Wednesday, 23 January 2019

£10K SME growth packages up for grabs with Sensor City

Technical innovation centre, Sensor City, has launched a competition to give SMEs the chance to win a fast-track growth package worth up to £10,000.

Three of the competition judges; Mick Card - KTN Dr Joanne Phoenix - Sensor City and Dr Princy Johnson - LJMU 

Announced at last night’s AWS User Group Meet-Up, the package is designed to help start-up and small businesses scale, boost competitive advantage and innovative capabilities.
The project is part of Sensor City’s commitment to creating a UK focal point for the development of sensor technology, while building a community of companies that are at the forefront of innovation.

The growth packages include free hot desk and co-working space within Sensor City for six months, official membership status, credits for use of event space and access to specialist laboratories.

Successful businesses will also get access to Amazon Web Services’ Activate programme, which provides them with access to the technology infrastructure they need to scale and grow including credits, technical training, and wider business support. 

Dr Joanne Phoenix, interim executive director at Sensor City, said: “The growth package is a fantastic opportunity for start-ups and small businesses to leverage the specialist equipment and technological expertise we have in-house at Sensor City, which will help them to rapidly prototype their ideas and innovations.

“Using AWS will also provide the services these businesses need to scale-up, while increasing flexibility and reliability, so I’d encourage SMEs across all sectors to consider applying.”

To join the growth programme and be in with a chance of winning this bespoke prize, companies must fulfil the following criteria:  
  • Be a registered company of SME status. 
  • Work within the sensor or IoT sectors. 
  • Have an existing product or be looking to develop new ideas.
Submissions are encouraged locally, nationally and internationally and should be completed by 5pm on Friday 22nd February. The judging panel, including experts from Sensor City, AWS, KTN, Pycom, University of Liverpool and Liverpool John Moores University, will then review all submissions and determine which 10 SMEs will win the growth packages.

To apply for the programme, visit:
The mechanical, electronic, optics and software laboratories at Sensor City house state of the art machinery and equipment, in addition to a dedicated team of engineers and academics who are available to provide customers with technical knowledge and professional support on a commercial basis.  

AWS is the cloud service division of Amazon Inc and works with some of the world’s hottest start-up and scale-up businesses, including Airbnb and Slack.

For more information about Sensor City, please visit:    
For more information about AWS, please visit:   

Tuesday, 22 January 2019

Helping proofreader Caroline Barden to write a new future

Looking for her next step into employment Caroline Barden took on an exciting 'Write to Work' programme with our Enterprise Hub partners, Writing on the Wall, lighting a spark to turn her passion for writing into a full-time business. 

Since then, Caroline has accessed a full programme of start-up business support through the Enterprise Hub programme to get her business, Caroline Barden Proofreading, off the ground.

We caught up with Caroline to find out more about her journey into self-employment and what’s in store for 2019…

Having made her career as a teacher and manager in the social care sector for over twenty years, working with young people and adults with learning difficulties and disabilities, Caroline’s journey into self-employment began in 2016 when she decided she was ready for a new challenge.

She says: “I was ready to try something different and decided that I would like to take up the challenge of starting my own business. I was keen on the idea of helping people with their writing and wanted to offer support to individuals and businesses, particularly within my specialisms of education and social care.”

And so, the idea for Caroline Barden Proofreading was born.

Caroline began her journey with our Enterprise Hub partners Writing on the Wall through its ‘Write to Work’ programme. This innovative twelve-week programme is dedicated to helping unemployed participants gain opportunities for pathways to employment, further education or training within the writing sector. 

Caroline explains that the course helped her switch on to the possibilities for her business: “The course was amazing, it came at just the right time for me and changed the way I viewed my business. As my confidence grew so the parameters within which I had set up my business started to expand.

Following the course Caroline realised a new-found interest in creative writing, winning Writing on the Wall’s flash fiction competition, with her story ‘The first step’.

She says: “I realised that I did not have to restrict my editing work to the social sciences, but I could include a wide range of other interesting subjects, novels and biographies. And not only that, I also found that I enjoyed writing so much that I knew I would have to find a way for that to become part of my working life as well.”  
With a new-found determination, Caroline got in touch with us at Enterprise Hub to take the exciting next steps into self-employment and find out more about the practicalities of running a business.  

She says: “I hadn’t worked in the publishing industry before and I hadn’t run my own business either, so I knew I had a lot to learn! I enrolled on a professionally recognised proofreading course (by distance learning) and while I worked on that I set about learning about business.

“I had brilliant support from Jo Mountfort, my business advisor at Enterprise Hub. It was great to have someone to talk things through with and to have help with my action plan. I attended all the courses I could at The Women’s Organisation, too, about business and about social media – I knew I had to get to grips with social media! I learned such a lot and talked to so many people. It was great to be in an environment with other new business owners in their base at 54 St James Street – discussing our successes and worries!”

Three years on and it’s safe to say that Caroline has taken to the world of self-employment: “I have a fantastic portfolio of clients and the number who have become regular customers has really grown over the last year or so. My prior experience in education and social care means that I have work from social science publishers and students, but my experience with Writing on the Wall means that I can reach out to independent authors writing in a wide range of topics.

“I was also privileged to be asked to proofread The Women’s Organisation’s book Twenty One – a wonderful project and a wonderful book.”

What words of wisdom would Caroline have for anyone looking to start their own business? “First and foremost, I would say seek out support from those with experience. It makes such a difference to have someone to give you help and advice through the initial stages of setting up your business. There was a lot of information relating to running a business that I didn’t even know that I didn’t know!

Keep learning, it will give you confidence and help you to stay up to date – check out the fantastic range of courses at The Women’s Organisation. Find courses relevant to your business too (for example, for me, the Write to Work course at Writing on the Wall), they keep you in touch with colleagues who work in the same field and give you inspiration and ideas.

You can find out more about Caroline’s services online, here. Or find Caroline Barden Proofreader on TwitterFacebook and LinkedIn.

If you'd like to find out more about how our team can help you to start a business through our Enterprise Hub programme then call us on 0151 706 8111.

Thursday, 17 January 2019

Redundancy Creates a New Path for Bev

Having worked in housing associations across the North West since age of 19, Bev Heaton’s life was turned around when she faced redundancy and began to rethink her career prospects.

Bev commented: “I’ve always had that creativeness and I’ve always wondered what it would be like to have my own business, but I’ve never really known what I would do.

“Even though I’ve always made things what really turned everything around for me is I got made redundant, twice forcing me to do something different.”

On the first occasion Bev had just achieved her Master’s Degree in Marketing and Communications from Edge Hill University so she applied for a job in Liverpool as a Project Support Officer, where she worked for five years.

In her spare time Bev began making clothes, Christmas and birthday cards for her family and friends, which fuelled her passion for getting creative.

Bev added: “I moved onto making some bags up as presents and customising them, and all my friends and colleagues would remark on how lovely they were. I then started doing more, creating paintings and cushion covers around my home and building up my confidence. The girls at work all loved to know what I’d created.

“Up towards the end when I was being made redundant I began to wonder if I could build a business with the customised bags, so I got together some of my products and I came into the Chamber to meet with Steve Mather.

“I explained to him that was looking at my options and he said he thought I could sell my bags and make a business out of it. He told me about some upcoming start-up workshops and I got myself booked on.”

Bev met regularly with her dedicated start-up adviser to build a business plan and attended a series of free start-up workshops, designed to teach her the tools for becoming self-employed.

Bev added: “I think doing the workshops was really good to do at the beginning because I got all the information that I needed. I wouldn’t have had a clue how to set up a business without the support of the Chamber.

“I really enjoyed the marketing workshops as that is where I am most comfortable. When you are looking at the health and safety and financial side it can be daunting, so the course was useful.

“It was also lovely meeting with other start-ups who were in the same situation as you realise that you are not on your own.

“One of the best aspects of the start-up support for me has been the encouragement. Staff have given me more confidence in what I am doing is right and that my products are good.

“I’ve done everything step-by-step and I’ve had the support from the staff at the Chamber to help me through. I wouldn’t have come this far on my own. I know that even when I don’t have a meeting scheduled I can always contact someone.

“Everyone has been lovely, I feel like I am on course and I am doing everything at the right pace. I always ask am I doing everything ok and get told ‘I’m doing brilliantly’, so it’s that support that pushes you on. It’s down to me at the end of the day if I fail or succeed, but I’ve had lovely support and I couldn’t have done this without the Chamber.”

St Helens Chamber is part of Enterprise Hub, the enterprise gateway for business start-up support in Merseyside.  Offering expert advice and support to anyone thinking about starting a business including help to:

  • Understand the process of starting a business
  • Research a business idea
  • Build a comprehensive business plan
  • Develop a marketing plan
  • Create financial forecasts to understand the costs of running your  business and potential income
  • Identify sources of finance to get started

Enterprise Hub is funded by the European Regional Development Fund. For more information about the support available from St Helens Chamber to start a business, call 0845 340 9980, email, or visit

Monday, 14 January 2019

5 networking tips to help grow your business

With surveys showing that many people rank public speaking as a worse fear than dying, its not surprising that many of us try to avoid those dreaded networking commitments. But, is networking a trick that business owners can afford to be missing if they want to grow? We don’t think so!

Networking offers the chance to pitch your product or services to prospective clients and meet potential leads in the flesh. This is a unique opportunity to sell your business proposition in a compelling and authentic way. Small businesses simply can’t afford to miss out on opportunities to meet prospective clients and build brand reputation – so, business cards at the ready!
Here are our top tips for networking like a pro…

1. Set one (or two!) key goals

First impressions count so it’s important not to confuse or muddle your message. Don’t get caught up in wanting to share every single detail of your business – this will only water down your proposition.  You’re far better going in with one key message you want to communicate. Set your intention and run with it. Be clear. Be concise. Be specific.

For example, are you looking to increase sales for a new service you’re launching next week? Then actively seek out networkers who would be interested in this offering. Or perhaps you simply want to get your name out there? Then why not prepare a short introductory ‘blurb’ about your business and be armed with key points about what sets your business apart.

2. Work the room

Walking into a room of strangers and finding a friendly face to talk to can be one of the most daunting aspects of networking. In fact, this is what puts many of us off. Remember, everyone is there for the same reason: to make new contacts! The trick is reading body language and knowing how to spot an “open” or a “closed” group.

When you walk in, scan the room. Can you see any groups where people are stood with “open” body language? Are they facing outwards and creating space to be joined? These people are ready to be approached – get networking! Alternatively, can you see two people directly facing each other in deep conversation? This is what we would call a “closed” group. Perhaps one to leave for later.

Once you’ve joined a group, the next hurdle is knowing when (and how!) to move on to your next conversation. There’s nothing worse than feeling trapped in a conversation and spending the whole time attached to one person. When you think you’ve exhausted the conversation, don’t be afraid to take your leave. Using lines like “I think I’ve taken enough of your time, I’ll let you chat to someone else!”, or “it’s been great to meet you, do you have a card I could take please?” are great ways to exit.

3. Don’t forget to listen!

Forgetting to listen is one of the biggest mistakes people make when networking. Remember that it’s a two-way street. No one wants to be cornered and given an irrelevant presentation on what your business does, without the chance to even speak about theirs.

Within the first few minutes of talking, find out who they are and what they do. Make sure you know your audience and cater to them. Find out how you can be useful to them – not just the other way around. If you ask the question first, then you can tailor your answers to meet their needs.

And don’t be afraid to ask! Ask what brings them there today and what support they need at the moment. Being direct is a great way to be productive. Even if it’s not something you can help with, making recommendations and being useful is a great way to build a rapport. And, who knows, they might be able to return the favour or recommend your services to others.

4. Be prepared

Preparation, preparation, preparation. Don’t underestimate it. We’ve already covered how important it is to go with a clear message and goal in mind. But how else can you plan for a successful experience?

Is there anything else you can take with you to support your pitch, perhaps some product samples or relevant marketing materials. And don’t forget those business cards! Have these on hand to share with anyone who could be a potential lead – this will help them remember you after the event.

Some networking event organisers will release a list of attendees ahead of the event. Booking platforms like Eventbrite also show you which organisations people are attending from. If you have access to such a list, have a scan over it and see which people you might like to connect with. If any names jump out, research their business and pre-plan how you could be of use to them.

5. Stay connected 

After a hard day’s networking it’s important to make sure you’re getting the most out of your efforts. Follow up with your leads that day – don’t give them chance to forget! Send a quick e-mail including any information you promised to send over, along with a note to say it was great to connect.

Follow your new connections on social media and engage with their content. Over time, this is a great way to build and maintain a rapport.

So, there you have it – five great ways to network effectively and create those all important leads.

If you’d like to find out how else you can grow your business, get in touch with Enterprise Hub to find out what support is available to you. Email or ring us on 0151 706 8113.

Monday, 17 December 2018

Advice Corner: So You Want to Get Cleaning?

If you are thinking of starting a business and trying to find a fairly low cost business idea, then domestic cleaning could be one to explore.

Domestic cleaners mainly carry out work for individual households, buy to let properties, B&B's and guesthouses. It seems an easy profession to get into, however, the sector is highly competitive with an estimated 25000 domestic cleaning services in the UK.

Despite competition there is still space in the marketplace, and here are some useful tips when starting your cleaning business to ensure you can take advantage of the opportunity and build a competitive business.

1. Qualifications and Skills 

While there are no formal qualifications required you may consider looking at training opportunities to put you ahead of the competition.

Start-up Courses include:
  • The Practical Cleaning Skills award at levels 1-3. This is an entry level course for those with limited experience covering the principles of cleaning which is accredited by various bodies including Edexcel and City & Guilds, green cleaning practises and teamwork.
  • The Level 2 award in cleaning principles accredited by various bodies including City & Guilds and Edexcel. The course covers waste disposal, health and safety and cleaning of bathrooms and restrooms. 
Business Start-up courses include 
  • Free webinars from HMRC, giving advice such as the ins and outs of becoming an employer. 
  • Contracts of employment, recruitment and selection which is a distance learning course that costs £110 and is beneficial for cleaners wanting to recruit staff.  
  • Consumer rights training which is a 35 minute online course that costs £25 and explains the Consumer Rights Act 2015 and instructs on how to deal with customer complaints, fair wording of T&C's and handling disputes.  
  • Enterprise Hub offers direct training through a combination of business advice and short courses to help you through the business planning process and understand your responsibilities as a new business owner
You may also wish to keep up to date with developments in the industry on websites such as the Cleaning mag and Cleaning Hygiene today or follow Karcher UK on Twitter. 

2. Trading and Commercial 

There are a few things that you will need to think about on a practical level:
  • Provision of cleaning and protective equipment including safety goggles and waterproof gloves for any staff team 
  • Notifying your landlord/mortgage company should you wish to run your business from home and arranging home and business insurance.
  • Setting up pricing strategy - will you charge at an hourly rate or a look for a monthly retainer? Checking your costs and ensuring you are factoring in a wage on top of those
  • You might consider trade body membership to get access to online directories and discounts from industry suppliers from and   
3. Legal

The law is vast, but here are some key ones that effect the cleaning industry that it is worth reading up on so you don't get caught out later.
  • Compliance to The Alternative Dispute Resolution for Consumer Disputes (Competent Authorities and Information) Regulations 2015 in terms of resolving disputes. 
  • Consumer Rights Act 2015.
  • Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH)

Advice Corner: Can I make a living cooking from home?

If you are a passionate cook and want to start your own business cooking from home, then here are 5 useful tips to get your business off the ground.

1. Choosing your market

The catering market is fairly saturated so finding your niche and a gap in the market is the key to success. The type of food you make will affect who your core customer will be which will shape your branding and marketing plan.

Catering can either be corporate or private. The former will give you the opportunity for repeat business as corporate clients prefer to have a regular supplier so if you provide a good and reliable service, you'll become an asset to them and they will call you whenever they need you, however, your food will need to be of a high quality and freshly prepared. You'll also be preparing food for large numbers of clients at short notice so it is essential to be organised especially having your ingredients ordered in time. Competition is fierce in this market so you'll have to work hard to win the trust of clients.

Alternatively, you may wish to take your service to the private market where you'll be serving at family occasions as opposed to launches and conferences. Client Expectations would be much lower but you'll still be expected to provide a good quality service and you need to be able to cater for individuals with specific needs such as vegetarians and lactose intolerant. Your scope for services aren't restricted to special occasions such as weddings as you may also wish to host themed events such as Indian nights or gourmet cuisine for dinner parties.

2. Obtaining Equipment 

Starting a business requires a lot of equipment. You will need to detail this out well in your business plan as you need to have a good balance of capital as well as specific equipment for individual events. This will also depend on the type of food you're working with and basic operation would require fridge freezers, cooking equipment such as ovens & hobs and preparation equipment such as timers, scales, cutlery, thermometers and can openers as well as other consumables such as washing up liquid & sponges, Clingfilm and food containers.  It's essential you cost this all out to understand what finance you will need to access in order to get started.

3. Legal requirements 

Catering Services are highly regulated under legislation governing food safety. Caterers are legally obliged to submit their registration application 28 days in advance before commencing trading.

The FSA (Food Standards Agency) is the main governing body to food hygiene alongside the Food Safety Act 1990 being the main law ensuring food is safe for consumption as well as ensuring that there are no harmful substances used in food prep.  You'll also be obliged to comply with other legal requirements such as keeping records of direct suppliers as well as information of food products regarding presentation and traceability in the event of product withdrawal or recall.

Arranging insurance is also essential as failure to do so can result in severe financial consequences.  You can find more information on getting the right form of cover here.

4. Marketing your company 

While competitive, the food industry is a thriving market providing plenty of opportunities for you to generate much needed publicity.

You may wish to attend catering exhibitions with plenty of events happening up and down the country - take time to prepare samples and take your contact details with you as you could add a range of suppliers and consumers to your portfolio to make your brand more memorable and not only obtain useful contacts, but also get your brand into an online catering directory that'll help users discover you via search engines.

Also, don't underestimate the power of social media, Instagram is the perfect place to promote your recipes as food photography is a very in-demand and exciting art form. All you need is a smartphone, good lighting and a decluttered background which can make your brand more attractive and get people talking about you.

5. Obtaining appropriate I.T equipment 

Catering businesses rely heavily on temporary workers so you don't want to be wasting your financial resources paying every single member of staff. You should contact agencies across the country to help you find temporary event staff for the necessary amount of time you need them.

Investing in time & attendance and payroll software is essential to avoid the hassle of producing copious amounts of admin and red tape involved with paying employees, this is inconvenience you don't need especially in such a stressful and high demand profession. You can find more about relevant payroll software that can fulfil your needs here.

Click here to take inspiration from Anthony and Hannah's story on how they set up their own catering business. We wish you a successful venture into catering!

Thursday, 29 November 2018

Concept Corner Helps Wirral Residents #ShopLocal This Christmas

When faced with redundancy former Police Officer, Hayley Matthews, seized the opportunity for a new beginning. Hayley is now the proud owner of Concept Corner, a high street shop with a difference. 

Based in New Brighton, Concept Corner is home to a number of small independent businesses made up of artists and artisans helping you to shop local this Christmas. Here, you’ll find an eclectic mix of luxury homemade chocolates and chutneys to bespoke real wood plaques and vegan candles.

The person behind this unique concept of high street store is former police officer, Hayley Matthews: “I was a police officer for 26 years and the job started to take its toll. I have children at home and I decided that the lifestyle that comes with being a police officer wasn’t for me anymore.”

After speaking to local artists and artisans across Wirral, Hayley decided that Wirral needed a space for makers to showcase their work. Concept Corner offers a supportive environment for quality local creatives to trade and grow together under one roof in the heart of Wirral.

Hayley received business advice from The Women’s Organisation where she was supported under Enterprise Hub business start-up programme. To read this case study in full, head over to The Women's Organisation blog:

To find out more about Concept Corner, head to the website or Facebook page.

If you’re thinking about starting a business, contact The Women’s Organisation on 0151 706 8111 or to find out how we can support you.