovering from life changing illnesses, which meant they faced large debts. It was no wonder that the “C” word – i,e confidence was in short supply for many of the people in the room.

Labour Market Skills

Red Potato has a mission to connect businesses with local communities. In the South East of England, the unemployment rate is low: The complaint from businesses is that they can’t get sufficiently highly qualified and competent staff from local labour markets.  But, despite the demand from employers, there remain many people who are still struggling to secure a job.   The reasons they are struggling maybe due to the disadvantages that were previously listed.  However those disadvantages, should not mean that they are excluded from jobs. The purpose of our courses on areas such as hospitality and catering is to help people.  Help people acquire the skills needed to build a rewarding career in service sector industries.  From our experience, rebuilding confidence is central to helping people secure their future.

Delegates on our courses go beyond the technical skills of job search, interviewing and understanding.   Delegates are encouraged to network and share their experiences.  By sharing experiences the group started to work together. By working together, the delegates then began to see the skills and competencies in themselves.  For example, numeracy skills, and skills such as empathy and perseverance. Until this point no one had recognised and valued those skills .  So, from this hesitant start the delegates have begun to build confidence.  Not just confidence to go and get a job. Instead they have acquired the confidence to challenge society’s expectations of what they can and can’t do.

It was a privilege to work with such a great group of people!


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Today, Business in the Community has launched “Responsible Business Week 2015”. Red Potato are very happy to support #RBWeek.  Red Potato will (fingers crossed!) be offering a great work placement opportunity for a local student to develop some funky stuff, later this week.  More news on that after the interviews!

Responsible Business Week got us thinking…shouldn’t every week be “Responsible Business Week”? Isn’t it good business practice that a business needs to have roots in the communities it serves?

BITC_Planters_Categories_SUPPORTING_AW Continue reading #RBWeek

Herts Healthy Homes Partnership Programme, with Hertfordshire County Council


Hertfordshire County Council/ Herts Healthy Homes project

Red Potato were selected by Hertfordshire County Council to:

  1. build engagement and involvement from a diverse range of partner organisations, including voluntary sector organisations, district and borough Councils
  2. ensure partnership outcomes were recorded and communicated
  3. work with Herts Healthy Homes partners to create and embed referral processes

Hertfordshire County Council said:

“Red Potato were really efficient and happy to talk to other key providers. We’d have no hesitation in recommending Red Potato for project support. They deliver exactly what they promise.”


Herts Healthy Homes & Red Potato
Herts Healthy Homes – Red Potato provided project support for this Hertfordshire County Council partnership project


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Business studies courses don’t always produce the best entrepreneurs

What do flight safety information, dog treats and Ghanaian cosmetics have in common? If you said they provide inspiration for the latest crop of entrepreneurial ideas from students at a leading UK university then congratulations.

Inspiration can come from different sources – sometimes life experiences can be the reason people set up in business. Recently Red Potato helped to deliver business Bootcamp services at a leading UK university. The students on the Bootcamp came from a variety of countries, different nationalities and perhaps significantly many were not studying business studies.

The course being studied was less important than the business idea. The most impressive business ideas – think passenger safety, pampered pets and Ghana – were all solving a problem or had recognised a market opportunity. The inquisitive, innovative and in some cases idealistic vision of the students was more important than the course being studied. Crucially the best students were able to talk about that vision in everyday language -not management speak.

Funnily enough despite the students coming from all over the world, few focused on geographical markets. Instead there was a natural assumption that they would build a business which would be able to serve customers from all over the world from “day 1”.

After the initial flurry of excitement, not all the ideas will develop into sustainable long term businesses. Some would-be entrepreneurs will find more (financially) rewarding careers working for someone else and “Business studies” will give them an important career qualification for these roles. Good luck to all the students as they launch on this exciting adventure. We hope that the students will stay in touch and remain inquisitive as they decide to brave the “enormous ups and deep downs” of running their own business. Here at Red Potato we believe the value of practical entrepreneurship education is not always obvious but it can be demonstrated over the long term. That is why we are committed to delivering measurable long term outcomes by working in partnership with further and higher education organisations.DSC03679


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“If it is too good to be true…it probably is” International Trade Enquiries 101

On Christmas Eve, as England experienced unseasonal heavy rain and high winds, Red Potato received an enquiry from Pakistan to supply us with several containers of white potatoes.  The variety of potato? Santa.  Yep, you can’t make it up, someone on Christmas Eve, wanted to sell us white Santa potatoes!

It may not have been a scam, but it made us laugh all the same.

The Red Potato company brand is about being flexible, versatile and down to earth – much like the humble potato.  We also have a company compost heap which is used to grow Red Spuds, but there the similarity ends.   The core business for Red Potato is about working in partnership with organisations who want better insight and stronger economic engagement with local communities.   By working together we attract investment to an area, help new entrepreneurs learn from seasoned entrepreneurs, create snappy animated films to demonstrate project outcomes and help public sector organisations engage with local business communities.

Red Potato has recently been accepted onto the UKTI East “Passport to Export” (P2E) programme.  What has been very helpful is the opportunity to talk to the local International Trade Advisor at UKTI East.   We’ve discussed things such potential liability from unsolicited enquires for Santa spuds on Christmas Eve, what practical steps to take about making your website attractive to overseas buyers and the merits of different routes to market.  And we’ve not even been on the P2E workshop yet!

All this means is that hopefully before the next crop of Santa spuds have been harvested Red Potato will be trading successfully abroad.

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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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How Local Strategic Partnerships can help stimulate (very) local economic change

Much of the economic debate is about the role of Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPS).  LEPs have the critical mass and potential access to resources to drive change and attract major investment to an area.  So what role if any do the Local Strategic Partnerships (LSP) have?  At a time of pressure on public sector finances, some local authorities are wondering what contribution the LSP makes to local wellbeing.   Perhaps one answer is for LSPs to remain hyper local and focus on economic change for individuals and neighbourhoods.    What follows is a brief description of how one LSP has addressed this challenge.

The Welwyn Hatfield Alliance (LSP) is located centrally in Hertfordshire, England.  The Borough includes the new towns of Hatfield and Welwyn Garden City aswell as several large villages, overall the population was estimated to be 114,400 in mid 2010

The Council has had to reduce its overall budget, at a time when demand for some services has increased due to the effects of the economic recession.  The focus of the Council is to provide strong community leadership.   This includes helping local people to compete for local jobs and supporting local business.


Red Potato worked with partners from the Welwyn Hatfield Alliance (Local Strategic Partnership) to bring a new perspective on youth unemployment and entrepreneurship.   The aim was to replace, “silo” based economic development with a business driven campaign to improve the local economy and entrepreneurship.


This is what we have done together:

  1. Set up a work placement scheme in which those on work placement are supported by an accredited mentoring programme
  2. Attracted FTSE100 CEOs to discuss with students their vision for business
  3. Local schools and college students have competed to raise the most money from a business idea for local charities
  4. Engaged local small and medium sized employers in apprenticeship schemes
  5. Attracted new employers to be involved in local Jobs Fairs

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Red Potato company compost heap – February update

 I know many people are not interested in the company compost heap and wonder why we at Red Potato go on about compost.  So I hope some of the text below goes some way to explain why we think compost is important

There is something quite magical about how our food scraps, grass cuttings, and leaves get transformed into the sweet-smelling compost that is rich in the nutrients to grow more food.   Here at Red Potato HQ we have just added several loads of horse manure to add to the mix.    Most stables are only too glad to let you have the manure for free; even a small stable yard can produce around 450kgs of the stuff per day – all of which takes up lots of space in the yard.   Sorry sounding a bit like a “storage salesman” – let’s get back to the compost….

Aerial view of bag of horse manure

Its been quite a dry winter and I’m afraid that we haven’t been watering the Red Potato compost heap sufficiently.   As a result the heap was looking quite dry and lifeless when we turned it over recently.   However since adding around 10 bags of horse manure the heap is looking much more healthy!  A photo of the heap after the dose of manure is shown below!


 OK so all that is fine for the garden, but what has it got to do with Red Potato – a new company which is uses technology to improve  community engagement.   Well, Red Potato believes in putting stuff back into the ground from which it was taken – “what ye sow, so shall ye reap”.   In terms of our business model we help public sector organisations get a better insight into the communities they serve, by enabling the communities themselves to tell their own story, in their own words – without the need for b*llsh*t or well-rotted horse manure!

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Do the preparation, check the destination

The  project has been completed, the final report, finally approved, the diary is clear of project update meetings and the virtual team has gone its separate ways.

But what has changed?   How have things improved?   Have things got better for local people?   These are the questions which we need to be answered for any project involving public resources and aimed at addressing local community need.     Sounds obvious but how good is the sector at addressing these questions – from my own experience I think the picture is mixed.   There are some genuine efforts to communicate with residents about project outcomes and whether the initial objectives were achieved.      There are also some pretty poorly executed attempts at corporate back-slapping based on fairly limited progress.

The reason for this is measuring outcomes means we need to state clearly at the outset of the project “how will people be better off”.    Mark Friedman discusses the process of “turning the curve”; describing the outcome to be improved and what is likely to happen if nothing changes.   Actions are then measured against this projected baseline.  By taking effective and timely actions, improvements are made against the baseline.

The trick is doing the preparation beforehand to agree the metrics by which the project will be judged, including milestones to check progress along the way.    And regularly communicate with residents must be central to the project.

If people don’t feel that things have changed then the project can’t be claimed to be a success.