These are confusing times. The business community is still reeling from the Brexit decision – and now it has a snap general election to contend with. Luckily then, the business community can count on the help of Business East Sussex (BES). Here we find out why and how far the organisation has come since its front cover slot on SBT last year.

By the time you read this, hopefully there will be a government in place or, certainly, about to be one elected.

However, you look at it, 2017 has been a challenging year for the business community. British industrial output shrank for a third month in a row in March, according to figures from the Office of National Statistics. Consumer spending figures may be up, but the pound is down.

There is one thing that a business cannot run on and that is uncertainty. A business thrives on predictable cashflows, especially if those are growing. But when times are tight it is good to know there is a steady hand that one can reach out to.

For many, that guiding light is the Business East Sussex (BES) Growth Hub. It’s a government supported growth and support service, part of the wider Let’s Do Business Group, working on behalf of East Sussex County Council.

About to enter its third year, BES has helped more than 1,200 businesses across the region since its inception and has assisted in securing more than £300,000 worth of funding.

The service has won many plaudits for its hands-on approach via Fred Thomas, a familiar face to many in the region, thanks to its work in the business community.

The organisation continues to provide free one-to-one business support and has now started running a series of successful events and workshops to engage with more of the East Sussex business community.

“It’s about adding value to what we do,” explains Ian Smallwood, Head of Business East Sussex. “Yes, we can offer one-to-one advice – and yes we can supply businesses with money – but what more can we do that adds extra value?”

The organisation has recognised the increasing demand from businesses to understand the evolving technological challenges. Twinning with partners that can offer real, practical help to people running businesses in East Sussex, it has run events with Pav IT and Astec Computing on cyber-crime and Cloud Computing – both of which have been well attended and offered support for issues that all SMEs will come up against. Cyber-crime has been increasingly high profile of late, with reports that Russia may have ‘interfered’ with last year’s US elections – and the NHS being brought to standstill thanks to a malware attack, which locked people out of their systems.

“We work with partners to put on these events and they are doing really well,” adds Ian. “But they are doing well because of the content that we are presenting. Through our own collective commercial experience, we’re able to look objectively and ask, ‘What support would I need at the minute if I were back running a business?”

For Smallwood and his team the challenge is to continue with the talks and to meet larger groups of people as we move into the second half of 2017 and into 2018. He explains how the organisation has a huge array of providers – businesses that help other businesses – on its books and that is where it turns to for putting on its events.

“We’re aware that businesses are very busy. We know that if we put an event on it has to be really relevant to local businesses. It just so happens that this year has had a bit of a techy feel to it,” explains Smallwood. “Our Office 365 event that we ran with Astec Computing for instance, featured a lot of double bookings from the same company. Businesses were sending along more than one person, they could see the value and that we were investing into the event.”

That’s not to say that BES has moved away from its core remit. The service continues to source finance and offer advice.

A recent success story for the service was helping Mark Hanks get off the ground with a new carpet and flooring business in Hastings.

Thanks to the help of BES he was able to fund a new van, build a new website and add to his stock. In a recent video case study published on businesseastsussex.org.uk Hanks is emphatic about his experience with BES and the funding he secured. “It really enabled me to get to a place today where I would not have been without it,” he enthuses. “The mentoring support package has provided me with lots of useful information, lots of help, and it is a great point of contact if I do need any advice on; taking on staff or, like I am currently looking for, larger premises.

“I would not hesitate to recommend Business East Sussex to other people who are thinking of starting their own business. Their help and support has been invaluable and I would not be at the stage I am today without them.”

What’s the future hold for Business East Sussex?
“We will continue to grow and build on our success, to develop new ways of reaching the businesses of East Sussex and make available the best and most relevant information into the right hands at the right time” he exclaims.

For more information visit www.businesseastsussex.org.uk or call them on 0844 415 2260.

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