Highlights from Venturefest WM 2022: Grow your Business Through Sales and Funding – Emma Jones, Founder of Enterprise Nation

As part of Venturefest West Midlands 2022 we were privileged to have Emma Jones join us as one of our keynote speakers. She shared, in an almost masterclass style, her tips on how to grow your business through sales and funding. She has a wealth of knowledge when it comes to business growth both through her own experience as a founder and business owner but also through her work supporting small businesses.

Emma Jones graduated with a degree in Law and Japanese and started her career at an international accounting firm. In 2000, from her home, she started her first business, Techlocate, which she sold after 15 months to Tenon Plc. Her success in growing a start up business and selling it on, provided the idea behind Enterprise Nation which she launched in 2006, again from her home. Emma founded Enterprise Nation at a time when the business support ecosystem was barely in existence and founders were having to find their own way around how to start and run a business. Enterprise Nation holds events and provides support to small businesses as well as acting as one voice for its membership when lobbying government. Since 2006 the company has expanded and now has a small business membership of over 75,000.

Emma’s work attracted the attention of former Prime Minister, Teressa May, who in February 2019 appointed Emma as the co-chair the Prime Minister’s Small Business, Scale-up and Entrepreneurs Business Council. More recently Emma was awarded a CBE for her services to small businesses and entrepreneurs.

Top three tips for raising money through sales

  • Selling to bigger brands and organisations

Emma’s first tip for raising money through sales is selling to bigger brands and organisations rather then sticking with selling to individuals or other small businesses. Government contracts provide huge possibility for small and agile businesses. With government purchasing power and its aim to spend more money with small businesses (1/3 of all procurement) there is scope for many small businesses to expand their sales. The government advertises its tenders on its contract finder portal so its easy for small businesses to see what is available.

Emma explained that the application process for government contracts can be daunting for small businesses but that there was still a way to benefit from the contracts without directly winning the tenders. She suggested that finding out who the governments tier 1 suppliers are can be beneficial as they often subcontract the work to smaller businesses. This allows smaller businesses to be involved in the governments supply chain without having to directly bid and without the same level of responsibility. Local government contacts and other public bodies are also huge opportunities.

Big businesses and retailers still have a considerable appetite for purchasing from smaller businesses. Emma has run events which bring together large retailers and businesses who are looking to buy from small businesses and small businesses with products and services to sell. She feels that there is an increasing demand to incorporate small businesses into supply chains.

  • International Trade

Emma’s second tip for growing your business through sales was to sell internationally. Brexit has been seen by many as an obstacle to international trade for business. Emma, however, framed Brexit as also having the potential to be an opportunity. Brexit has somewhat simplified things for businesses in that Britain is now just an international entity and all states are international markets. We are no longer in a free trade block and do not rely on EU regulations. Emma expressed the pivotal role that expanding into international markets can play in growing a business through sales. It seems obvious, more people to sell to should mean more sales. But again, many businesses are overwhelmed and do not know where to start.

Emma pointed in the direction of the internet and advised that selling online is an easy way to sell to overseas customers. Market places like Amazon even run free courses such as the Amazon Small Business Accelerator, which teaches people how to sell online. Amazon also have a programme specifically for innovative and sustainable businesses called the Amazon Launchpad. There are also several platforms which enable small businesses to sell into the international wholesale market.

  • Harnessing Tech

Emma’s final tip for growing your business through sales was harnessing the power of tech. She highlighted the Government’s Help to Grow Scheme which has two arms one of which offers businesses £5,000 to spend on technology solutions/ software which can help businesses sell more. Businesses should also be utilising resources such as social media. Platform such as Facebook and Instagram provide comprehensive business solution which include marketing and customer insights, marketplaces and allowed you to build up the profile of your business by allowing you to reach customers from all over the world. The future of sales according to Emma lies in being able to reach and service customers through tech including through CRM systems and imbedding tech properly and effectively will allow your business to grow without having to increase the number of employees.

Raising Money Through Finance

Although Emma’s preferred method for growing a business is through sales, she had some great advice to offer when it came to growing you business through raising finance as it’s a method she has used in the past. Her first piece of advice was to ensure you have a plan for how you want to spend the capital you intend to raise even before you start to look for investors. Having a plan will not only mean that you will spend wisely but will be attractive to investors. It’s a great idea to write a business plan which includes how you would spend the capital. Emma said investors want to know what your plan for the business is and where the growth is, ultimately, they want to be able to identify where they can expect to see the return on their investment coming from.

Her other piece of advice when raising finance was to always look for ‘money plus’. She said that an important part of looking for an investor is to ensure that they have something more than just money to offer. This additional offer can be advice, experience, mentorship, industry links etc. Ideally your investor should be able to offer you then just money to help you grow your business.

As a final word, Emma said that there is a real value in consulting experts where needed to professionalise the growth process and get the most value out of it, this can include accountants, digital marketing experts etc.

It was great to hear Emma speak at Venturefest West Midlands this year and thank her for sharing her experiences, tips and advice.

Author, Madiyah Ghafoor

NGDP Graduate, Strategy; West Midlands Combined Authority