On Monday 11th May, we announced ‘Forward’, our initiative developed in collaboration with Forum members and partners to respond to the unique challenges faced by business since March 2020.
Since then, members have engaged with a wide variety of Forum virtual events where they have shared with us their plans and priorities for the future and how they will achieve future growth.
In addition, members also took to video, documenting their future growth ambitions and how they plan to innovate as they look ahead.
As we break for the summer we wanted to share with you the key themes emerging from our members - themes which capture the positive can-do approach of entrepreneurs in our region.
Firstly, entrepreneurs will keep evolving and changing their business to meet ongoing challenges but they will also take advantage of new opportunities presented by the pandemic.
In the first Forward video we shared, Lee Hartley of Fairstone Group explained that they were focused on developing a suite of investment solutions, while in our final Forward video, Lisa Eaton of Unwritten shared that they were still continuing with the ambitious growth goals set at the beginning of this year, but using ‘creative, innovative and new ways’ to achieve their objectives.
Powering through the immediate challenges presented by the lockdown was a message shared in many of the Forward video submissions. Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen noted that the Tees Valley Combined Authority were continuing with their ‘long-term investment plans’ and Graham Robb of Recognition PR said they are focusing on helping businesses thrive and prosper through communications
James Griffiths of IMH added that they were continuing with their growth journey and in developing IMH into a sustainable and world-class brand, a vision shared by Russell Croisdale of Encore Group who added that they were making significant investment into additional equipment and launching new product lines to support their clients.
Brian Palmer of Tharsus commented that they were seizing opportunities COVID-19 creates, which led to the development and launch of the social distancing app ‘Bump’ and Joanne Warren of Lumo added that they were investing in technology to enable them to work more efficiently.
Some members expressed their ambitions to grow their businesses, but that they are having to pivot to meet the new needs of their clients and customers. Amy Mooney of Gas Angel Heating, for example, expressed that they were keeping the vision and path of the business in mind, but looking at different routes available for growth.
Similarly, Paul Tully of Simpson Robertson Group stated that they were planning a restructure of their business while Matt McGough of Ithica Films expressed that they were evolving what they do as filmmakers and looking at how they do it too.
The second theme which arose was that clear and consistent communication is key, especially during a crisis.
While responding to the immediate affects of COVID-19, many members emphasized the need, and importance of, clear communication with internal and external stakeholders.
In her Forward video, Therese Liddle of NRG explained they are ensuring an ‘enhanced level of communication between clients and candidates’ while John McGee of Durata and Aman Chahal of Tapered Plus both expressed that their focus was on utilising digital communication tools to work efficiently.
For some, ensuring a high level of communication with clients was key. Pete Lillie of Presca Teamwear noted that they were ‘giving a clear message to clients about the benefits of their products’, John Burns of Diamond Group explained that they are using communication to form closer relationships with their clients and Charlotte Nichols of Harvey & Hugo emphasised communication as a storytelling tool, stating they are finding ‘innovative ways to create and share stories’ for their clients.
Nicki Clark of UMI emphasised the importance of communication to ensure strong partnerships with others, including those in her team, a sentiment echoed by Kieron Goldsborough who said his business Narrative will ‘use technology to ensure good team communication’.
The final theme which emerged was maintaining, and investing in providing, an excellent service.
Paul Drake, of Sapere Software, noted that his business was ‘offering expertise, experience and knowledge to fellow North East businesses to help them thrive and compete on the world stage’ while Vikki Jackson-Smith of J&B Recycling commented that they were ‘delivering high standards through continuous development’ and also finding ‘innovative solutions to improve efficiency’ throughout their business.
<<Insert video with Therese Liddle, Colin Hewitt etc.>>
Mark Clasper of Ryder Architecture and Lucy Hatt of Northumbria University both added that they were continuing to work collaboratively with others. For Brendon Hayward of Osbit, ‘Forward’ meant focusing on Osbit’s cause and ambition to ‘enable global energy transition for a sustainable future’.
For the majority of our members, COVID-19 reinforced the importance of building and maintaining strong business relationships. Chris Black of Brewin Dolphin, Kari Owers of O Communications, Stephen Hall of Deloitte, Nicky Jolley of HR2day and Ian Gilthorpe of Square One Law all expressed looking forward was about gaining a deeper understanding of their clients needs while Dean Benson of Visualsoft gave a summary of the North East business community as a whole, describing the shared support from North East business leaders which came to the fore during the lockdown and will continue into the future.
In two months, Forward has shined a light on the optimism and positivity of our region’s business owners, some of whom were already making long-term plans for business growth and prosperity, while others have begun thinking about what the next stage of their business will look like.
It’s been a unique couple of months to say the least, but our members have shown determination and resilience through it all.