Helen | 2 Feb 2015
A Shropshire businesswoman is calling for a scheme supporting the growth of small enterprises to be extended, fearing some business owners may only just be discovering its potential. Helen Culshaw, director of Ascendancy in Shifnal, has been an adviser under the Government Growth Voucher programme since its launch in January 2014 and has worked with a number of county businesses providing strategic advice on digital marketing.
But with the scheme due to end in March and currently no plans to extend she is concerned that many entrepreneurs and small companies will be missing out on the opportunity to grow and develop their business. She said: “This is a fantastic scheme enabling small businesses to access valuable business advice that they may not otherwise be able to afford.
“Small businesses are vital to the economy here in Shropshire to keep it vibrant, varied and buoyant and they need all the support they can get to grow and develop.
“Unfortunately, as with a lot of good schemes, they come to an end before many businesses find out that they even exist which is a real shame. “With the Growth Voucher scheme due to end in March it doesn’t give businesses much time to get their applications for funding in.
“It would be great if the Government were to extend the programme for a further 12 months or longer giving more businesses the chance to benefit.”
The programme enables businesses to apply for up to £2,000 worth of match funded vouchers to spend on strategic advice on finance and cash flow, recruiting and developing staff, improving leadership and management skills, marketing and making the most of digital technology. Over the last 12 months Ms Culshaw has worked with a number of small businesses under the programme – the latest entrepreneur being Johanna Warren-Smith, the founder of by Sikora which specialises in the sale of sheepskin slippers and accessories.
The 25-year-old former Harper Adams student who is a member of women’s network Women in Rural Enterprise (WiRE), says it has been a massive boost to the business to access the expertise and advice of Ms Culshaw.
She said: “The business has gone from strength to strength in the last 12 months but with Helen’s advice I can now really concentrate on developing the website which is vital to increase sales.
“After just one meeting with Helen I managed to put together an entire online marketing strategy for the business making use of social media and SEO and I now have a very clear plan of how the business will develop over the next 12 months which is fantastic.
“Developing a website is one of those things you think you can do yourself but after a bit of fumbling about I realised I needed some expert input.
“With Helen’s mentoring I have been able to develop the website much more rapidly and in turn move the business forward.
“However like many other small businesses I would not have been able to afford Helen’s expertise without the support of the Growth Voucher scheme.
“I agree that the Government should look to extend the programme so other small businesses can take advantage.
“I know from speaking to other small businesses that they have been aware of the scheme but are only now really starting to look into it.”
Miss Warren-Smith, who tours trade fairs and markets selling her high quality sheepskin products, spotted the business opportunity after countless friends commented on her own slippers.
“I have Polish heritage and in Poland the slippers are very traditional so whenever I would visit friends would ask me to bring some back,” she said.
“I’ve always had an interest in fashion and business so when I finished university and didn’t know what to do I thought I would just give the business idea a go.
“I’m so pleased I did. I’ve learned so much along the way and I have a very positive feeling about 2015.”
Whilst the closing date for the Growth Voucher scheme is in March, vouchers applied for in March will be valid for several weeks. Anyone wanting more information on the services provided by Ascendancy Marketing can contact Helen and the team on 01952 462845 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information on by Sikora visit http://www.bysikora.co.uk.
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