Sport to Boost Business?

Productivity is one of the great challenges of economic development – how do we raise the level of productivity in individual businesses and across the UK as a whole? Through the work that I have been progressing on a sport and physical activity growth plan with Innovas for Leicester and Leicestershire Enterprise Partnership and Leicestershire and Rutland Sport, I have been thinking about the links between sport and productivity.

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I know when I am really busy, taking time out for a 30 minute run, reinvigorates me and allows fresh thinking. I am more productive than I would have been, had I sat at my desk for those 30 minutes.  Even if it is just a walk round the block we often feel better for that fresh air and moderate exercise.

But this is not often talked about as a key factor in business productivity.   Productivity is considered in terms of business culture, management approaches, processes and systems, ICT and the buildings in which we work.  However for most of us, our health drives our productivity and sport and physical activity are key determiners of our physical and mental wellbeing – and how we perform each day.

In speaking to many stakeholders about the sport and physical activity growth plan, there are lots of people out there seeing this relationship and trying to push it forward through engaging businesses and persuading them of the positive impact on the bottom line. It has yet to take hold with businesses more broadly but lots of initiatives are happening.  More measurement of impact is needed to generate greater engagement.

Colleges are seeing sport as key in supporting greater employability – it offers leadership opportunities, work experience and motivation to young people. This is another way of seeing greater productivity in the economy overall – engagement in physical activity  – and skills development.

It feels to me that despite the barriers of there being too many initiatives and engagement is always difficult, looking at sport and physical activity to add value to the economic growth of UK PLC as well as the health of the nation would be a worthwhile step to take.

Juggling – How do we juggle priorities and what are the benefits?

So often we speak of needing more hours in the day and yet there is also the adage of “if you need something doing, ask a busy person!” We moan about it and yet we thrive on it too!  I think it is worth reflecting on the issues arising from the daily juggle of multiple projects and the how my business and clients benefit from it.

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I am currently working on three projects. I am managing the Local Growth Fund projects for the South East Midlands Local Enterprise Partnership; I am working with Central Bedfordshire Council to gain approval for their ERDF project Innovation Bridge which will deliver innovation to 350 enterprises across 3 LEP areas; and I am working with Innovas to deliver the growth plan for the sports and physical activity sector in Leicester and Leicestershire LEP.  This week I have also contributed to the Aldwyck Housing Group Service Delivery Committee where we are grappling with the challenges of upholding customer service in tightening financial times of the social housing sector.

So what are the challenges of this juggling? Keeping abreast of all the issues is a challenge and does need a clear head and some time spent reading up and staying up to speed.  I need to ensure quality on all commissions and need to manage time carefully to allow time and attention on all projects.  That requires careful diary management, focus and application as well as keeping on top of emails!  Taking breaks, family time and exercise is also key to ensuring I stay fresh enough to see the wood for the trees and think strategically and operationally about each activity.

So why do it? Would it not be easier to just do one project at any one time?  Possibly but I thrive on the variety and enjoy working with so many different clients who are taking forward exciting initiatives for the benefit of local communities.  It also makes business sense as I increase my knowledge, my expertise and reduce the risk of being without opportunities in the future.  Each current project brings the potential for further work so it is also part of my marketing plan.

The connectivity is also beneficial. I always have an eye on confidentiality and conflicts of interest but I believe the learning from each project is helpfully shared with my clients so they learn what others are doing and how they are progressing.  This best practice sharing is part of my offer to clients.  I can connect projects and people and offer some added value to the commission.

Multiple projects allow me to develop and reinforce my own skills – for instance, as I continue to do direct business and stakeholder engagement in Leicestershire, I am providing at financial and output programme management for SEMLEP.  I am always learning and strengthening skills.

It is a challenge but that is necessary to reach the a higher level and think what the next steps are for my business.  I have a meeting next Thursday to do just that so watch this space for the latest updates on business development and carry on juggling!

Planning for 2016 – 8 top tips

At the start of a new year, we all start talking about planning in our professional and often personal lives.  It is something many of us intend to do but then put off as it seems too hard.  In planning my workload for the next few months and how I aim to achieve my business objectives, I have developed the following guiding principles.  Let me know what you think…

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  1.  Time – you need quality brain time to review your business and workload – if you work best at 10am then that is the time to act – not when you have done your ‘to do’ list but as the top priority on the ‘to do’ list
  2. Share your ideas – 2 heads are better than one and a business colleague or associate may be able to offer some sound advice and help you think through your ideas and plans.  It is not one for the darkened room!
  3. Background information – you don’t have to start from scratch and you may have last year’s plan as a basis for this – alternatively there are templates out there for everyone to access.  you may need the project and work plans for your workload and need to factor this in from the beginning.  Also don’t forget that Easter holiday you have planned!
  4. Milestones and targets – make sure you set some  goals and plan how to celebrate success when you achieve them!
  5. Stakeholder engagement – who else needs to be involved and with whom does the plan need to fit in?  If there are some key changes coming up, then factor those into your planning.  Consider local elections and Government reviews if you work with public sector partners.
  6. Timeframe – you may wish to plan over the next 6 months, a year or longer but focus on the timeframe that is most achievable while remembering the long term plan.    It may only be headlines for future years at this stage.
  7. Taking action – What are you going to do to make this plan happen?  Start taking action now and set aside time to bring the plan alive.
  8. Tell people about it – when you have written it, make one of the actions to tell people about it – your colleagues and associates will support you and hold you to account – this will keep you on the straight and narrow!

Celebrate success – it’s Christmas!

As you wrap those presents and seek out the mince pies and mistletoe, what are your five working highlights of the past year? I have chosen these five from the past 12 months.

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  • Completing 2 maps of business support provision for SEMLEP and Buckinghamshire Business First – 100s of national providers and local schemes have been noted – all helping business grow. Department of Business, Innovation and Skills circulated the report to all the LEPs as a example of good practice. The landscape has already changed and the map will need updating but it is good to understand what is working and where so we can work more effectively in partnership.
  • Visiting businesses across Bedfordshire and brokering over 30 capital grant applications and claims. It was great to see so many different businesses and meet so many people working to grow their business, jobs and opportunities. The variety of the Bedfordshire economy was amazing – signal boxes for railways, ice cream makers, craftsmen and hauliers in just a few months.
  • Seeing innovation in action with the University of Bedfordshire on Innovation Bridge was exciting as the project came in exceeding the outputs we had forecast. A strong platform for the current bid.
  • Continuing to develop other interests in my business – working with colleagues in Local Archives across the South of England was fun and the partnership that project evolved will be one to watch for 2016 – such a positive vibe from the last meeting!
  • Finding time for coaching sessions with Bird Table was also a success – setting aside time for reflection and business planning helped me to review my business and re-launch my website in October.

It is a time to look back on the past year and there are always ups and downs but as we reflect on 2015, can you choose your 5 business highlights of the year? I wish you a merry Christmas and peaceful new year!

Judith

Nearly 5M sole traders!

There will soon be 5 million sole traders in the UK economy – which makes up 14% of the workforce and our numbers are growing – 30,000 more in the last 3 months.  The attractions of self employment are well known – the flexibility, control of hours, the reduction in bureaucracy, the ability to juggle other interests and responsibilities.  So are the disadvantages well documented – the increased risks, unreliable income, no employee rights, the isolation from the office environment.  There are also fears for businesses using freelancers about whether they should be moved to the payroll – the Autumn statement may comment on this.

What does not seem to get so much attention at national or regional level is the economic contribution of these businesses and how their needs are met.  If we assume most full time sole traders have an average income of less than the VAT threshold and after tax may make £40,000  –  that income creates, on a basic calculator, £182 Billion a year which is a great deal of gross value added to local and national economies!

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Much emphasis is placed by strategists on start up business and then looking at those start up businesses to grow and employ some and then more people.  This is of course a vital element of success and productivity which needs to be developed in the UK economy.  We do also know that many self employed people do not wish to employ people but they are interested in growing their income.  The growing income then is spent in the local, regional and national economy so adds value.

The value of self employed people is not just around their economic benefits to UK PLC.  It is also about the contribution to local society and community activities.  From among my immediate contacts, a plethora of community arts, disability and environmental projects are supported by people who balance their work contracts with community energy and commitment.

The debate on business support does not usually focus on the support needs of micro and sole traders but perhaps this should change given the significance and wider social benefits.  Much general information about business development and legal responsibilities are accessible to all but that coaching and support is harder to access especially as the sole trader, by definition, is just an individual with little free resource to spare for networking or workshops.  The benefits of local sessions for and attractive to sole traders should be explored.  I have had the benefit of group coaching sessions – through Bird Table – targeted at female business owners and all involved have been more informed and inspired to grow their income and enterprise as a result.  Lunchtime sessions with wide ranging professionals sharing their current issues can also be a fertile approach for sole traders.

There is much to ponder and little resource to support initiatives but local solutions and social media support both feel like appropriate and useful parts of the package to support this growing element of the economy.