Sponsored feature: B2B London - The growth business

Entrepreneurs and leaders of small and medium-sized enterprises eager for expansion will find specialist help, advice and encouragement on 27-28 June at a London event tailored to their needs. Preview by Dave Waller.

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

It's not hard to see the appeal of starting up a business. Running your own show means working with something you love and not having to bust your guts week in, week out only for someone else to get all the credit - and profit. Sounds perfect. Which goes some way to explain why there are now more than 4.3 million small businesses in the UK. But while the oft-quoted figure that half of all SMEs fold within the first year is an exaggeration - the DTI says it's more like 20% - getting a small to medium-sized business off the ground is tough. Growing it is even tougher.

The stakes are high when gambling on your own project. And as most small enterprises don't have the specialists to do the tricky stuff - such as a financial director or a dedicated HR wing - bosses have to be able to play a number of roles themselves. Someone running a company of 30 will need to be as slick with sick days and firewalls as they are with carrying the '1' when totting up sales.

'When you set up a company, you're likely to have come from one specific discipline,' says Nick James, managing director of B2B Portfolio. 'Suddenly, there's a need to be an expert in all areas, while having to concentrate on sustaining and growing the business.'

Picking up a few new tricks may be easy in theory, but any small-enterprise owner will know that there's more to it than a quick glance at an Idiot's Guide to HR. Even if it were that simple, most don't have the luxury of thumbing through manuals. Says James: 'You need to know everything, yet you don't have enough hours in the day to stop, do proper research and keep on top of information that is critical to business sustainability and growth.'

Help is, however, at hand. Last year, B2B Portfolio surveyed UK SMEs, asking their time-poor directors which areas of the business caused them the greatest trouble. The most common stumbling-blocks were found to be sales and marketing, IT, finance and HR. These areas will each have a dedicated theatre at B2B London, at Earls Court 2 on 27-28 June - an event that promises to provide information, ideas, advice and inspiration to business-people looking to develop their businesses.

As well as more than 200 top-flight exhibitors, whose presence will enable visitors to source the best in services and products, the event will present 50 seminars on subjects central to running a successful SME.

If all goes to plan, growth should come to all companies at some point, and with it questions like when to get a first company car or appoint a finance director. This shift in horizons brings pressures of its own.

'Leadership styles have to change as your business itself grows and changes,' says Gerard Burke, director of the business growth and development programme at Cranfield School of Management. 'What you should be doing - and how you should do it - in a £20 million-turnover company is fundamentally different from when it was a start-up. Making behavioural changes is critical to successful growth.'

Burke has worked with hundreds of fast-growing businesses and will be sharing the secrets of what separates such high-growth firms from the rest of the pack in B2B London's Finance for Business theatre. Other seminars in the finance area will focus on how to get the best out of your financial advisers, identifying the key ratios necessary to understand the performance of your business and where to look for finance in the first place.

But running a business isn't just a numbers game. Most tend to involve a few people too. Growth can bring a host of pressures in this respect and without a dedicated HR arm to deal with them, a manager will need to understand, influence, motivate and inspire staff - once the right people have been found in the first place.

It can be tough trying to recruit from the same talent pool as the larger corporates, with their big names, deep pockets and enticing benefits.

But smaller operations can exploit factors that large corporates often struggle to match. 'Our advice to SMEs is to compete on the human level, not simply on the financial one,' says Angela Mortimer, chairman of Angela Mortimer Recruitment.

Indeed, often a smaller business offers a more flexible working environment, in which staff can assume greater involvement and mould roles to suit their taste better than in a larger, more rigid corporation. And nowadays, candidates are increasingly examining their options holistically when choosing the right employer.

'It's not about money alone,' says Mortimer, 'but a combined package that says "this company cares about me and is prepared to invest in my future".' Her company will present its ideas on how to fight the corporates for talent in B2B London's HR theatre. The theatre will also feature seminars on employment law, health at work and uncovering the intellectual property of any company's greatest asset - its staff.

Of course, problems aren't confined to internal matters. Many small firms falter by failing to attract business. Big firms can spend cash on slick marketing; SMEs often can't. Elaborate TV, magazine and billboard campaigns are unlikely to be an option, as is doing a Branson and navigating the Himalayas in a big branded balloon. Knowing your business and your market goes a long way to make up that ground.

But the signs are that changes to the marketplace will benefit SMEs, not least as it moves towards one led by individuals. 'The mass market is dying - we consider ourselves less as consumers and more as independently minded, independently moneyed individuals,' says Richard Duvall, founder of Egg, the world's biggest digital bank. 'This means we're looking for the individual, authentic services that smaller enterprises can provide.

The future is SMEs, not huge corporations.'

Indeed, having a good idea and getting it out there still seems a sure route to success - and one that doesn't depend on having limitless cash.

Just look at eBay. Nine years ago, the online auction house had 34 people.

Now, buying and selling on the site is the primary income source of 780,000 people in the US and 120,000 in Europe. Says Duvall: 'Granted, eBay is one of the biggest success stories of the past decade, but it just shows what's possible if you find a product or service that allows individuals to do their thing.'

Duvall's seminar in B2B London's Sales & Marketing theatre will reveal how the 'Individual Revolution' is transforming business, alongside other talks on e-mail marketing and using PR, and business coach Rasheed Ogunlaru's seminar on 'Being your own Brand'.

Research by B2B Portfolio has revealed the biggest area of concern for small-business people and entrepreneurs to be IT. This is perhaps not surprising. To many, podcasts and wikis might sound like something out of Star Wars rather than tools to publicise their company. Technology continues to advance at an astonishing rate, and businesses often find themselves scrambling to keep up with developments. 'Just knowing what's out there is a problem,' says Paul Stapleton of Oracle.

But it's not just new-fangled gizmos that cause problems. Often, a lack of awareness can surround even basic applications. 'Many SMEs don't use databases at all,' says Stapleton. 'They'll e-mail a spreadsheet around, which raises issues of security, with people nipping off to the pub with sensitive data on their laptop.

'Small business owners see companies like Oracle offering databases for £150-million turnover companies and think "that's not in my price point".

But we now provide powerful databases at affordable prices, and flexible systems that will grow as your company grows, from five to 1,000 users.'

Stapleton will be appearing at the fourth of B2B London's theatres, dedicated to finding your way through the technology maze. Representatives from BT, Business Link for London and IoD, among others, will also be on hand to enlighten SMEs on how best to exploit advances in everything from integrated voice and data networks to websites.

Smaller businesses may lack the punching power of the big boys, but there's plenty of advice out there to help them compete - and they don't need to bust the budget to do so. The message of B2B London is clear: success lies in listening to those who've already made it and swapping ideas with others who hope to.

SEMINAR SCHEDULE THE FOUR THEATRES OF ACTION

I.T.

THEATRE

Tuesday 27 June

10.30-11.15 Blogs, podcasts and wikis - the future of online

Jon Pollard, global head of digital, Gyro International

11.30-12.15 The technology survival kit for growing businesses

Paul Stapleton, Oracle

12.30-1.15 Deriving maximum value from technology

Jim Norton, senior policy adviser e-Business and e-Government, IoD

2.30-3.15 Are you turned on? How small IT improvements can give big benefits to your business

Representative from BT/ Lincolnshire County Council (Broadband Project Team)

3.30-4.15 How an integrated voice and data network can boost your bottom line

Nortel/BT

4.30-5.15 What does your website say about you?

Sally Fok on behalf of Business Link for London

Wednesday 28 June

10.30-11.15 How an integrated voice and data network can boost your bottom line

Nortel/BT

11.30-12.15 Are you turned on? How small IT improvements can give big benefits to your business

Representative from BT/Lincolnshire County Council (Broadband Project Team)

12.30-1.15 Deriving maximum value from technology

Jim Norton, senior policy adviser e-Business and e-Government, IoD

2.30-3.15 The essential guide to disaster recovery

Marco van Beek, Forget About IT

3.30-4.15 What does your website say about you?

Sally Fok on behalf of Business Link for London FINANCE FOR BUSINESS THEATRE

Tuesday 27 June

10.30-11.15 Turning credit into cash

Abe WalkingBear Sanchez, American credit management guru

11.30-12.15 The role of outsourcing in business today

Abe WalkingBear Sanchez, American credit management guru

12.30-1.15 Knowledge transfer partnerships (KTPs)

Dr Ian Harrison, director of knowledge transfer services, DTI

1.30-2.15 Entrepreneur's guide to buying and selling companies

Jo Haigh, corporate financier, IoD

2.30-3.15 The secrets of successful high-growth SMEs

Gerard Burke, Cranfield

3.30-4.15 Saving time and money - How to make cost savings typically enjoyed by larger companies

American Express

4.30-5.15 Raising finance to grow your business

John Mathews on behalf of Business Link for London

Wednesday 28 June

10.30-11.15 How to float your business on AIM

Vitesse Media plc

11.30-12.15 Entrepreneur's guide to buying and selling companies

Jo Haigh, corporate financier, IoD

12.30-1.00 How to get the best out of your financial advisers

Steven Bruck, partner, Blick Rothenberg Chartered Accountants

1.15-1.45 Saving time and money - How to make cost savings typically enjoyed by larger companies

American Express

2.00-2.45 Strategic finance for non-financial managers

Barry Soraff on behalf of Business Link for London

3.00-3.45 Advising your clients on profitable credit sales

Mark Rhodes, head of broker sales, Atradius

4.00-4.45 Get paid faster!

Metachange Ltd

SALES AND MARKETING THEATRE

Tuesday 27 June

10.30-11.15 A great marketing plan is only the start

Tim Berry, president, Palo Alto Software

11.30-12.15 The future of marketing

Richard Duvall, founder of Egg and of Zopa

12.30-1.15 The secrets of successful marketing

Andy Harfoot on behalf of IoD

1.30-2.15 The importance of data in marketing

Nick Frazer, head of B2B Marketing, Experian

2.30-3.15 CRM - How it can grow your business

Darren Mason, Oracle

4.30-5.15 How to use PR to boost your business

Kerry Savage on behalf of Business Link for London

Wednesday 28 June

10.30-11.15 The power of influence

Tom Lambert, The Consultant's Consultant

11.30-12.15 The importance of data in marketing

Nick Frazer, head of B2B Marketing, Experian

12.30-1.15 Don't give your assets away - Understanding your intellectual property rights

Colin Allaway, principal specialist, London Manufacturing Advisory Service (MAS)

1.30-2.15 How to harness the power of e-mail marketing for your business

Chris Hare, group account director, Gyro International

2.30-3.15 The secrets of successful marketing

Andy Harfoot on behalf of IoD

3.30-4.15 Harness the power of television advertising to grow your business

Mark White, executive director of sales, Channel 5

4.30-5.00 Be your own brand

Rasheed Ogunlaru, leading life coach

HR FOR BUSINESS THEATRE

Tuesday 27 June

10.30-11.15 Competing with large corporates in the war for talent

John Mortimer, Angela Mortimer Ltd

11.30-12.15 The value of human capital

David Chesley, IoD

12.30-1.15 Healthy employees = healthy returns

John Dean, director at HSA

2.30-3.15 The value of an MBA to your business (Debate)

3.30-4.15 People and passion - the lifeline of your business

Rasheed Ogunlaru on behalf of Business Link for London

4.30-5.15 SME guide to successful recruitment

Gareth Osborne, managing director, Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC)

5.30-6.15 Offering employee rewards alongside company rewards American Express

Wednesday 28 June

10.30-11.15 Increasing value by understanding cultural capital

Malcolm Lewis, Felicity Lee, Chris Monk

11.30-12.15 Competing with large corporates in the war for talent

John Mortimer, Angela Mortimer Ltd

12.30-1.15 The value of human capital

David Chesley, IoD

1.30-2.15 Healthy employees = healthy returns

John Dean, director at HSA

2.30-3.15 How to build your business and still take time off

Hannah McNamara on behalf of Business Link London

3.30-4.15 Offering employee rewards alongside company rewards American Express

4.30-5.00 How to avoid pitfalls and expensive claims

Chris Syder, Clarkslegal

SUNDAY TIMES 'HOW I MADE IT' THEATRE

Work hard, apply passion and grab opportunities. This is some of the business advice on offer from speakers at B2B London's 'How I Made It' theatre. Hosted by Rachel Bridge, enterprise editor of the Sunday Times, this features interviews and Q&A sessions with a number of successful entrepreneurs, running businesses based on everything from ice sculpture to baby clothes. Who better to listen to than those who have already done it?

Tuesday 27 June

10.30 Rory Byrne, founder, Powder Byrne

After an unfulfilling job as a stockbroker, Byrne started a holiday ski business at 23. He raised £5,000 by selling his car and borrowed £10,000 from his mother. He then asked everyone he knew to book a skiing holiday with his company. Powder Byrne now handles up to 7,000 customers per season. Its annual sales are £10m.

12.00 Jill Barker, founder, Green Baby

At the age of 32, after a stint in banking, Barker had a baby and it changed her outlook on life. She opened a tiny shop in Islington, north London, selling just one kind of product - nappies. Her business now sells everything from toiletries to clothing, cots to bed sheets, and turns over more than £3m a year.

2.00 Philip Hughes, founder, Ice Box

Leaving a well-paid job at Forte, he took a course in ice sculpting and spent the family's life savings of £15,000 on buying an ice-making machine and a van. The biggest supplier of ice cubes in London, the Ice Box dreams up stunning creations for film premieres and showbiz parties.

3.30 Sharon Hilditch, founder, Crystal Clear

When Hilditch launched her Crystal Clear skin rejuvenating machine, she decided to ignore conventional ways of marketing and instead spent her first year's promotional budget of £30,000 paying for the services of Max Clifford, in the hope of attracting celebrity followers. Sales reached £5m in 2004.

Wednesday 28 June

10.30 Maria Kempinska, founder, Jongleurs Comedy Club

Kempinska drifted through a series of jobs until, in the early '80s at the age of 23, she was hired to promote a poet performing at the Edinburgh Fringe. After persuading the bank to give her a £300 overdraft, she looked for performers to appear on her stage. When she sold her chain of Jongleurs Comedy Clubs, she received a cheque for £8.5m.

12.00 Tim Roupell, founder, Daily Bread

Roupell quit his job as a city commodities trader to start his own business making sandwiches. He invested £800 in a meat-slicing machine and a couple of baskets, and begged a friend to let him use his basement. Daily Bread now sells 40,000 sandwiches a day and has won a Royal Warrant to sell sandwiches to the Queen. Total sales in 2005 were £11m.

2.00 Trisha Mason, founder, VEF

Sir Terence Conran refused Mason a job as a secretary, saying that if he were to employ her she'd probably try to take his job. When Trisha fell in love with a derelict watermill during a holiday in France 15 years ago, she knew instantly that she had to buy it. Friends would ask her to help them to buy properties, so she decided to set up in business. VEF now has a turnover of approximately £8m.

3.00 Darren Richards, founder, DatingDirect.com

Aged 33 and single, Richards realised the internet could be the perfect way to meet other singletons. But when he looked for an online agency to join, he could find only US-based companies. He launched DatingDirect.com in 1999 at a cost of £2,500. It now has 1.5m active members. The company is now valued at between £25m and £35m.

ASSOCIATED CONFERENCES

The National Enterprise Innovation Conference on 27 June will deliver big ideas to grow your business. Speakers include Bob Geldof, Tom Peters and Richard Duvall.

MT will be hosting the Enterprise 100 conference on 28 June. Speakers include Dr Adrian Atkinson, business psychologist, and Judy Naake, who brought St Tropez Tanning to the UK 10 years ago.

China Expo 2006 offers a unique chance to learn about business opportunities in the world's fastest-growing economy, featuring 200 companies actively seeking international business partners.

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