How do you know when your business needs help with productivity? | Business Support Helpline

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“Productivity” and “competitiveness” are rarely words that get mentioned by business owners or entrepreneurs when they get in touch with the Black Country Growth Hub.

By far the most common requests are for help to set up a business, and/or free cash.

Which makes our role both easier and more difficult – we have plenty ambitious and energetic entrepreneurs in the Black Country eager to get started and get their plans moving; but those plans have usually already been set. And they’re usually less about increasing productivity or competitiveness, and more about meeting more pressing needs: fulfilling a contract; replacing an ageing machine or leaking roof; buying premises that have become available.

Getting past the conversation about State aid and lack of available funding takes a lot of people skills to keep the attention of the enquirer and avoid raising their blood pressure to alarming levels.

But when we do manage it, we can signpost enquirers to a wide variety of programmes that can support businesses to improve productivity – even when that’s not what the original request was for. Taking a very cold lead and warming it up through conversations, meetings, engagement events, participation and then implementation is hard work – but the end results can be impressive.

For example: The Advanced Services Group at Aston Business School has worked with traditional manufacturing companies producing low volume spare parts for industry from old drawings and design prototype/components through to original equipment high-volume manufacture. By using the tools developed by the Advanced Services Group, companies can better understand customer needs and provide them with their own machining cells and a business model of ‘machining-by-the-hour’. New models can reduce machining time and lead times for delivery, as well as reduce costs and increase production quality.

Yet traditional Black Country manufacturers don’t call us and ask “can you help me better understand my customer needs and implement new business models please?”

Similarly, another company said of her coach:

"She was my kick that enabled me personally to be a better director. From questioning our processes and discussing tasks that were, and importantly weren't being delegated, to providing a space where we could discuss responsibilities and core duties in the business whilst finding a way to maintain the company ethos. My coach was invaluable in assisting me to become more productive, by giving me the kick I need to relinquish control of aspects that could be done by others in our fantastic team!”

And yet Black Country entrepreneurs rarely call us and ask for a kick, nor tell us where to aim.

I could list plenty more examples of support products that can help a business improve productivity. Free Agent has found that on average, businesses using it save one day each month. I’ve lost count of the business owners who have told me that going on a leadership & management programme such as the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses scheme helped them move away from being a busy fool trying to do everything, to focussing on strengths - saving time and hair loss along the way.

At the Black Country Growth Hub we like to think we can help businesses understand the breadth of support programmes available to them; our funding from government means we can remain impartial. Getting quickly to the heart of what it is a business is seeking to achieve and why isn’t easy; it also takes humility and honesty. Running a successful business is incredibly difficult: admitting that you need help is even more so. Growth Hubs are there to help: find your nearest one and give them a call.

Dan Carins

Finance and Productivity Lead

Black Country Growth Hub