Frequently, business owners reach a fork in the road, unsure of which route will take their business forward to the next phase of growth. After years of relying on their own expertise to build the business, they find they have new teams of people to manage, more substantial financials to understand and new possibilities for growth to explore.
These require an investment in their own management and capacity – upskilling their own leadership to make the right choices and move forward.
Advances online have transformed how business owners can access high-quality education that provides skills to grow a business. Static video lectures are giving way to adaptive interactive learning tools that give business owners skills using their own business data as an example. This makes training relevant, efficient and engaging for time-pressed entrepreneurs.
Online tools also lower the access barrier to experts and networks. The global scale of the internet makes previously niche topics possible, with a viable audience spread across every time zone. World-class experts can coach businesses across the globe – live – from virtual theatres. What we are seeing now is online education not only catching up to in-person education standards, but frequently surpassing the impact we have in-person alone.
When we transitioned the 10,000 Small Businesses programme to a blended model – part online, part in-person – we wanted to best balance the investment in time required to make a real difference, with a respect for the pressures a small business owner faces.
Still, when we launched this iteration in early 2016, we were anxious to see if the balance was right. We felt it important to preserve seven full residential days when the business owner steps away from the day-to-day activities of their firm to work on it from the outside looking in.
In doing so, we discovered that this reflection time was crucial, allowing participants to bond in-person before continuing those conversations online with established, mutual trust. The online elements integrate the programme more efficiently with the business too, allowing participants to implement a tool or share a finding immediately after – or even during – each module. Even though the participants are spread across the UK during these online weeks, they still support one another in webinars, discussion forums and one-to-ones, maintaining a crucial support network they carry forward after the programme.
This network is now 1,300 business owners strong – stretching from the northern isles of Scotland down to Cornwall. It encompasses all sectors, business sizes, generational groups and social enterprises to create an ecosystem united in growth. This generates the most vital resource: shared experience – the understanding that while it can be lonely as a business owner making hard decisions, someone who has been through the same experience is only a click away.
The Industrial Strategy challenges us to do more to foster local economic growth. While in-person relationships and networks will always be key to building a better business, peer-to-peer networks that connect businesses with world-class expertise at the click of a mouse allow us to step up to this challenge.