Seema Edwards is a Business Link adviser based in the East Midlands.
She visits businesses from a whole spectrum of industries; one day she will be visiting a vet, the next a hairdresser and the next a construction company. She is currently a ‘Women in Business’ Champion, working closely with other female professionals to empower and inspire them to achieve their business goals.
I’ve been a Business Link adviser now for just over six months and I have to say that it’s one of the most diverse jobs that I’ve ever done. I get to see so many different people in all different environments on a daily basis.
I love the fact that it’s a public facing role; I couldn’t stand being stuck in an office or doing the same thing every day, and being able to see that you’ve visibly made a difference to a business is extremely rewarding.
Like my days, my background is diverse. I’ve got over 16 years of experience in mentoring and workforce development so I’m well prepared to tackle any problems businesses may have with staff, training or recruitment.
Prior to joining Business Link I worked as an HR manager in the retail industry before working as an Investors in People adviser in East Lancashire before joining Greater Nottingham Training and Enterprise Council in 1999.
Like many Business Link advisers, I’ve also run my own business which gives me the ability to empathise with the businesses that I’m seeing as I may have had the same experiences that they’re having.
I joined Business Link in November 2009 and thoroughly enjoy it. My weeks are jam packed as I usually visit around two businesses per day, either at their place of work, their home, or sometimes they come to our offices in Nottingham. Then I leave one day for desk work, emailing clients with information about certain schemes we discussed and taking note of exactly what we spoke about in our meetings for us to refer to in the future.
We start every appointment with a business review. This is where we look at their business strategy together, their marketing, finance, people and business processes. I usually ask a number of questions to get a good understanding of the business, what the owner wants to achieve and identify any gaps or particular challenges.
As you can imagine when I go into an organisation they often have a particular requirement in mind, but when you sit down and talk to them we cover so many issues. For example they might want to know how to start selling online and I suggest areas to investigate or they might need specialist help and I’ll help them to find it.
Case Study – EMtel Limited
An example of a business that I visited recently is EMtel Limited (www.emtel.co.uk). This is a telecommunications company that supplies businesses with fixed line rental, mobile phones and telephone systems. The company has been trading for six years and has already enjoyed a large amount of success, having within its customer base several large organisations across the UK.
MD, John Townsend is now looking to take the company to the next level and there were things that he wanted to focus on. His key strategy is for growth through developing dealerships. EMtel has also developed its own new product, SMS texting, which offers a great opportunity for diversification.
We determined that a key part in helping EMtel is to offer assistance with marketing. This could improve the message EMtel is sending out to its customers and dealers. I provided EMtel with information on several branding specialists that should be able to help.
EMtel are also considering employing more staff so I suggested they look at recruitment services from Job Centre Plus, and apprenticeships. This is a fantastic business with so much potential, so to see a company that Business Link can help grow is very rewarding.
Keeping in touch
I try to maintain a good relationship with my clients and encourage them to contact me when they’ve got a business query. I may only see them face-to-face once a year but we also keep in touch over the phone or via email especially when they have simple enquiries. We often build up quite a rapport and this helps because they know that they’ve got someone to turn to whenever they need advice.
I would encourage all businesses to try Business Link. It’s an impartial, independent support service and it’s free. We have a great website, are available by phone and email and have advisers like me that can listen to their needs and give objective advice and support.
Seema’s top tips to women considering starting up a business
Get the right Idea
It’s obviously important to have a good idea. One way of doing this is to consider the problems you come across in everyday life, think about the things that you find frustrating or annoying, and then think, ‘How could I go about solving that problem?’ But the idea doesn’t have to be absolutely unique. What you need is a unique slant on what you’re doing and make sure what you’re offering is different and special.
Identify your market
Think in terms of people as opposed to markets and then put yourself in the customer’s shoes and ask yourself – would you actually buy the product or use this service? Don’t be afraid of asking other people for feedback
Don’t go it alone – get help
Make sure you get help and support in setting up your business. Business Link is a great place to start and family and friends are often a good sounding board and source of help in the early days.
Choosing a name – Choose your business name carefully.
Many businesses invest time and money in developing new company names and identities for new products only to find that others have legal rights to the names. You can check prospective company names and trademarks on the Business Link website – www.businesslink.gov.uk/namecheck
Write a realistic business plan
This is essential and is a working document that describes the business, its objectives, its strategies, the market it’s in and its financial forecasts – something any bank or business lender will want to see. As well as the free guides and tools available on its website (www.businesslink.gov.uk/businessplan), Business Link can make you aware of workshops running in your local area that you can attend (www.businesslink.gov.uk/events).