Thursday, 17 December 2020

SME Investment readiness during a pandemic: how to access CBILS and funding support before March 31st

As we exit the second national lockdown of the year and enter strengthened Tier 2 restrictions, businesses are continuing to feel the strain of the pandemic. It therefore remains vital to know your options around the financial support that could help your business to recover and prosper post-pandemic, and how best to approach providers of finance.

MSIF Investment Manager, Sue Chambers, discusses the importance of investment readiness and how best to prepare for funding success during a time of elevated uncertainty.

Sue Chambers, MSIF Investment Manager

Knowing your options

When applying for funding, you should ensure that you have explored all opportunities for
financial support during this time.

Firstly, you should be utilising any free resource that is available to you as a small to medium-sized business. We would encourage you to approach your local chambers of commerce and business growth hubs as they have a plethora of connections to best help your business, in addition to the latest advice derived from central government sources. The Liverpool City Region Growth Platform is a great place to start for any businesses situated within the LCR as the site also includes the latest information on any localised grants that may be available. 

Be sure to check what government grants you may be eligible for as a company as well as ensuring you have utilised the Job Retention Scheme where appropriate to help both sustain your business and preserve jobs via the website. 

If government and/or local support is not sufficient to get your business through the winter, you may want to consider a Bounce Back Loan (BBLS) if you are looking for funding up to £50,000 - or alternatively, a Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan (CBILS) if you need more than that.

If you have already taken out a Bounce Back Loan, you may be able to top this up to £50,000 and you should contact your original provider for further information. You can have either a BBL or a CBILS but not both. CBILS can also be applied for and used to repay a BBL. If you want to apply for either of these loans you need to do this before the schemes end on 31st March 2021. 

In the first instance, our best advice is to try your own bank first for CBILS/BBL support. If they are unable to help, then you can apply to other providers. MSIF as an example is able to support businesses with a CBILS loan through both their dedicated Coronavirus Recovery and Resilience Fund in addition to the Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund - NPIF Microfinance, jointly managed with GC Business Finance.


Investment readiness

Before you look to access external funding, make sure you have a full business plan ready – including an explanation of how your company has been adversely affected by the Coronavirus pandemic, your plans for recovery and what you intend to use the funds for.

Cash flow forecasts also need to be incorporated and be as realistic as possible. For example, if your business is connected to the hospitality and retail sector, you may want to assume that there could be a further delay before trading is back to normal. It will also be useful for a funder to see a sensitised version of your forecasts that takes account of possible further lockdowns or slower recovery – say reducing revenues (and associated costs) by a prudent percentage per month.

The cash flow forecast will serve to both highlight the amount required, building in some headroom as it is only a forecast, and help to evidence ability to meet the loan repayments. It is also important to detail any assumptions you have made in the cash flow. At a time when funders can’t get together face to face to discuss your financial workings it is crucial that you explain how you have arrived at the amount of loan you are looking for. Communication is key!


Benefits of funding

There are some real benefits of securing funding during this time. It can help create additional headroom and breathing space for your business, but you need to be sure to apply for sufficient funds to get through the next 6 months and beyond.

Additional funding can also help with the retention of staff and could avoid the need to retrain new staff in the future if unnecessary redundancies are made.

Of course some businesses are seeing growth opportunities during the pandemic and as long as they can show they have been adversely impacted by COVID in some way, then BBLs and CBILS can also be used for investment purposes.

Overall, you are best preparing yourself to hit the ground running when Covid restrictions are eventually eased and we can all return to ‘normality’. Now is the time for recovery and resilience.

If you are successful in applying for BBL or CBILS funding the government will cover all fees and interest costs for the next 12 months allowing you breathing space to focus on getting your business back on track. You can also use the funding to repay any delete ‘any’ existing funding if it will help put your business on a more stable financial footing, but lenders do have a limit attached to the amount they can refinance in this way.

Implementing new finance into your business

Only you, as the leader of your business will truly understand what your priorities are and where the extra funding will be needed most. This will vary from business to business, including covering business rates and rent, paying suppliers and, despite best efforts from the government, staff costs.

The key thing is to ensure that you have explored all options to make the most out of any assistance available.

By having these conversations, you are not only best preparing your business to re-start or continue to operate, but you are putting yourself in the best position possible for success when applying for additional funding. Make sure you have a clear plan of where that money needs to be deployed, to mitigate the risk of asking for too little or too much investment.

Be open and be honest in your conversations with any potential funders, during a time of continued and increased social distancing. It is imperative you include as much detail as you can to supplement your application.

Yes, there is light at the end of the pandemic tunnel but we need to be prepared for the financial challenges 2021 may present as a result.

Thursday, 3 December 2020

Mia’s Cocktails are shaking up the lockdown

For Mia Williamson, the national lockdown in March could not have come at a worse time. Having worked in the bar industry for 5 years, she had decided that 2020 was going to be the year of change for her, and had just packed in her full time job to concentrate on her newly registered business ‘Shaker Shaker’ specialising in a bespoke mobile bar service. She had joined the Enterprise Hub programme at the Wirral Chamber and was busy working on her business plan when the announcement came.

Mia up and running

Mia was faced with two choices, to call last orders on her new business or to take the plunge and adapt to survive. Fortunately she decided on the latter and, realising that her target customers were now confined to their homes and unable to socialise, she took to social media and launched #14CocktailsIn14 Days. “I decided to capitalise on my cocktail-making skills and post a video a day for 14 days showing people how to make a different cocktail each day!” By keeping people’s spirits up – literally – and posting engaging content, Mia soon saw her number of followers increase. She says, “I totally underestimated the power of social media. Initially I found it very daunting taking and posting videos of myself, but I soon realised that my posts were triggering engagements and people wanted to see what I was up to each day!’

Having built up a healthy following on social media, the ease in lockdown restrictions enabled Mia to launch her cocktail delivery service. ‘I announced it on the Wednesday’, says Mia, ‘and by Friday my week was fully booked’. Unlike other competitors, Shaker Shaker’s delivery service provided DIY cocktail kits containing all the ingredients and instructions, so clients were buying the experience as well as the drink – and this quirky twist went down a storm.

The combination of her products and her social media activity soon attracted the attention of other businesses within the catering and events sector and Mia found herself networking and collaborating with other local independents who provided support, cross-referrals, re posts and friendship during the difficult summer months.

Mia’s advice to other start-up businesses would be ‘to focus on the journey and not the destination, move out of your comfort zone – challenge yourself and explore every opportunity!’ She admits that when she first started, she didn’t know how to run a business but through the Enterprise Hub programme she not only enjoyed the workshops that were on offer but felt that she particularly benefitted from bouncing ideas around in the one to one sessions and the encouragement she received from the advisers Heidi and Paul.

So what does the future hold for Mia and Shaker Shaker? Well the support she received over the summer from her client base and fellow independent businesses has left her in no doubt that it is only a matter of time, when restrictions regarding gatherings are lifted, that the full potential of Shaker Shaker will be realised. She already has bookings for next year for her all-inclusive mobile bar package and cocktail making classes, but in the meantime, she’s back to her DIY cocktail deliveries – adding a bit of sparkle and fun to her client’s lives!

For more information on Shaker Shaker you can contact Mia on: / 07708 777 990 or follow her cocktail making antics on or her Instagram page.

Get in touch if you are thinking of starting a business in the Liverpool City Region or have a new business under three years old. You can speak to our team via or 0151 706 8113.

Friday, 27 November 2020

Ellie gets creative with new business Ellie Francesca Design

When the UK lockdown restrictions were announced in March, life and business changed as we know it. For many aspiring entrepreneurs, lockdown gave them the opportunity to knuckle down and work on their enterprise ideas. This was the case for Ellie Francesca Watson who in October launched her e-commerce shop Ellie Francesca Design 

Working as a freelance artist, Ellie was making income through commissions and funding from community projects and workshops whilst working a part-time job at a Chinese takeaway. To gain steady income well into the future, she started to devise a plan to commercialise her work and open her own e-commerce shop.

Instead of taking a step back during the lockdown, Ellie used her time at home to focus on opening her own Etsy shop. Following a recommendation from a fellow artist at the Hazlehurst Studio, she decided to investigate The Women’s Organisation and what support could be offered to her. 

She was set up with business advisor Jo Mountfort who got straight to work helping Ellie reinvent herself and her work as a brand. 

She told us: “Every time I spoke to Jo, she really engaged and involved herself with my concept and vision. She fully understood who I was marketing my products at and has been a crucial step in both promoting and expanding my range at the shop. She was also really great at suggesting webinars and programmes that would be beneficial to me”

The Women’s Organisation gave her the opportunity to attend a range of webinars and business training – something that Ellie took advantage of during the initial stages of lockdown. 

She continued “The Women’s Organisation really helped the process become less overwhelming, the webinars gave me a reason to get up and focus, at a time when it would have been easy to lose motivation. I’ve really enjoyed the networking and hearing stories from other Liverpool based entrepreneurs, especially the ones nearer my age group”

Ellie Francesca Design officially launched in October, selling hand drawn portrait prints and greetings cards of iconic and well-loved musicians through an e-commerce shop on Esty. A self-confessed old soul, Ellie has used her love of music and record collecting to inspire the artwork she creates.

Starting a business during a pandemic is not the only hurdle Ellie has had to overcome, making it all the sweeter that she can now call herself a business owner. In 2018, she faced the most challenging year of her life when her health began to decline, resulting in her having to drop out of university and take a step away from her art. 

The physical challenges from her health condition left her suffering with the performance in both of her hands - every creatives worst nightmare. After a diagnosis Rheumatoid Arthritis in the spring of 2019, and time out to recoup, things started to look up. 

Ellie told us “I’m actually thankful that my personal circumstances were a little rocky for a while, in the long term it has driven me forward and taught me to become more resilient!”

With sales and commissions rolling in, Ellie is now thinking about new ventures such as series for pioneering women and work to pay tribute to NHS workers across the country.

What has Ellie learned from starting her business?

“The business is still very new and it’s very much a learning process, but I’ve learned now to fixate and worry about the small details that can always be resolved. I have probably written enough names down in my notebook to keep me sketching away till I am 80! Thanks to the Women’s Organisation, who’ve helped me get my business up and running, I’m now in a position where I feel the possibilities are endless and the skies the limit.”

To find out more about Ellie Francesca Design you can check out her Etsy, Instagram & Facebook

If you have been inspired by Ellie’s story and are interested in starting or growing a business of your own, then Enterprise Hub can help!

Get in touch if you are thinking of starting a business in the Liverpool City Region or have a new business under three years old. You can speak to our team via or 0151 706 8113.

Wednesday, 11 November 2020

Search launched for LCR Tech Climbers 2021

The search is on to find the stars of Liverpool City Region’s digital sector for inclusion in the LCR Tech Climbers 2021 list.

Following the success of the inaugural list in 2019, the second list promises to be even bigger and better and will showcase the top performing technology-led businesses that make Liverpool City Region one of the UK’s most exciting tech destinations.

The list is being run in association with BusinessCloud and will be unveiled at an exclusive event in 2021 and published online.

Entries to the 2021 list will be judged on:

  • The impact of the technology or service;
  • Innovation and IP development potential; and
  • Investment potential of the technology.

Entries close on December 14th and will be revealed at an exclusive launch event on January 28th, 2021.

The partners for LCR Tech Climbers 2021 are Growth Platform, Brabners; MSIF; Invest Liverpool; ZUT Media; and Gather.

Piers Dryden, partner at Brabners, said: “Brabners Technology Sector Group is passionate about supporting the region’s innovative businesses and is delighted to be part of LCR Tech Climbers 2021.

“The region has a vibrant technology ecosystem and it’s exciting to see so many smart and innovative businesses developing solutions and services that fuel economic, social and commercial growth. They will shape our collective future as the region emerges from the shadow of the Covid-19 pandemic and beyond.”

Helen Cross, digital and creative champion at Growth Platform said: “We set Tech Climbers up to showcase the brilliant people and products behind the growth and resilience in the region. There are so many great stories of leadership and tenacity emerging from the technology community at the moment, and I’m really proud that with our partners we’ve made this happen again in 2021.”

David Walters, investment manager at MSIF, said: “We are thrilled to be part of this year’s LCR Tech Climbers – celebrating the best of the region’s scale-up and early stage technology talent.

“In 2021 the investment teams at MSIF are becoming even more focussed on supporting tech in the region through equity and loan vehicles as well as our extensive eco-system of technology thought leaders.

 “The LCR is becoming a beacon for rich IP and product-led tech whether that is AI, digital or increasingly Immersive technology companies.

“Tech Climbers is a great way to further showcase the remit of talent the LCR holds and will further demonstrate why Liverpool is one of the UK’s best tech destinations.”

For more and to enter details go to

Friday, 30 October 2020

Paul’s New Business Is Standing Tall!

Is there anything more annoying than having nowhere convenient to hang your belongings close-by when out at a venue, particularly if you have to use the floor?  Well, Paul Morris’s new business, Small Stands, now offers a simple and attractive solution to this age-old problem.

Paul Morris, founder of Small Stands

But before his dream of becoming his own boss came true, Paul worked in the education sector, the NHS and finally, Lever Brothers, where he worked as an IT manager.  What started as a 4-year plan ended up as 20 years of service, and once he’d achieved all that he could and with IT work slowing down, he decided to leave employment and start up his own business - right in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic!  

Not great timing for some, but Paul was determined to make a living out of a hobby of making things and doing something he enjoyed.  And it was during a trip to Mexico City that Paul kept seeing these curious, but very popular, pieces of table-side furniture in the restaurants, and this became the inspiration for Small Stands!

So, what is “Small Stands” and its products? Well, imagine individual smaller-scale coat stands, tailor-made in a variety of attractive finishes and colours, ideal for any commercial business that operates from premises.  Then imagine that with these products, the business is then able to offer its customers a secure, clean and convenient close-by alternative to the traditional tall coat stand, back of a chair or dirty floor that they would normally have to use!  And with the current pandemic in everybody’s mind, there’s the added benefit that these small stands, if regularly sanitised, can prevent cross-contamination from other people’s belongings.  

Paul will initially be looking to establish a market for ‘Small Stands’ on Wirral, but with three models on offer already and with more product ideas to follow, he has every intention of expanding his business further afield.  In addition, Paul is keen to eventually have his own premises with a view to taking on some additional staff should the business grow sufficiently enough for him to do this.

And as someone who has never started his own business before, Paul’s advice is very practical: “Put a timeline against your start-up plans, then double it!  Then stick to that!”

And having gone through the Enterprise Hub programme at Wirral Chamber, how did he find the experience? 

His response is very positive: 

“The Enterprise Hub has helped me enormously and I wouldn’t be at the stage I am without them. They have a wide range of knowledge which helped me understand the whole start-up process. They also have a huge network to draw upon, helping me source suppliers and reaching out to experts in the field. I also joined many webinars such as finance, website design and social media (which I needed!). But mostly the one-to-ones where invaluable, the team at Enterprise Hub are fantastic at giving guidance and helping you to make your own decisions and giving you direction.” 

So if you’re a business that operates from a venue and would like to know more about how Small Stands can improve your customers’ experience, ring Paul Morris on 07434 641 927, e-mail him at or visit his website at 

Get in touch if you are thinking of starting a business in the Liverpool City Region or have a new business under three years old. You can speak to our team via or 0151 706 8113.

Thursday, 29 October 2020

Debbie Helps People Train and Develop with Purpose at Nurture Training

Debbie Richards, Owner of Nurture Training LTD, is providing vital training to people all across the region. After falling into the role of Assessor, Debbie decided she had enough experience to set up her own business, and hasn’t looked back since taking the leap into self-employment over a year ago.

Debbie explained: “I ended up falling into the role of assessor and worked through to management roles. While I was working in various educational roles,  I just fell in love with the sector. I loved everything about it; enrolments, the admin, the processes – everything!

"I’d worked with a number of providers so I had quite a lot of experience, and I thought I could go this alone and have my own training company. So, I approached the Chamber to find out more about how I could go about starting up.”

Debbie approached St Helens Chamber’s Start Up team, who can provide support for people looking to start their own business; with everything from writing a business plan to accessing funding.

Debbie continued: “Once I had it in my mind to set up my business, I called the Start Up team and booked an appointment with Steve to start putting everything in motion. 

“I’d actually approached the Start Up team the year before, but I decided I wasn’t ready at that point. But, this time I knew I was ready to take the leap!”

With the support from St Helens Chamber’s Start Up team, Debbie set up Nurture Training. Nurture Training have an extensive list of training courses, with the aim to “Train & Develop with Purpose” and allow people to gain deep insights into the areas they are studying in.

Debbie explained: “I’m extremely passionate about the adult education sector, so setting up Nurture Training has allowed me to pass on this passion.

“I’ve always been committed to my own professional development, so this combined with my passion for education means I can deliver a range of professional and industry qualifications.”

St Helens Chamber’s Start Up team worked closely with Debbie to help her become more business-minded, and have continued to support her as her business grows.

Debbie commented: “The Support was fantastic, Stella and Steve were both very informative and even now they still get in touch to check in on me and see how I’m doing. They are really invested my success - Steve is getting in touch to help me with growth and marketing soon too which is great.

“It’s nice to have that followed up and know the support is still available even after I’ve set up. The support is outstanding - I’m really pleased it’s there.”

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

To find out more about Business Start Up Support visit

Get in touch if you are thinking of starting a business in the Liverpool City Region or have a new business under three years old. You can speak to our team via or 0151 706 8113.

Wednesday, 28 October 2020

Changing the way we learn with Talk Twenties

Whilst school education is a crucial part of every young person’s life, many argue that some essential skills are left out of the curriculum. Noticing the lack of life skills being taught to help the transition into adulthood, award-winning blogger and former teacher Gaby Mendes has decided to change the way we learn with her business Talk Twenties

Gaby Mendes

Navigating her way through her twenties, Gaby soon discovered that there were still a lot of life skills she did not know about. When it came to renting for the first time, starting a new job, or saving for your first home – it was obvious to her that there was a lack of support for young people to access.

She decided to set up a blog to write about the challenges young professionals face in their twenties. It was through this blog that she started to hear back from others in the same boat as her – confused and unsure about who to turn to for advice. 

This feedback got her thinking about the benefits of building a community of twenty-somethings to support each other – and just like that, Talk Twenties was born!

Ready to make her idea a reality, Gaby reached out to The Women’s Organisation after hearing about the support from a colleague. 

She told us: “I was feeling really overwhelmed by the finance and marketing side of starting up and I really didn’t know where to start.”

She was able to access training sessions on business planning, marketing, and business finance. The sessions helped her to start building her creative content and stay up to date with the latest HMRC regulations for self-employment. 

She was also able to attend regular 1-2-1 meetings with her business adviser Jo Mountfort. 

“Jo helped me with putting together agreements for my contributors, this helped me set boundaries with others supporting my business. She also helped me work on a cash flow document to manage my finance”

Talk Twenties officially launched in 2020, upskilling people with a range of content that is not taught in schools. The one-stop shop produces a regular podcast, online resources, webinars, courses, and topical blogs from members of the community. 

The original concept for the business was to create festival style events with expert guest speakers, but due to COVID-19 restrictions, Gaby had to act fast to adapt the business to run online. During the outbreak, the business launched their first podcast that now boasts over 26 episodes and has had special guests including Girls in marketing and Less Waste Laura. 

Gaby recently monetised the business by launching an online shop selling colourful prints and online courses, with the first courses supporting first-time buyers to understand the house buying process.

So, what plans does Gaby have next for Talk Twenties?

“We hope to launch physical events when it’s safe to do so! It is still early days, but I have been able to monetise my business, bring in contributors and increase my exposure with the support of enterprise hub. I don’t think I’d be where I am today without The Women’s Organisation!”

To find out more about Talk Twenties you can check out their Website, Twitter, Instagram & Facebook

If you have been inspired by Gaby’s story and are interested in starting or growing a business of your own, then Enterprise Hub could help!

Get in touch if you are thinking of starting a business in the Liverpool City Region or have a new business under three years old. You can speak to our team via or 0151 706 8113.