We caught up with Tara Gillam, Head of Enterprise at Business West to find out more about her role and the support her team can offer businesses in the West of England.
Tara, tell us a bit about yourself and your job role here at Business West.
In my role as Head of Enterprise I oversee the delivery of all our funded programmes covering business start-up, growth and scale-up throughout the South West, primarily focusing in the North of the region. This includes the management of the contract delivery, team management and business development through sourcing new opportunities to grow the department over the coming years. Alongside this I represent Business West on several advisory boards and groups, included UWE’s Business and Management Board and the Governance Group for Swindon and Wiltshire Growth Hub.
What were you doing before you joined the Enterprise team?
I spent over 20 years working in the hospitality and events industry working at various venues and hotels along the M4 corridor, this included being director of sales at a Heathrow Hotel and also setting up and managing a central sales office for Jockey Club Racecourses.
Tell us more about Enterprise and how the team is working with businesses in the region.
When the department was created back in 2012, it was mainly focusing on supporting pre-start up businesses in getting their business idea off the ground and supporting them in accessing finance, but over time we have developed our services to assist the businesses to grow in a sustainable manner supporting them in developing their teams and accessing additional support from within Business West and other strategic partners.
How many businesses has your team supported so far?
Since I started the department in 2012, we have had over 2,700 potential entrepreneurs go through our business planning workshop and supported over 750 new businesses get launched. Alongside this we have helped 522 businesses access over £4.5M in start-up loans.
In your opinion, what’s the biggest challenge small business owners are facing right now?
Economic uncertainty with regards to brexit and the immediate repercussions alongside recruiting staff with the right skills are probably the biggest challenges at the moment. Smaller businesses are trying to keep the status quo at the moment and waiting to make critical investments into technology or infrastructure to aid their businesses growth.
Do you have any advice for potential entrepreneurs thinking of starting their own business?
Have a plan. It doesn’t need to be a large document, but know what you want to achieve and have an action plan to check your progress against. Working in 3 month blocks is a good way to achieve goals and to check what is and isn’t working.
How about business owners who are looking to grow their business, is there anything you’d like to share with them?
Don’t be afraid to ask for support and help. Being a business owner can be quite lonely and isolating, find a good peer group network to speak to other business owners who might be facing the same challenges as you, or who have already made that step change can help. The chamber of commerce is a great network who can support you in making those tough decisions.
A lot of new and growing businesses are looking for financial support in the form of loans and investment, can you point them in the right direction?
Yes, access to the right finance for growing businesses is an area we have been working on. Over the past few months we have been working with some partners to see how we can ease this process for business owners. In 2019 we will be launching a new event to supporting businesses in accessing investment for their business via alternative finance providers.