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Behind the scenes at our Master Class event

Behind the scenes at our Master Class event

Does the government need to go back to school on industrial strategy?

 When Theresa May launched a green paper on the government’s industrial strategy much was made of her stated ambition to help Britain flourish in a post-Brexit world.

The plans outlined a streamlining and shake-up of technical education which was set to make the business of skilling our young people for the workplace of the future both simpler and more effective.

The prime minister also used its publication to underscore another theme of her premiership – that of creating a country of opportunity for all, and not just the privileged few.

But more interestingly within the Green Paper was a comment from business secretary Greg Clark that the strategy would not simply support the ‘incumbents’ but would help emerging sectors and provide a framework for as yet unthought of industries to thrive.

It would also harness the might of Britain’s financial services sector to support companies as they both start and seek to grow.

Fine words indeed but how relevant are the plans – which are still in the consultation stage?

Chris Perry, CEO of Swarm Apprenticeships, a social enterprise and Future50 member which supports SMEs across Norfolk, Suffolk, and Essex, in the recruitment and training of apprentices, welcomed the focus on vocational training.

But he warned that the proposed 15 training routes that the government has outlined must not be too rigid.

“Our concern is that once a person goes down one of these routes, what happens when they get to 18 and think that it isn’t for them,” he said. “That happens more than the government knows. When you are young you do not know 100pc what you are going to do. We get a lot of people who change their minds.

“Pigeon-holing people too early may actually waste money. What we are concerned about is that we are making clones which big businesses want to recruit. What about SMEs who want multi-hatted, multi-skilled young people? Would these 15 routes be relevant to a small Future50 business.

We exist because smaller businesses want more complete people who can do a bit of everything. What about the leaders and the innovators? Where are they going to come from?

James Leeds, CEO of Pupil Asset, a Norwich-based Future50 business, said while the government’s ambitions were laudable, more could still be done.

The entrepreneur and his team spent much of last week at the BETT 2017 trade show at London’s ExCel rubbing shoulders with the likes of Google, Sony, Apple and Microsoft as well as a plethora of smaller businesses computing in the growing ‘edutech’ sector.

The move was part of the firm’s growth strategy to win new business beyond its current stronghold in Norfolk, and to find out about the latest innovations in the sector.

 “I think innovation in education could be faster, and there is a long way to go in adopting technology in schools,” he said.

“It’s going to require a lot more effort than just lip service. The industries of the future are going to be mostly technology-based.

“But the biggest thing that is going to help with the upskilling of our kids is improved social mobility.

“These things are intertwined. Reducing inequality will have more effect than any new initiative – doing one without the other isn’t going to work.”












why too many start-ups is proving taxing for the chancellor

While a rising number of start-ups is something to celebrate, it could prove a taxing problem for the chancellor Philip Hammond in his budget on March 8 says Shaun Lowthorpe


There are many things which can keep business owners awake at night – but finding ways of paying more tax is not likely to be one of them.

However, it is something which may well be on the mind of Philip Hammond, chancellor of the exchequer when he delivers his first budget next month.

The rise of self-employment has been fuelling the growth in the workforce over the last eight years, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS).

Typically, the increase in start-ups is something which as a country we tend to celebrate rather than decry.

And it was certainly the theme of a reception held by the Sheriff of Norwich at the city’s John Lewis store last week. It has also been a main stay of government policy through the support of initiatives such as the Start-Up Loans Company, and Funding Circle to help fledgling entrepreneurs get their ventures off the ground.

Yet the IFS point to figures from the Office for Budget Responsibility which estimate that the rapid growth in the number of small companies will cost the Exchequer an additional £3.5 billion in 2021–22, because typically they pay less in tax and National Insurance.

It notes that the self-employed get a tax advantage equal to an average of £1,240 per person per year as a result of lower National Insurance Contributions (NICs) relative to employees, which it says “cannot be justified by what are now only very slight differences in benefit entitlements”.

In fact, it says that the self-employed pay £3 billion a year in NICs, but if they were treated just the same as employees they would pay £8 billion a year.

It also acknowledges how company owner-managers can get even lower tax rates by taking income out of a company in the form of (more lightly taxed) dividends rather than wages.

In simple terms the thinking appears to be that start-ups are good when they in turn drive job creation, and with it more tax revenues, but perhaps not so good when they fuel the ‘Gig’ economy or ‘lifestyle entrpreneurship’.

Yet responsible businesses will not object to paying their fair share, but equally they will want to feel that they can reap the reward for taking the risk in the first place and having all those sleepless nights.

And even if you are a one-man band, you are still going to need to pay for services, which will spread money through the economy through a different route.

So business owners should keep a close eye on the March 8 budget to see exactly what steps, if any, the chancellor might take, and how he will support start-ups and SMEs.

But with Mr Hammond already facing a potential climbdown in the wake of anger over looming business rate changes you sense his measures for the self-employed will prove equally as taxing.


Tips to get the most out of any Future50 job shadowing

We recently profiled some Future50 businesses who were taking part in an informal job shadowing programme to see what they could learn from each. Here Paul Gardner from Nwes sets out a useful crib sheet detailing what you can do to make the most out of any shadowing.     

Clarify what the person shadowing is looking to get out of the experience (purpose). Are there any specific areas of interest or outcomes required?
What are the host’s expectations?
Agree type of shadowing e.g.
• Observation (fly on the wall)
• Any “hands on” activities
• Meeting any other colleagues, Q&A sessions,
Agree structure of the visit.
Duration/timing, etc.
Any company etiquette/dress code/security/confidentiality/Health and Safety requirements discussed.
For the HOST:
Prepare an agenda – e.g.  history/ tour of business, introduction to different departments/teams, etc. if relevant.  Include estimated timings/breaks/duration, etc.
Are any materials/resources required – do they need booking, etc?
Advise any other personnel likely to be affected/involved
Prepare any questions or specific areas of interest.
Do some research - familiarise – looks at hosts website, Google search, etc. LinkedIn biogs?
Prepare a biog for the host?

Debrief for both parties – could be a meeting or shared emails, etc.
Were objectives reached?
Reflection - what was learnt? Will I change anything? What best practise can we import/adapt? If so how, what process will be put in place and how will we know it is working as expected?
What went well/not so well?
Did it go as planned?
Would we do it again?
What would we change?


How the Girl on the Train helped fuel October's consumer spending boom

Consumer spending growth in the East of England hit 6.1 per cent year-on-year in October, the highest since Barclaycard began publishing data.

Entertainment was a strong driver of growth for the region with cinema spending at a record high of 16.5 per cent and pubs and restaurants posting double-digit growth at 14.6 per cent. Not all rises are due to consumers splashing out, with price rises and the weakening pound helping push petrol to a 26-month high of 6.4 per cent and hotels up 10.8 per cent. Consumer sentiment suffered a marked drop, with only a third of people feeling confident in the UK economy (compared to nearly one in two in September) and 81 per cent expecting prices to rise.

Consumer spending growth in the East of England reached record levels in October, up 6.1 per cent year-on-year, driven by a mix of increased spend in some categories and rising prices in others.

Data from Barclaycard, which processes nearly half of all the nation’s credit and debit card transactions, shows that spending on the ‘experience economy’ boosted overall growth in the East of England, with Cinema spend rising 16.5 per cent.

The highly anticipated releases of The Girl on the Train, Inferno and Trolls made the cinema a key destination for every member of the family in October. Weekend box office figures throughout the month outperformed those from the same period last year.

Restaurants in the East of England continued to enjoy double-digit growth, rising by 14.6 per cent. Supermarket spending, a large contributor to the overall figure, jumped 1.7 per cent.

Not all spending growth was due to consumers splashing out, however – rising prices in the East of England drove up petrol spending 6.4 per cent, a 26-month high. In addition, the weakening pound inflated hotel spending 10.8 per centas consumers faced unfavourable exchange rates when travelling abroad.

With the value of the pound deteriorating sharply in October, consumers are becoming increasingly concerned at the potential impact of inflation on their purchasing power. Amid rumours that supermarket staples may rise in price, eight in 10 (81 per cent) shoppers expect that changes in inflation over the next 12 months will affect the cost of everyday goods.

As a result of concerns about inflation, the continued weakening of the pound and other deteriorating economic indicators, only a third (32 per cent) of consumers are confident in the UK economy, down from almost half (48 per cent) in September and reversing a trend which last month saw optimists surpass pessimists for the first time since Barclaycard began tracking consumer confidence in 2014. There has also been a corresponding drop in the proportion of those confident in their household finances, from seven in 10 (70 per cent) in September to just five in 10 (55 per cent) in October.

This perceived decrease in purchasing power is notably reflected in spending intentions for Christmas – traditionally an expensive time of year with gifts, socialising and travelling; over a third (37 per cent) of consumers say they plan to spend less on Christmas this year than they did in 2015.

Paul Lockstone, Managing Director at Barclaycard, said: “Consumer spending growth hit a record high in October. While growth in some categories, such as cinemas, restaurants and pubs, was driven by consumers willingly opening their wallets, rising prices were also a contributing factor – notably on petrol forecourts and for consumers travelling abroad.

“The backdrop of ‘hard Brexit’ headlines, the weakening pound and high profile issues such as ‘Marmite-gate’ mean consumers are starting to worry about the impact of inflation on their everyday lives. As we approach Christmas, an expensive time in many households, many consumers are telling us they plan to rein in their spending to ensure they are able to make ends meet.”


Less looks likely to be more as far as eating chocolate is concerned

UEA expert Ratula Chakraborty – Toblerone ‘shrinkflation’ a sign of short-changing to come

The  tempest over Toblerone is “yet another example of shrinkflation,” said a retail pricing expert at the University of East Anglia’s (UEA) Norwich Business School.

Chocolate lovers have vented their anger that less is more as far as Toblerone is concerned, and it could be a taste of things to come as far as one expert is concerned.

Ratula Chakraborty, a senior lecturer in retailing, has been researching how companies shrink pack sizes as a means to pass on higher costs, rather than raising prices directly – and consumers can expect to see more cases of changing chocolate sizes and shrinking sweets.

Ms Chakraborty said: “The new gappy-teeth Toblerone is yet another example of shrinkflation, where shrinking pack contents allows for a backdoor price rise. The packaging sneakily remains the same size and it is only when you open it that you discover you have been short-changed. 

“Unfortunately, we can expect to see many more cases of sly, shrinking products in the coming months as international producers try every means possible to pass on rising prices in the wake of the falling Pound. 

“Consumers need to be vigilant and check package weight carefully before buying.”  


George Osborne's budget: good news, in parts

George Osborne described his eighth Budget as ‘putting the next generation first’, claiming his plans would ‘make Britain fit for the future’. He spoke of sound public finances and lower taxes on business and enterprise to create jobs.

With some specific good news (and more importantly, new money) for our region, and measures to cut both corporation tax and business rates for many small businesses, is this a Budget which we in Norfolk and Suffolk should be celebrating? Well, yes and no.

Four months ago the Office of Budgetary Responsibility (OBR) handed the Chancellor a £27 billion windfall, and he took the opportunity to ease up on austerity.

This all changed last week; growth forecasts have been cut in every year, with average predicted growth over the next three years falling from 2.3 per cent to 2.1 per cent. Mr Osborne seized on weaker global growth as the reason, but there are some big structural problems at home as well, and we should be worrying about these.

Top of this list is productivity. An economy’s ability to use its resources efficiently is at the core of its prosperity, and the fact is that Britain takes a day longer every week to produce the same output as France or Germany.

Compound this lagging productivity with low inflation, and hence a GDP which is rising more slowly, and the net result is, over the next three years government borrowing will have to rise by £36.4 billion. With a backdrop like this, Mr Osborne was always going to struggle to make his Budget a giveaway.

That said, he was pretty generous to small business, from where he evidently sees the future growth coming. He accelerated the downward trend for corporation tax, promising a rate of 17 per cent by 2020.

Whether business owners will gain the feel-good factor from this ‘jam tomorrow’ approach when they are being hit by significant tax increases on dividends (the way many extract the profits they generate) is another matter.

Certainly many small businesses in our region will be happy with his announcement about increased thresholds for business rate exemption, as this cost has become disproportionate for many, especially in the retail sector. Additionally our offshore industry will give a cheer for the cutting of the supplementary charge for oil and gas producers, who are working in a challenging environment at the moment.

An announcement which will affect every business in Norfolk and Suffolk is the proposed ‘Devolution revolution’, which will give East Anglia an elected mayor in charge of a £900 million budget (over 30 years) for road and rail projects, and a further £175 million to build more houses.

This is new money for the region, but just as important will be the strategic shift that will enable the mayor to promote the region and attract more cash from the private sector, investors and local businesses, achieved through a more joined-up and collaborative approach.

The devil will be in the detail, of course, and the whole plan is still subject to public consultation and agreement from councillors across Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire– but if it happens, it can only strengthen all of our futures.

In addition to the new devolution money, a further £151 million has been earmarked towards building new river crossings at Lowestoft and Ipswich. Can we conclude that our region is at last going to get a fair share of the cake from central government? Let’s hope so.

Of course, a big source of uncertainty is the looming EU referendum, and George Osborne wasted no time pointing out in his Budget speech that Britain would be ‘stronger, safer and better off inside the EU’. Could it be argued that his Budget was a pre-referendum sweetener for the self-employed, who will certainly have a big influence in the Brexit debate?

Time will tell; in the meantime, we are left to unpick a strange mixture of generally gloomy macro-economic news coupled with a raft of measures which should be leaving a smile on the faces of many small business owners.

Murray Graham, Lovewell Blake


Budget 2016 - the view from Nwes

Norfolk: Councils are bracing themselves for more cuts and financial uncertainty after George Osborne announced major changes to business rates in the budget. Osborne revealed measures to extend business rate relief to smaller business and shops in the struggling high streets of Norfolk, Suffolk and the country as a whole.

This is planned to take £7bn out of the total business rate take in England over the next five years, which will challenge the local authorities' budgets. Already under the strain of balancing the books, local authorities are facing 7% cuts to town hall spending from 2016 to 2020. They are concerned that this source of funds will now be significantly reduced as a result of the chancellor’s budget announcement.

The full devolution of business rates to councils is set to be completed by 2020. It will be interesting to see how this will be achieved.

Richard Voisey, Nwes Future50 Business Advisor (Norfolk)


Suffolk: Does the sugar tax reveal a shift in the way we pay tax? Leaving aside the apparent u-turn in the Government’s approach to taxing sugary drinks, there is an interesting methodology behind this tax. Whilst we’ve been used to tax receipts generally filling the vaults of the wider Exchequer, the Chancellor has felt the need, on this occasion, to tax an industry specifically to spend the receipts offsetting the effects the products they produce – in this case to health. Whether this is an attempt to make the tax more palatable (excuse the pun) and justifiable or whether there is a genuine shift in taxation methodology isn’t clear.

If you’re running a soft drinks business you might well be recovering from the news and considering what needs to change in the business. But should this 'robbing Peter to pay Paul' tax approach continue, several other sectors may find the Chancellor's tax spotlight shining in their direction. As innovators and entrepreneurs, whether your business will stay on or off the Government’s 'favourites' list might become increasingly more significant...

The good news is that the discussion can be continued over a pint - that won’t go up for now anyway.

Paul Gardner, Nwes Future50 Business Advisor (Suffolk)


Budget 2016 - good for SMEs?

The recent budget should hopefully be well received by SME's and entrepreneurs although maybe less so than larger multinational businesses. The further reductions in corporation tax rates to eventually being as low as 17% will clearly go down well but 2020 is still a few years off.

The increased tax rates for company shareholders extracting profits via dividend, effective from 6 April, is far more current but hopefully won't deter too many people from becoming entrepreneurs.

Increased thresholds for businesses being exempt from business rates will be helpful to many small businesses and the cutting of the supplementary charge for oil and gas producers will certainly help this challenging sector of the economy.

Was this Budget actually a pre EU referendum sweetener for entrepreneurs and SMEs? They will certainly have a big influence in the Brexit debate.

Simon Watson, Lovewell-Blake


Call tracking for Future50 members

There were many great ideas thrown around at our last Brand Masterclass event - hopefully you all came away with something useful for building your business and growing your brand. 

On the back of that event, and in the spirit of Future50 collaboration, we're happy to share some good news with our members who are considering where to go next.

Future50 member Liquid11 is kindly offering at cost call tracking and intelligent phone numbers to other members. If you would like information around call tracking for On or Off-line campaigns, or help with intelligent phone numbers, Liquid11 is pleased to offer help or advice. In addition, if you'd like an intelligent number they'll gladly offer one at cost. 

It's all part of a range of services provided by Liquid11, which has a wide portfolio of integrated telecommunications products and services that enable businesses of all sizes to grow. They can also supply additional phone numbers to give your company a local phone presence in the locations you advertise and sell to. 

To find out more information on call tracking, intelligent numbers, available numbers and their pro's and con's just visit the link below:

You can also get in touch with Grant Hardy, Liquid 11's Managing Director, or Hannah, who is Customer Service Manager for SwitchbaordFREE on or 0203 189 1213



Success - is it all in the mind?

What would you say if you were told that by slowing down you could achieve more? The idea may not be as crazy as you think…


ThinkstockPhotos 472778726

Imagine if, even for one second, you could press the pause button. For many business leaders it may seem an absurd proposition – especially when we live in an increasingly fast-paced and complex world where 24/7 distractions, constant pressure and information overload have become the norm for many of us.

But what if you were told that taking a brief moment to slow down – focusing solely on the task in hand, the person you’re talking to or the surroundings you’re in – is fast becoming the differentiator between those that simply survive in business and those that thrive?

That answer – apparently – is mindfulness. And if you’re thinking that I’m jumping on the latest executive buzzword or fad just bear with me because mindfulness, the ancient Buddhist practice of paying attention with focus, clarity and discernment, is rapidly revolutionising the way that leaders worldwide are approaching their day-to-day activity.

Did you know, for example, that Steve Jobs was a regular meditator for more than 25 years of his life? Or that he attributed his ability to think outside the box, and Apple’s entire ethos of striving for total cutting edge innovation, to his pracising mindfulness?

Elsewhere Google, Microsoft, Nike, Intel, American Express, General Electric, Sony and Transport for London, to name a few, provide mindfulness programmes for their employees after recognising its contribution to success in the workplace.


What does it mean for you?

 ThinkstockPhotos 504573460

I was lucky enough to recently speak to Rasmus Hougaard, author of One Second Ahead: Enhance Your Performance at Work with Mindfulness, and Founder and Managing Director of the Potential Project – the global leading provider of corporate mindfulness programmes.


He told me: “Clarity of mind is fundamental. It can be the quality that puts you a second ahead of others, in both thoughts and actions, and I’ve no doubt it can ultimately mean the difference between success and failure.”

According to Hougaard our lives are so busy that traditional leadership, management and working styles just don’t cut it any more. Rather, having a clear mind means you can do the right things instead of all the things.

For Hougaard (and this is where it may get a little ‘Zen’ for some of you) we are all living in an ‘attention economy’. Forget multitasking, forget speed and forget experience. If you want a competitive advantage then try focusing on your mental fitness.


“Level of focus now determines business and leadership performance,” he told me. “It is now one of the foundation tools for leadership excellence.”

Sounds simple enough doesn’t it? In fact, could you get any simpler? By stopping, taking a breath and focusing on the task ahead you can buy yourself an extra second to bring all your capabilities and skills to your business and its success.

And breathe…

Matt High


Why not try?

  • Daily mindfulness training – 10 minutes a day is a good start
  • Take a one minute break every hour
  • Cut down on your multitasking and focus on one thing
  • Master your inbox before it masters you
  • No screens 60 minutes before you sleep or for the first 60 minutes in the morning


Storytelling tips from TED Talker, John Bates

In our latest blog post Mark Smalls of Indigo Swan shares his TED Talk experiences with us, including tips on presenting through story-telling learned from TED talker John Bates.


Two salesmen go down to Africa in the 1900s. They were sent to find out if there was any opportunity for selling shoes. They both wrote telegrams back to Manchester. One of them wrote, “Situation hopeless. They don’t wear shoes.” And the other one wrote, “Glorious opportunity. They don’t have any shoes yet.”

This is the charismatic opening gambit from Benjamin Zander’s TED talk; it is used as an example of a great way to start a presentation off… with a story.
I sit in the audience encircling John Bates in the dimmed auditorium of the John Innes Centre in Norwich ears pinned, pen ready, eagerly awaiting his dissection of the 20 second TED talk opening clip he’d just played.

John admits to us that the first TED talk he did was a failure but since then he has worked with the likes of IBM, NASA as well as hosting, speaking and training speakers at TED events.


Being Awesome


Last year I attended a talk by John focused on presentation skills, I have put his teachings into my work and the one that has stuck with me the most, although deviously simple, is just a different way to think about going into a presentation.

“I am awesome, and my audience wants me to be awesome.” Sounds a bit trivial, almost stupid to highlight, but I use it all the time. When I first walk in and the nerves start to creep up I just think “I want to be good, they want me to be good so, just do myself, and them a favour, and be good!” why would I want it to happen any other way?



Tips from the man himself

In the break I was lucky enough to catch a few minutes with John. I asked him “What one thing do you think has made the biggest impact for businesses in terms of getting a point/presentation across using storytelling?” He gave me two…


Tip 1 – Start in the middle

“It's a cardinal rule of great, interesting story telling.” John states. “The Ancient Greeks called it "in medias res," into the middle things. We all live in a world that happens in chronological order. So, what do you think would be the most boring order in which to tell your stories? Right! Chronological order!

So, start in the middle, somewhere exiting! Then, once we're hooked, go back and explain how we got here and then tell us the wonderful, exciting and good for us, conclusion! By the way, I don't mean the exact middle! Anything that is not the absolute beginning or the absolute ending counts as the middle! Pick someplace interesting and exciting to begin and then we'll want to hear the rest!”


Tip 2 – Tell the story in the present tense


John continues “If it happened in the past there's nothing we can do about it! But, if it's happening now, well, that's exciting! And, in the same way that you picture a little purple elephant dancing at your feet when I say, "don't picture a little purple elephant dancing at your feet..." people will experience being there with you if you tell the story in present tense! It's not for every story, but it's good if you want to really draw people in. As an opening, as a way to share an ah-ha moment you had, or as a way to give them the experience of something that you experienced very deeply it's great.”

And, as a little bonus John shared a saying that world famous speaker Les Brown shared with him: “Never tell a story without a point and never make a point without a story! “It’s how human beings brains work,” John retorts, “so just go with it!”

You may have noticed that I have worked on weaving those tips into this article; hopefully this will spark something off so you can weave a vein of gold through your own presentations/stories. As the headline states if you have a good story to tell it’s like giving someone a bit of gold, happy prospecting.


Is it time to rethink the word entrepreneur?

When we were setting up the Future50 programme, we had a shorthand word to describe our target members - entrepreneurs.

It sounded obvious to us, after all we were looking for innovators, people willing to take risks, and who wanted to be different from the norm.

It was a word that seemed to fit nicely.


Except, there was one problem, as we got to know our Future50 members it turned out that the word entrepreneur was off-putting to them. 

To one I spoke to, it suggested a person out to make a quick buck, a dealer, someone who wasn't in it for the long-term but just wanted to get on and then get out.

It was he said a term that was off-putting, not helped by the images fostered by programmes such as Dragon's Den, which he felt painted a picture that you had to be an agressive so-and-so in order to achieve.


So what do we call Future50 members? 


No-one could quite agree, except to say they didn't like entrepreneur. Business owner? Yes, maybe, but a little bland they felt.

So is there a better word, or is there still life left in entrepreneur?

If anyone has any thoughts they want to share, we'd be happy to hear them.