Putting small businesses first: An interview with National Campaign Director Michelle Ovens MBE

posted by 7 years ago in Interview
Small Business Saturday

At Businesscomparison.com we like to get behind campaigns and events that support and promote small and medium-sized enterprises. Last year Small Business Saturday recorded 16.5 million shoppers to small independent businesses on the day. That’s a 20% increase in footfall on 2013 or 2.7 million more shoppers. We spoke to the National Campaign Director Michelle Ovens about what they have in store this year.

Michelle Ovens

Q. Small Business Saturday takes place on 5th December this year. What have you got planned?


A. There is so much going on for Small Business Saturday this year! Over the month of November, we are taking the Small Business Saturday bus to 30 stops across the UK. The bus will be pulling up into a town or city near you and delivering free marketing packs for small businesses, workshops and presentations on the bus, brilliant small businesses and lots more.


Throughout the year we are running our Inspire Series workshops – these are free to attend and offer small businesses the chance to learn more about a whole range of things: from marketing, to social media, to recruitment. To see what we have left in the calendar this year, visit our website www.smallbusinesssaturdayuk.com . These are also all live streamed on Periscope with a Twitter Q&A afterward – so no matter where in the country you are, you can get involved.


We also have lots of exciting things planned for the week before Small Business Saturday – stay tuned and all will be revealed via our social media channels on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.


On Small Business Saturday itself ,we are looking forward to all sorts of events up and down the country as small businesses, small business organisations, towns, villages, cities and high streets come together to celebrate on this day. If you are an online business, or you don’t normally trade on a Saturday, you can be involved too. Why not offer a discount for any bookings or purchases made in that week or download the Small Business Saturday banner and display it on your website?


Q. What are some of the challenges that small businesses face and how do you help?


A. Being a small business is hard work, and can be quite lonely – as a small business owner, you are often multiple roles – sales, HR, finance, IT. We have found that for small businesses, it is important to feel part of a community, that they are not on their own and that there are others to turn to for advice, encouragement or just to let off steam! That community is something that Small Business Saturday aims to foster – small businesses talking with each other both on and offline, promoting each other’s’ work and supporting each other in any way that they can.


We also know that it is a challenge for small businesses to get themselves known – marketing can be expensive and it is hard to get your voice heard. That is why this year we have launched the Small Business Finder – an online tool that allows small businesses to input their location, website and offer for Small Business Saturday. Customers can then search with their postcode and see all the brilliant small businesses in their area – from B2B, bakeries, trade, restaurants – you name it, they are on the finder. Small Business Saturday really is a day of discovery and this tool really allows small businesses to get themselves out there for free and get found.


Q. The event is timed in the run up to Christmas. Is there a strategy behind this?


A. This is a big time of year for spending – the goal is to encourage a bit more of that spend into the pockets of small businesses. Of course, we believe every day should be Small Business Saturday! But this timing gives us an opportunity to have the conversation with businesses and consumers at a moment when they are thinking about spending anyway.


Q. Is it just retail businesses that get involved or are there other sectors that you attract?


A. Any and every kind of small business can get involved with Small Business Saturday. We have a whole range of businesses taking part – skydiving, motor racing simulation, zoos, security businesses – and of course retail too. Any small business is welcome to get involved.


Q. You run free events and workshops in the weeks leading up to the big day. Have you had feedback about how useful these are?


A. We look to provide something for everyone, understanding that different small businesses will need different things – and they will be at different points in their business journey. Not every small business will be interested in pop-up opportunities, but perhaps a free recruitment event may be ideal. We know that small businesses are busy people, so we live-stream every event via Periscope with Twitter Q&As, so everyone can be involved. We have found this to be particularly popular, with hundreds of people joining the workshops online. All videos of the workshops are available on the YouTube channel as well so work as a great free resource for small businesses. We receive really positive feedback from these events and aim to listen to what small businesses need advice on to develop the schedule.


Q. Exposure is so important with an event like this. Who have you got supporting you?


A. We have such a long list of supporters – I will inevitably leave someone out, so I must first apologise for that! Firstly, of course, are the small businesses – and we have a number of local small business ambassadors around the country who promote the day on our behalf. We benefit from significant support from member and trade organisations, such as the FSB, ACS, NIIRTA and BIRA, who play a significant role in getting small businesses engaged. Local government support is extensive, with over 70% of councils already planning something for Small Business Saturday this year. Central government has also been a strong supporter of the campaign since the beginning, and we were very lucky to have a reception in Downing Street for the last two years. The department of BIS and the shadow BIS team are also big supporters. We have a small number of big company supporters who help with the day to day costs of the campaign, including American Express, who founded the campaign in the US, TalkTalk Business, Indeed, PRS for Music and Vistaprint.


Finally, we do have a few Small Business Saturday Ambassadors, such as Penny Power, David M Carter, Ollie Proudlock and James Caan who have supported the campaign in a number of ways.


Q. A growing number of small and medium sized businesses are now choosing to use alternative finance with traditional bank lending declining. How important is it that they have access to funding to stay afloat and grow?


A. Small businesses of course need good access to finance, working capital and importantly advice on financing. Not all businesses are looking for growth or lending, but where they are, we do look to provide advice on places to go for free help and advice in this area.


Q. You have been awarded MBE for services to Enterprise in the Queen’s birthday honours earlier this year. If you could narrow your experience and expertise down to three key pieces of advice for those running a small business what would they be?


A. Be clear about your goals – your plan will inevitably change as you go along, but keep a strong focus on where you want to go and you will stand a better chance of getting there.

Get help – none of us have all the tools we need, and there is a lot of free help out there. Get a mentor, or just a few friends that you trust, to help you. Never be afraid to ask for help.

Don’t give up – as a mentor friend of mine says, failure is not falling down – it’s staying down. Just keeping going is success in itself. Or as Churchill (reputedly) said: if you are going through hell, keep on going. I don’t know a single small business that has not had a day when they thought about giving up – but it is the ones that keep on going anyway that reap the benefits long term (Best Exotic Marigold Hotel: Everything will be alright in the end – if it is not alright, it is not the end.)