Since launching in July 2015, the service has engaged with more than 1,100 businesses across the county, providing in-depth consultations to more than 450 of them. It is one of 39 government-funded Growth Hubs around the country set up to support businesses, and is delivered by Let’s Do Business Group on behalf of East Sussex County Council.
Three free hours of impartial advice are on offer for companies from the experienced, friendly Business East Sussex (BES) navigators who provide guidance to help companies reach their full potential.
By understanding each business, navigators are able to signpost business owners to exactly the right organisation or person for their needs. Practical support is available across the board for issues ranging from finance and grants, to mentoring, accounting, distribution, insurance or regulations.
With a comprehensive network of contacts locally and nationally, BES is perfectly placed to make connections that lead to business success.
Over the last 18 months, business support navigator Fred Thomas has been the approachable face of BES.
Fred began his working life in double glazing then moved to the coatings industry before starting his own business in the late 1990s selling motorcycles, which at its height had a turnover of £2million. During this time, he became a self-taught SEO and digital marketing expert, setting up many e-commerce websites. This led Fred to set up his own successful digital marketing agency and in time he moved away from the motorcycle industry.
With 17 years as a business owner before joining BES, Fred is ideally placed to assist other companies in the region using his experience of issues and opportunities that may arise.
“My desire is to help businesses wherever possible to avoid the mistakes I’ve made and learned from,” he says.
As well as receiving daily enquiries by email and phone, Fred engages with hundreds of companies through his monthly live Q&A sessions on Twitter using #AskFred.
With BES becoming such a well-used service for the county, a new business support navigator with finance expertise has come aboard to help cope with the demand.
Chris Smith joined the Let’s Do Business Group (LDBG) in 2013, having previously worked for HSBC for 30 years in the commercial and personal retail divisions. Throughout his banking career he assisted a wide range of SMEs, giving them start-up advice and funding assistance and guidance.
In the last three years, he has been a business manager for LDBG’s Start-Up Loan Team and then Growth Loan Team before taking up the role of funding and access to finance expert at BES.
He said: “I’m thrilled to be part of the growing Business East Sussex team. My years in banking dealing with local businesses have set me in very good stead to support them in achieving success.”
Also with a strong financial background is Ian Smallwood, manager of BES, who worked for Lloyds Bank for many years, in business banking as well as running a branch. In addition, he co-owned a business, based in Haywards Heath, during the 1980s which was an invaluable learning experience, supplementing his wealth of banking knowledge with an entrepreneurial perspective.
He said: “At Business East Sussex, our complementary skills set and breadth of business experience means we can go right to the heart of the issue when companies ask us for support.
“Word of the service we offer has spread and more and more people are using our services, partly due to the success of our #Ask Fred campaign. We have recruited Chris to the team so we can continue to give excellent advice and accommodate the flow of business owners coming to us.
“We want to encourage people to continue using #Ask Fred, even though it may be another team member who replies to their enquiry.”