Step aside Mystery Shopper scheme - hello new Public Procurement Review Service!
Thursday, February 21 at 10:53
Have you ever had a concern about a public sector contract? Have you experienced late payment by the public sector? Maybe the Public Procurement Review Service can help. Public Procurement Review Service is the new name for the successful Mystery Shopper scheme that allows suppliers to raise concerns anonymously about public sector procurement. It has helped hundreds of suppliers in challenging public procurement opportunities.
Since 2011, the team (which is part of the Cabinet Office) has handled over 1550 cases and helped to speed up over £6.2 million in late payments. By working closely on difficult cases with contracting authorities, we help the government improve how it buys goods and services. Cases are summarised and published; only the contracting authorities are named.
So why the new name?
Simply put, the new name reflects what the team does and makes it easier for suppliers to search for the service and find out how it can help them.
Suppliers of all sizes can use the Public Procurement Review Service where they feel that a public sector procurement is not being run in line with the procurement rules and best practice, or have issues obtaining payment for work that has been completed. The service is particularly used by small businesses.
Things you need to know about the service
- It’s free to use
- Suppliers can use in complete confidence of anonymity
- We aim to either broker an effective and satisfactory resolution and / or gain a better understanding to stop problems ‘next time’
- We can assist in unblocking late payments
Find out more about the Public Procurement Review Service on the gov.uk website. We’ve also prepared a useful guide that explains the work of the service in more detail. (If you’re a small business experiencing payment problems on a private sector contract, you may want to contact the Small Business Commissioner).
We are keen to spread the word about the PPRS; in that way the team will be able to help even more concerned public sector suppliers, and work with contracting authorities to prevent problems arising in the future – improving procurement for all. So please tell colleagues and friends about what we do!
Use the service by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The top three causes of entrepreneur burnout and how to avoid it
Wednesday, February 13 at 23:52
By recent iDEA Award completer Nicola Case of Pink Spaghetti.Life as an entrepreneur can be intense, but if you’re constantly feeling exhausted, emotional, and overwhelmed, then you could be heading for burnout.
Choosing to become an entrepreneur can be an exciting, rewarding and lucrative path to take, but the journey can be rocky and it’s important to look after yourself along the way to avoid burning out.
Entrepreneur burnout is usually the result of a prolonged period of feeling very stressed and overwhelmed at work.
Warning signs that you’re heading for burnout can include often feeling anxious, exhausted, angry or emotional. Suffering with frequent headaches or insomnia, struggling to focus, losing the passion for your business, and becoming less productive or listless are also common symptoms of entrepreneur burnout.
The top 3 causes of entrepreneur burnout
If you’re consistently making these common entrepreneurial mistakes you could be at risk of burning out.
Failing to delegate tasks to others – Taking on too much is something that all entrepreneurs are guilty of from time to time. Rather than stressing yourself out by trying to juggle every aspect of your business, delegate the more repetitive or specialist tasks to another employee or a virtual personal assistant. This will take the strain off you and allow you to focus on important decision-making and growing your business. Unhealthy work/life balance – As much as you may love running your business, every entrepreneur needs time away to switch off and reconnect with their loved ones and life outside of their business in order to remain happy and healthy. Setting boundaries when you’re ‘off work’ like times when you switch your business phone off and don’t check emails, can help you to recharge so that when you’re back in the zone you’re looking at things with a fresh pair of eyes.
Setting unrealistic goals – Being the sole driving force behind your own success means constantly pushing yourself to do better and achieve more. Whilst it is essential to your success to be self-motivated and ambitious, it’s also just as important to be realistic about what you can achieve to avoid burnout. Be sure that the goals that you are setting yourself are feasible and don’t beat yourself up if you don’t achieve them first time. Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day.
To keep your sanity as an entrepreneur, why not delegate repetitive jobs or specialist tasks to a virtual personal assistant? Hiring a virtual PA is a cost-effective way of taking the strain off you and freeing up more time in your day. Pink Spaghetti
is a national franchise network of small business owners or search for virtual PA services in your local area.
Get a great digital ad for your business for just £50, and help tomorrow’s entrepreneurs learn with iDEA!
Thursday, January 17 at 09:00
Under the mentorship of Mark Hill MBE, Year 7 pupils at Belmont Community School in Durham have been taking part in the Duke of York iDEA Awards, working towards their Bronze award and utilising their new found digital, enterprising and entrepreneurial skills to set up a business. They have recently entered the Primary Inspiration through Enterprise (PIE) Challenge, and as their entry for the next round they are now offering fabulous digital ads to other businesses for just £50!
The school is one of just ten to get through to this round of the PIE Challenge, and is the only school representing Durham. They have been funded £100 with which they have to design, develop and create a business model which offers support to businesses. The model must create an opportunity to sell their products and/or services to make a profit, and the school with the most profit wins the competition - and £5000 prize money.
The team of pupils has designed and created digital business adverts under the product name “Digi Biz Ads”: innovative, eye-catching MP4 videos which showcase a business products and services.
The student Marketing Manager, Jack, says, “Our Digi Biz Ads are great for any business, especially those with social media platforms”; and as the ads are sent via email, they can cater for companies regardless of location – they have recently created two ads for a company in the south of France!
Getting an ad of your own is easy! Simply email the following information to email@example.com or call business mentor Mark on 07768834991:
- Your company website
- Your logo
- Any social media links
- Your contact information
- Any other content that you wish to promote
… and the pupils will do the rest! Most information can be taken direct from your business website, creating an eye-catching and innovative 60-120 second long MP4 video promoting your business, products and services which can then be posted across social media sites to engage customers, sent via email, or pinned to your website. Good luck to the Belmont pupils, both with the PIE Challenge and the rest of their iDEA Award! Want to get involved with iDEA yourself and build on your own digital skills through free online expert training? Click here to find out more.
Badge Your Brilliance with iDEA
Thursday, January 10 at 09:00
Superstar Karen Sheppard of #SmallBiz100 People First Mobility has completed not only her Bronze iDEA Award, in November 2018, but also her Silver, just a month later, in December 2018. We caught up with her to find out how out more about her approach to the awards and whether she’d recommend them to other small business owners.
What appealed to you about the iDEA award?
I am always looking at ways to learn and keep my brain active. Also I am a cancer survivor, and my treatment included eight rounds of chemotherapy, which can give you something called ‘chemo brain ‘,making you more forgetful. One of the best cures for this at the moment is to keep your brain active.
The iDEA award appealed because not only would it help with keeping my brain active, it was also very flexible. It can be done at home, at work, on the train, anywhere, and at any time and any pace and on many different devices. Being able to stop and start any badge at any time allows you to fit them in around other commitments. Being able to redo the badges at any time, to be able to refresh on any skills that you need to at any point is very useful.
I also wanted to enhance my skills in the digital world. The digital world is becoming more and more used in everyday life and part of the business world, so to have something that increased my knowledge in that area was fantastic. Receiving a certificate on completion and also having a record of achievement that I could use if I had to seek employment were valuable assets of iDEA. The iDEA is so easy to use, so much fun, it was not really like studying or learning at all. The way in which the badges are presented make it an easy way to learn.
What would you say is the most valuable aspect about iDEA for your business?
The most valuable aspect of iDEA is learning new Digital Skills that are helpful in the day to day running of the business. The digital world is fast advancing and to stay on top of the knowledge is a way to be a step ahead of your competitors.
Can you give us an example of when you have used knowledge learnt from iDEA in your business? What advantage has it given you?
I have used knowledge from a few badges already. I have used social media badges to change how I am going to approach my customers through the use of social media. Social selling and advertising have again given me different perspectives on how to approach these areas of my business. The Web Designer and Making Websites badges have given me much better streamlined designs that I am now using to redesign my website. The advantage of these are that I am able to reach out to more customers in a much more professional manner and it gives me an edge over my competitors.
Which badges did you enjoy the most and why?
I can honestly say I have enjoyed all of the badges, and looking back through them I am finding it difficult to answer this question. Admittedly there were a few that took me a few days to do as they were challenging and I had to keep coming back to have another go to be able to complete them. This just added to the fun, excitement and also the determination to finish them and get that sense of achievement. The coding badges were probably the hardest for me to achieve but also the most rewarding because of this.
The Silver badges were very addictive to do as you had to complete each level to get to the next level. You had to solve puzzles and challenges. At times I spent a few hours on the badges and could not put the laptop down, thinking: I will just do this one more, then another, then another.
Would you recommend iDEA to other small businesses?
I would recommend iDEA to anyone who is self employed, has their own business or works for someone or is even still in full time education who wants to invest their time in learning more about the digital world in which we now live. The world is evolving very fast in the digital age and there are many of the badges that can help in all different kinds of job roles and situations. The badges are easy to understand , can be done at your own pace and at your own time. When each module is completed there is also the sense of accomplishment. Just be warned that once you start you may find it very addictive!
Thanks Karen, and good luck with the gold award!
How to make your Christmas the most successful yet!
Saturday, November 24 at 17:00
Small Business Saturday supporter Square gives us their top tips for having the most successful Christmas ever....
We’re hurtling towards Christmas fast, just like every year. From now until December 24, you can expect to serve a steady flow of customers hunting for gifts, stocking up on food & drink or simply looking for that festive feeling. If there’s one way to stay organised and productive through the rush, it’s to write a checklist.
Forecast your busiest times
Historical data that reveals past trends and periods where you could have made better decisions.
Real-time data that lets you view that same performance as it’s happening, allowing you to make adjustments as soon as they’re needed.
The challenge as a business owner is learning how to blend the two. Whilst historical data allows you to prepare in advance, you need to be agile. And whilst it’s great to act on-the-fly, the right preparations are needed to support reactive management.
(If you don’t already have point-of-sale software)
(If you already have point-of-sale software)
Identify Q4 2017’s busiest periods and days (for your online and offline stores)
Note periods of low inventory
Note items that went out of stock
Order stock (comparing past trends with business growth)
Review staff performance during past busy periods
Create a staff rota and share in advance
Finalise time-off requests
Implement suggestions that make sense for your business
Review your current busiest periods in real-time
Adjust your opening hours accordingly
Create an efficient ordering system so you can respond to real-time low inventory alerts
Increase the ways you can take payments
A queue out the door is a great thing for business, but impatient customers aren’t. You can prepare yourself for bigger crowds of shoppers by both speeding up the checkout process and offering customers more ways to pay.
Order more handheld readers so you can serve more than one customer on the shop floor
Now is the time to get everything in place for your team to sell efficiently during busy periods. In your point-of-sale system, make sure all the inventory is good to go.
Delete inventory items that you no longer sell
Add new inventory (making sure that items are named correctly)
Make sure all pricing and offers are up to date
Include photos for all items
Update your website and social media
If you have special Christmas opening hours or you’re running promotions, make sure your website and social media reflect them. The real-time insights provided by your point-of-sale system might result in last minute changes, so use these channels to let people know as soon as you do.
Update your store opening hours
Add festive imagery to your website and social media cover photos
Add some seasonal touches to your company “About” section
Post regularly on social media with company updates or offers
Start using Facebook Messenger to communicate with customers
Theme your online advertising and social marketing campaigns
Square are proud to support Small Business Saturday
Life in the fast Laine
Wednesday, November 21 at 15:34
Boutique gift shop, Present in the Laine hit the bohemian streets of North Laine, Brighton almost five years ago. A gift and accessory haven single-handedly created by Caroline Clifton, it is a great example of the unique charm small businesses bring to local communities.
The reason for launching her own shop? “I had just had my first child and wanted to create my own work. Previously I’d been working as a gift buyer for a start-up, so with the experience of that combined with my fashion merchandising background, I felt equipped to face the challenges of running my own small business. It felt like the culmination of everything I’d done up to then and chance to do things my way .”
Doing this has provided Caroline with the flexibility that she’d craved, and Present in the Laine has provided the shopping district that is its namesake with a stylish and colourful gift shop.
It’s clear that the boutique has a special place in the hearts of the locals. Caroline only hires from the local community, and the long-term commitment of customers that began from the moment Present in the Laine opened its doors, is testament to locals’ affection for the shop: “From the day we opened there was a hugely positive response. All the visitors commented on the great atmosphere – and the amazing smell thanks to our candle range!
“I get complimented every day on what lovely products we have, and I love meeting lots of lovely, friendly customers who are enjoying their shopping experience in an independent store!”
Despite such early popularity, Caroline has had to adapt her strategy and introduce an e-commerce side to the business, working with an online marketplace for independent boutiques. This has resulted in Present in the Laine driving traffic to its website and growing its online sales.
Competing on the high street is often the biggest challenge a small business will face. But with a large numbers of tourists flocking to Brighton every week, tempted by the allure of streets teeming with shopping opportunities, and with the backing of the likes of AMEX and its Shop Small campaign, Caroline feels like small businesses always have the ability to keep up. “The collective charm of the many local shops, including ours, intrigues and draws them in.”
This collective has also showed spirit in the face of high street adversity. Brighton’s high street network has come together and on 6 December this year, over 100 shops in North Laine will open their doors for a late-night shopping event, offering customers promotions – and prosecco – as well as extra time to complete their all-important Christmas shopping, encouraging shoppers to do so with small businesses.
Of course, this isn’t the only time this December that North Laine’s shoppers will be encouraged to shop local, with Present in the Laine set to take part in Small Business Saturday on 1 December. A member of this year’s Small Biz 100, Caroline says that it was already being a part of such a great local small business network in Brighton that encouraged her to apply:
“I am heavily involved in the network of small businesses here and I am passionate about helping the independent traders of North Laine. The Small Biz 100 is a wonderful initiative which highlights the important role small businesses play in the local community.”
Small Business Saturday will hopefully kickstart Present in the Laine’s busiest period. Christmas brings a rush of visitors on the hunt for unique and thoughtful gifts – something which this small business is all too happy and equipped to provide.
Small businesses shine at launch of Silver iDEA Award St James's Palace
Thursday, November 15 at 00:57
Small Business Saturday is thrilled to partner with The Duke of York's Inspiring Digital Enterprise Awards (iDEA) to deliver free, expert online training to small businesses across the UK. Many small businesses have already achieved their Bronze award - huge congratulations to them for all their hard work and dedication - and the Silver Award was launched at St James's Palace earlier this week.
#SmallBiz100 James McBrearty, who has already completed both the Bronze and Silver awards, including achieving the Silver Star level for completing every optional module of the course, said "Many people worry about the time and cost of learning, iDEA helps people by both being free as well as being able to be taken on whatever device suits you – enabling you to make the best use of your time wherever you happen to be."
Nicola Case of Pink Spaghetti said "What a truly inspirational evening at St James's Palace for the launch of Silver iDEA. It was amazing to see how the awards are being adopted across all sectors and age groups."
The evening started with an opening speech from HRH The Duke of York, who talked about the how the awards have developed into the digital badges we earn today, and a viewing of the promotional video for the new Silver Award, highlighting how it will build on the foundation of the bronze badges to develop the learning into understanding and problem solving.
A panel session hosted by Maggie Philbin, CEO of TeenTech, shared the experiences of how organisations such as councils, schools and not for profits are utilising the iDEA awards to actively encourage students, volunteers and the wider community to learn new skills within technology. Small Business Saturday was represented by our Director Michelle Ovens MBE, who highlighted how the Small Business Saturday community has embraced the digital badges to enhance their own skillsets and offer a more diverse service to their clients.
Three of the Small Business Saturday community who have already completed their Silver award were invited along to the evening - Rachel Gilbertson, James McBrearty and Nicola Case.
Nicola said, "It was wonderful to be able to talk with some of the organisations that are partnering with iDEA to offer the digital badges as part of an education program. I thoroughly enjoyed working through the badges and there was so much to learn, being able to share my experiences and thoughts with the other businesses in the room cemented just how much I got from these awards.”
Local and sustainable is winning formula for SmallBiz100 Hays Hampers
Wednesday, November 07 at 23:30
Established in 1984, Lincolnshire wine merchants Jeremy and Rachel Marshall-Roberts wanted to add to the prestigious and fine wine they were selling and create gift sets – enter Hay Hampers.
After 30 years they left the company but were keen to ensure their close-knit family ethos remained. Luckily, eager to enter the entrepreneur life was Italian couple Elisabeth Och and her husband Gabriele Da Re. Ready to spend more time together and with a passion for food and wine, Hay Hampers was the perfect match.
Taking over in 2014, they have used their backgrounds in the financial and marketing industries to promote Hay Hampers in the competitive gourmet market and its turnover has more than tripled in the past four years.
The pair have remained true to the traditions of the company, even the majority of the employees remain from before they came to own the Bourne premises. The Marshall-Roberts themselves even work part-time as wine educators and consultants.
As a Small Business the company faces challenges in competing with the larger retailers who are also in the food and wine gifts business.
“There are many challenges, even as simple as our promotion on Google. The big businesses will always come up on the first page, whereas we struggle to do this,” says Elisabeth.
But like so many small businesses, the company manages to compete by keeping close to its values. Working in a family owned business means a lot of support, sharing and counting on one another during peak times, such as Christmas and Valentine’s Day. Elisabeth explains they have to be prepared:
“We have to be ready, so we set strategies for peak times and hire more staff, but seasonal business is difficult for any small business as people turn to better-known brands.”
To gain the upper hand, Elisabeth and Gabriele have placed more focus on community engagement, including supporting local charities by providing hampers as prizes at events.
“When we arrived, Hay Hampers wasn’t too well-known locally, and we really made an effort to engage with the community,” Elisabeth says. “We recruit locally, and when we are hiring more staff at Christmas, it is important we are known in the community to get the most talented people.”
Elisabeth also places a lot of emphasis on the importance of sustaining the local community. She and her husband always try to find local food artisans and help them become their suppliers. For example, if they don’t have the suitable packaging, Hay Hampers will help them to design and source.
Hay Hampers has taken part in Small Business Saturday for a number of years to further connect with the community, and this year decided to apply and was chosen for the SmallBiz100. The business has also been involved in the AMEX Shop Small campaign.
“We have always offered the opportunity to customers to pay with American Express, so it’s good to know they will be rewarded for spending with us via the Shop Small campaign. We were really delighted to be chosen as one of the SmallBiz100, representing our community.”
Red Herring Games – Case Study
Wednesday, October 24 at 23:12
I’m Jo Smedley, Managing Director of Red Herring Games. I launched the business 11 years ago now, while I was at home with two toddlers. I’m now operating from a high street based office with four staff and three office dogs (not all mine!).
When I moved into the area in 2000, I was helping with a church youth group who wanted to play a murder mystery for one of their evening meetings. There were no age appropriate scripts for them to use, so I wrote my own. I test ran it with the parents, who all loved it and wanted more. After four years doing this I went on maternity leave with my first child and decided I didn’t want to go back to the NHS to work.
I thought about running a coffee shop – and applied to the bank – but they turned me down as I had no start up funding available. Friends of ours who ran a website business suggested I try selling the murder mystery games I had written and within a year I had written enough plots to launch my own firm.
Eleven years down the line, I have over 100 titles to my name, 15 other authors writing scripts, and over 30,000 satisfied customers!
Money wasn’t so much a challenge as I was fortunate in that my friends helped me get started on-line creating the business for a share of the sales. This worked really well and gave me the start I needed. I had to juggle children and writing, customer care and nappies for the first few years, and meeting upfront costs would have been impossible. The hardest challenge for me in the early days was feeling legitimate. Was I really running my own business? Was I able to charge what I wanted for my products? Were they worth the money? etc. After that, it was all the legals … there was no start up advice to be had and I was trading a few years without realising I needed to be ICO registered or have certain legal things in place.
I was very fortunate to join a business networking group locally who helped me learn all the business basics and also give me confidence in myself. I had a great accountant who steered me over the vast accountancy issues, and was able to get free and informal advice from the other businesses in the networking group so that I found out about things as I went along. I had some great pricing and marketing advice in the early stages of my business and with regular contact from these informal business mentors my business took flight.
As an ecommerce business, I explored selling on marketplaces like Ebay and then Amazon within the first few years. Amazon didn’t take digital products – but that was all right as within three years of trading I’d moved from selling only digital products to physical ones. When I joined, Amazon sellers needed their own bar codes, so my first requirement was to register with GS1 for bar codes, and then print all my products so that the bar code became integral with the printing. We’ve had several versions of the games, as the product has improved in look and appearance as our business grew and gained small scale manufacturing equipment. Once I had the product up to a saleable physical level, then came the challenge of learning how to export using Amazon, a process we started with in 2013 and which has seen sales skyrocket, especially in our winter peak season.
More recently, we explored Kickstarter as a pre-order funding scheme to help us launch a brand new product to market, and already we’ve seen more and more USA based customers joining in with the subscription box.
I would suggest all small businesses explore export as soon as they can. Leveraging overseas sales will increase your income faster than just focusing on the UK alone. There are lots of advisors within the DIT who will help you export. Don’t think you can’t. You may need to modify your product or your approach for the overseas market, but there are very few businesses who can’t export in some way. We export both design services and physical products, providing writing mentoring and custom design work overseas. It’s not something we went into business expecting to do – but it’s something we did within the first week of launch. That’s export.
I would suggest businesses explore marketplaces like Amazon. The world of web is changing and people are lazy and tend to shop on marketplace sites now rather than hunting the entire web for what they want. You will increase your visibility and marketing if you can access well known market places. Yes, they cost money to join, and yes, they eat into your profit margin – but if you sell more, you still benefit. The trick is pitching your pricing correctly to absorb those extra costs.
I always suggest businesses get involved locally and nationally with small business groups and support. This could be on-line or face to face. You learn so much by hearing from others. Keep an open mind and apply anything you think could help your business.
Don’t forget to check out the competition – it’s healthy to see what works and what doesn’t. There’s nothing new under the sun, and the chances are someone else will be doing what you want to do, or something similar. Find out what they do that works. You can use this to help you with marketing, design concepts or develop your product in different ways. Obviously you don’t want to plagiarise or copy! But if you see something someone does that works well, why not try the same thing to boost your own product; and if you see a gap in the market your competitors have missed – exploit it!
When you just start out in business you need all the friends and support you can. It’s tough running your own business and the more people you can have around you for moral and emotional and business support the better. It’s not plain sailing and in all businesses there are peaks and troughs. You just have to make sure the troughs don’t sink your business, or ruin your health. The troughs are when you’ll find the benefits of having small business support around you.
What are we looking forward to in the future? We have got new product lines developing all the time. In 2019, we hope to launch our first ever board game, which we’re currently working on with the help of Ingenium Games. We’re also looking at developing unique software to our business that will open up new export markets. We have a head full of ideas and not enough time or resources to develop them all … every year holds a new challenge and excitement for us as a result. We had no idea our subscription box idea would take off as well as it has. As the customer base expands for this – our whole business sales dynamic will see massive changes and our usual seasonal cash flow issues will be a thing of the past enabling us to grow the business in new and exciting ways!Read more about Red Herring Games on their website.
Going for gold with the Inspiring Digital Enterprise Award!
Thursday, October 18 at 08:25
The Inspiring Digital Enterprise Award (iDEA) from the Duke of York aims to address the digital skills gap by providing free digital skills education via online modules – think of it as a digital and enterprise equivalent of the Duke of Edinburgh Award. It is made up of a huge variety of digital badges: short modules which can be completed anywhere a learner can be online, and each of which earns points which aggregate towards the Bronze, Silver or Gold Inspiring Digital Enterprise Award. Small Business Saturday has been partnering with iDEA over the past few months in order to bring this free expert training to small businesses across the UK, and today we’re delighted to showcase a small business which has completed not one but two levels of the award since the launch earlier in the year. Rachel Gilbertson runs Roxiies Treasures, based in Liverpool, which provides beautiful costume and handmade jewellery alongside bags, scarves and gift hampers. She completed her Bronze Award in July 2018 and her Silver Award in September 2018. Rachel says that iDEA appealed to her as soon as she saw it mentioned by Small Business Saturday, describing it as “a breath of fresh air”. She says “The badges were very fun because there were different things such as word searches, anagrams, problems to solve and games, which helps you keep focused to achieve badges and keep your mind active, which helps you take the information in to complete them.”
She adds, “I certainly would recommend iDEA to other small business owners because you never know what you can achieve until you give it a go and it teaches you a lot about yourself, what you can do and what you need a bit more help with. Completing the awards certainly gives you a sense of pride being able to achieve them.”
Congratulations to Rachel on your amazing achievement and we look forward to hearing about your gold award!
Find out more about iDEA here.