Tuesday, 10 December 2019

Swanning around to give Burton a boost

I am delighted to be on the Burton Swans team - an exciting 'first' for my home town of Burton-on-Trent.

It will bring together businesses, established and emerging artists, community groups and schools, and create a 10-week outdoor art trail throughout summer 2020.

A flock of 25 super-sized, decorated swans will nestle into new homes around the town and its open spaces. The trail will be easy to walk in a day and will give local people and tourists alike a chance to rediscover some of the hidden gems of our town.


Now, businesses and artists have just a few weeks left if they want to be part of the project, which will also raise funds for the Burton & District YMCA.

My good friend and colleague Tilley Bancroft, of the award-winning Red Door Studios, had the idea for Burton Swans and is the project manager. She's thrilled that it’s all going swimmingly.

Tilley Bancroft
Tilley said: “We’ve had fantastic support from businesses of all types and sizes, ranging from Marston’s Brewery and Vodafone to micro-businesses and sole traders. There’s still a chance for more businesses to get involved, and for artists to submit designs, until the last day of December 2019.”

A mobile app is being developed that will unlock surprises, rewards or special offers from the swan sponsors when anyone finds their swan. 

The next exciting step comes at the end of January there will be a design exhibition in Burton where sponsors – or ‘swan-sors’ - can choose the design they want for their swan and network with other project partners. Artists whose designs are chosen will receive a £500 honorarium once they have completed their swan artwork.

The swans, which are 1.5 metres tall, will sit on a plinth inscribed with the details of their sponsor, or sponsors. Tilley added: “For businesses that don’t have the budget to sponsor a swan on their own we can put them together with other businesses to share the cost. Opportunities start from £250.”

Adam Bates, marketing manager from Hardy Signs, has explained that the Burton Swans project had instant appeal for them.

He said: “We recognised the project as a great opportunity to celebrate creativity, heritage and community spirit. We’re delighted to be involved and we are sure the project will have a hugely positive impact, inspiring pride across the town. It’s also fitting that, in the process, the project will help those in our community who need it most through the incredible work of the Burton & District YMCA.”

In October 2020, the swans will be auctioned to raise funds for Burton YMCA’s work with the homeless and people in crisis.

Getting into the Christmas spirit, over at Burton's Brewhouse Arts Centre, Tilley and her team have been decorating one of the swans.

The Brewhouse is also part-subsidising the cost of an artist visiting local schools with a smaller cygnet sculpture for pupils to decorate. Support for the schools' project has also come from the Transforming the Trent Valley fund.

Artists who want to submit a swan design can download guidelines and an information pack from the Burton Swans website

Would-be sponsors and artists can also contact Tilley on tilley@burtonswans.co.uk or call her on 07752 745035.

Wednesday, 2 October 2019

Learn how to grow your business from the experts


Tuesday, October 22 is the date of the fourth annual conference I have organised with a group of like-minded business owners. The focus of this year's half-day event is learning how to grow your business - and we're bringing some fantastic experts who will have vital advice and tips to share.

When we sat down in 2016 to plan our first event, which took place at the Pirelli Stadium, we wanted to create an event that we would REALLY want to attend if someone else was organising it. Do you know what I mean? The sort of 'can't be missed' event that makes you re-jig your diary to be sure you can get along.


New connections, new ideas and new insights

Each year we have aimed to build on the year before and bring in topics and speakers that people tell us they want to hear.

This year, I am so proud of what we've put together and I can't wait to hear the buzz of excitement in the room and see people gathering valuable new connections, new ideas and insights and more knowledge on where to get practical help and support to grow their business. If you're sold on the idea already, you can book your ticket online here.

For starters, we are delighted that the conference will be officially opened by Mike Cherry, national chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB). Mike and his team lobby Parliament for changes that benefit all small businesses and the self-employed. They have been running a host of important campaigns including ending late payment, saving free-to-use cashpoints from closure and pushing the case for what small businesses need when we leave the EU. Mike also runs a family business in Burton-on-Trent, so has a special insight into our local business community.

Thanks go to the FSB in Staffordshire and the West Midlands who have sponsored our conference this year.

The rest of the morning will see 20-minute presentations from eight great speakers.



  • Bassit Siddiqui is one of the stars of TV's Gogglebox. He is also a former teacher now running his own successful company, Siddiqui Education, which encourages children to learn and looks at how to raise aspirations and ambitions. He will look at how businesses can continue to use education as a way of growing their business.  He said: “It is fantastic to be part of this year’s conference. Education is such an important part of my life and I am very passionate about its role in supporting business growth.  My experiences with Gogglebox and teaching have played a huge part in helping me form the skills needed to run my own business. I believe that, at any age, if you have the confidence to give something a go you can achieve so much.”
  • Dr Philip Clarke is a performance psychologist who works with elite athletes being supported by the Derbyshire Institute of Sport to become world-class and future Olympians and Paralympians. He knows a lot about the psychology behind high-performance, the success mindset and why athletes and business people may falter and miss their goals.  He is a lecturer at the University of Derby and knows about endurance and resilience because he was part of the "Run for Cancer" team which ran  417 miles across Ireland in 13 days.

How to turn a NO into a YES

  • Ian Preston is a leading business coach and trainer who has led high-performing sales teams and trained and coached many teams and individuals over 30-plus years. He has a particular interest in the art, science and psychology of selling. Ian said: “Selling is a skill like any other. It needs familiarity with the requirements and lots of practice to be proficient at it.” He’ll be looking at issues including, how to turn a NO into a YES! - and how to prevent a NO in the first place - and what to say when someone says ‘It’s too expensive’.
  • Sarah J Naylor is a successful businesswoman, author and coach who has helped many people to transform their lives and careers. She will be sharing her three key steps to business success in a talk called Aligning Your Visions With Growth. She will discuss a range of tools and techniques that she has used over the years, demonstrating how these have worked for her. Sarah said: “If you are already self-employed, or run your own business, or if you are just considering taking the plunge then please come along and be inspired by some fresh ideas or the kick you need to create your vision and make it a reality.”

Raising external finance for your business

  • Kevin Caley began his career as an engineer in the Midlands car industry and used his MBA to get into early stage venture capital. In November 2009, at the height of the banking crisis, Kevin established the world’s first peer-to-peer platform specialising in making secured business loans. Called ThinCats, it allowed private investors to lend directly to businesses cutting out ‘fat cat’ bankers. He will explore with delegates the questions: Why would anyone want to invest in your business? Why would you want them to? Kevin will discuss the advantages and disadvantages of raising external finance and explain the differences between loans and equity. He will be highlighting the problems and the risks involved and suggesting ways to minimise them.
  • Karen Woolley is the FSB development manager for Staffordshire and the West Midlands and is responsible for supporting and protecting the needs of small businesses and engagement with key external stakeholders, MPs, the media and local authorities on small business issues. She works closely with a number of external organisations to help them to understand the barriers to growth faced by small businesses and is a member of a large number of working groups on issues such as skills, access to finance, export, business and cyber crime. She will signpost delegates to exactly where they can get practical help and support, depending on where the business is located.

Preparing for growth in the digital era

  • Joe Burns was just 21 when he co-founded a business that later sold for more than £1million. He is now managing director of management consultancy business 5bi and helps businesses become more efficient and secure by using automation tools and the right technology for their needs. He will share his motivational business story with delegates. He said: “I’m delighted to be speaking at this event and I will be sharing my insights into the highs and lows of growing a successful business, as well as giving some tips to prepare for growth in the modern, digital era.”
  • Tilley Bancroft is one of the founding members of the not-for-profit Burton Small Business group, an award-winning filmmaker and animator and project manager of the Burton Swans sculpture trail set to bring artists, businesses, community groups and the public together in 2020 for Burton's first outdoor public art trail. She has worked with private and public sector organisations and charities to create memorable marketing materials and brought her own particular style to the #BuckieLovesSmallBiz one-day tour of Burton when she was in the Small Business Saturday #SmallBiz100. She will talk about alternative marketing and how to be memorable and strike the right emotional notes with your ideal customers.

New venue - Repton School

This is the first year we have not held the conference in Burton. But we are just a few miles over the border in South Derbyshire at the historic Repton School. Our event will take place in the 400 Hall which has space for lots of delegates and it also enabled us to ask a local, small, independent business to provide the catering. 

A buffet networking lunch will be served between 1pm and 2pm by caterer Helen Wheat from Helen's Bakehouse and Tearooms in Burton Market Place. Helen worked for many years as a trader on the outdoor market before securing her own premises and creating several jobs for staff who provide breakfast, lunches and afternoon teas in a retro-style tearoom.

The 400 Hall allows us to have the facilities of a raised stage in the auditorium and also space to host a number of stands from business support organisations and businesses who support other businesses. Included in this small expo will be representatives from Derbyshire and Staffordshire Police, providing cybercrime advice, the local Chamber of Commerce and Growth Hub, business support experts Blue Orchid and networking group Derby Hub among others,

If you are ready to buy your ticket NOW, an early bird price of £20 (plus online booking fee) is available until October 7. The prices rises to £25 after October 7. Book online here

Why you should attend - and why we do it

I think that the key reasons you should attend are:
  • You will get ideas, inspiration and information from our speakers
  • You will get advice from our business stands
  • You will come away with new connections from our speakers, those on the information stands and other delegates.
  • It's a valuable day OUT of your business working ON your business
  • Helen does a GREAT buffet
So why do we give up our time to put on this event (and others) as Burton Small Business? Basically, it is back to spotting gaps in the provision of events for local businesses and stepping in to create events WE would want to attend and which we believe would help us in our day jobs.

We also believe that when local businesses grow and prosper we ALL benefit. Small businesses are the heart, spine and soul of our local communities. They give back to their local communities and support our local economies. You will all have seen the stats showing that when you buy from a small, independent business, more of each pound you spend stays in the local economy.

We all love being part of the Burton and Derby small business community and we want to do our bit to see it rise to even greater heights.

My thanks to the BusinessGrowth2019/Burton Small Business team: Cheryl Morris (Creative Word PR); Tilley Bancroft (Red Door Studios), Karen Woolley (FSB), Mike Byrne (Blue Orchid) and Owen Conti (Code 56).

Thursday, 22 August 2019

Facts tell, but stories sell

I can't claim the credit for the phrase 'Facts tell, but stories sell'; it's been around for a long time in the world of sales but I believe it's great advice.

In crowded marketplaces, where businesses are fighting for attention online, you need to be recognised and remembered for the right reasons.

Is all publicity 'good publicity'? I'm not sure. I can think of a few businesses that have been remembered for the wrong reasons due to PR stunts that have gone wrong, ill-judged comments by senior company figures and inappropriate social media activity by members of staff.


Photo by S O C I A L . C U T on Unsplash

What stories can you tell about your business?

An effective way to build trust and confidence is to introduce the people behind your business. What makes them tick? What makes them great at what they do? What do they love doing outside work? If customers like and trust you and your team they are more likely to spend money with you. 

Case studies should be short stories that reveal the problem a client of yours faced - and how you solved it. Don't be afraid to conjure up how your customer felt before and after working with you. Include their quotes or make a video where the customer talks from the heart. Think of other people who face the same problem and think of all the places that you can distribute your story (in written form or video) to reach and influence them.

What's your story? Why do you do what you do? Many business owners and entrepreneurs have an interesting story to tell, but remember your audience and think about what will interest them. They may be influenced by your vision and values when they are choosing between you and your rival companies. If you are writing for your website, keep it concise or you will lose people's attention. If you feel the urge to write your life story in detail, maybe you should write a book later down the line.

Are pictures still worth 1,000 words? Yes, probably - and videos too. There always needs to be a plan behind the visual content you create. Your video needs a script. Images should fit with your brand and complement the identity you have created.

Finally, don't get so lost in storytelling that you forget the purpose of every story you write. A good business story should encourage people to take ACTION. You can't ignore facts completely, but you should surround them with emotions and details that your clients can identify with - the magical 'that's happened to me too' ingredient.


Photo by Thomas Drouault on Unsplash

Monday, 13 May 2019

Working Women of Burton project

After I joined Stretton Parish Council in summer of 2018 I had the opportunity and pleasure to help fellow parish council member, local historian Malcolm Goode, with an event to mark the centenary of the end of World War One.

We helped to mobilise local crafters to create a display of more than 2,000 crocheted and knitted poppies beside the village war memorial.

Stretton Poppies November 2018. Pictures by Joanne Cooper 

Now, Malcolm, and a team of volunteers headed by the parish council, are embarking on another important project to research and record the progress of women entering the workforce of Burton between the years 1914 and 1946.

The project is being supported by Burton Library and the National Brewery Centre.

We need more volunteers to help us tell the stories of how the women on Burton Upon Trent and South Derbyshire played a vital role in helping our country win two world wars and also progressed into local businesses and industries.

A drop-in meeting is being held on Saturday, May 18, at Burton Library, between 10am and 2.30pm. If you would like to help the project in any way - researching, recording interviews with family members, creating videos and more - please call in to chat with Malcolm.

The final results of the project will be archived as a permanent record housed at both the library and the brewery centre for future generations. If you, or any of your friends or family, are interested in helping - perhaps the project would be a useful volunteer experience to add to a CV - you can also contact Malcolm on 01283 567903.

Malcolm also wants to hear from anyone who had female relatives working in Burton and South Derbyshire's breweries, factories or were part of the Women's Land Army or served in the forces.

Thursday, 25 April 2019

A taste of Spanish sunshine in Stretton

The WiRE (Women in Rural Enterprise) group that I co-lead in Burton-on-Trent is supporting the Midlands Air Ambulance Charity throughout 2019.

This vital charity saves lives by saving time. It funds and operates three air ambulances, serving six counties in the Midlands. They are effectively intensive care units in the air and since 1991 they have flown more than 52,200 missions - and that total rises every week.

A powerful video shared by MAAC volunteer Sally McMahon at our January meeting really brought it home to us the fact that any of us could need the air ambulance to save our loved ones. Members have organised events as diverse as product parties in their homes, adult cookery classes and donating a percentage of profits from sales.

I'm organising a Spanish night on Thursday, June 20 at one of my favourite local restaurants, Sloans Kitchen on Craythorne Road between the villages of Stretton and Rolleston-on-Dove in East Staffordshire.

Tickets will be £32 each with a donation from each sale going directly to the charity. We'll also be holding a raffle on the night with all the money going to the MAAC. Prizes donated so far include: Afternoon tea for two at Sloans Kitchen; a voucher for Silver Sentiments jewellery; a large hamper of toiletries and cosmetics; a small hamper of pampering goodies and wine.

Sloans Kitchen is in a beautiful rural setting, perfect for a summer night out. Places are strictly limited and need to be booked through me. Email me here.

To whet your appetite, here is the lovely menu.


Guests will arrive from 7pm with food served from 7.30pm. This is an opportunity to sip Sangria in the evening sunshine (hopefully) and raise money for a fantastic charity that receives no Government funding.


Wednesday, 6 March 2019

How to create quality content and relationships on LinkedIn

Success on LinkedIn, in my experience, comes through behaving the way we would like others to behave when we network in the real world.

This means:

  • We don't SELL, SELL, SELL (not shouting by over-using capital letters is good too)
  • We do spend twice as long listening as we do talking
  • We build relationships and show support for our own suppliers and customers
  • We invest time and thought in creating useful and interesting content.
The difference between LinkedIn and your average business networking event in the real world is that LinkedIn is a global platform and gives you the opportunity to connect with people you may never meet face-to-face but who will follow and support you if you give them content they value. The result of this type of organic growth is that you gain visibility, credibility and ultimately grow your business.

After a year away from running workshops and courses, during which time I've been busy ghostwriting content including LinkedIn articles for busy business owners, I ran a half-day course in Staffordshire in February. Feedback from the delegates was so positive that I've been encouraged to re-run it at the same venue, Heath House Conference Centre, Uttoxeter, on Thursday morning, April 4, 2019.

Heath House Conference Centre, Uttoxeter

As a writer my focus is on the content you create and share on LinkedIn. So I will help people to understand WHO it is they want to 'talk' to through LinkedIn and WHAT this 'target audience' wants from them.

What your potential customers need to hear is not always the same as the message you may be in the habit of pushing out.

I'll spend some time during the morning of April 4 helping the delegates get up to speed on the features, functionality and privacy settings on LinkedIn so that we are all on a fairly level playing field when we move on to look at creating a bespoke marketing strategy and action plan for using LinkedIn. The joy is every strategy will be different, because every business is different and every business owner has a different journey, a different story, a different 'Why?'

I don't believe that the effective use of LinkedIn is about building a huge database of tens of thousands of connections and firing out sales messages and hoping that a few of them stick. Most SMEs I have worked with over the past nine years have had better results through building a quality network that wants to hear from them. The opportunity to create articles on LinkedIn allows you to become a thought leader and is a powerful way of building the credibility that I mentioned earlier.

There are only seven places available on the April 4 course and you can find out more and book by contacting me.

Thanks to Richard Scott of Invictus IFA for the testimonial he gave me after attending the course in February. He said: "The training was so different to what I had experienced before. Elaine got us to focus on our own needs and objectives and understand the mechanics behind the scenes, including how it could work for us and how we could add value to the relationships we build on the platform. 

"What we were trying to achieve as a business was much more important than it being 'just a numbers game', Putting together quality content and building a strong online presence were key parts of the training event that I took away and have decided to work on to improve my own experience long term. Training is always great when you drive away knowing that it was time well spent."

Thursday, 13 December 2018

Taking the terror out of your 60 seconds at networking meetings


If you go to business networking events, you have probably had the experience of being invited to speak for 60 seconds - an 'elevator pitch' about what you do and how you can help.

Is it something you relish or does it feel like a cruel form of torture designed to make you miserable?

So, WHY do so many networking groups think it's an important part of the meeting format?

A 60-second introduction is an opportunity to educate people in the room about what you do, how you help others and how THEY can help YOU. But you should bear in mind that you are not just targeting the people in that room on that day; you also want to reach the people and businesses they know. That means you are going to have to put some thought into making every word count so that your message is memorable, relevant and useful.

If you are new to this, I promise you that the more '60 seconds' you do the easier it gets – honestly.

There are two aspects to a 60-second introduction: one is what you say and the second is the way you say it.

Studies have shown that body language and tone of voice add up to a whopping 93% of the impact you have on your audience while the actual words you are saying is only 7%.

Now, in my personal opinion, when you have just 60 seconds to speak at a busy networking meeting, the impact of body language is probably going to be less than that percentage indicates. I often find that when I look round the room as I deliver a 60-second pitch, many people have their heads down writing and aren't looking at me. Hopefully, they are noting down something I am saying. If they are slow writers they might still be writing down what the person before me said and if I’m not holding their attention enough they may just be writing out a shopping list!

What I would say about body language is that you need to stand tall, avoid fidgeting and look confident. Fake that confidence, if necessary, until you make it. Be proud of your business and be proud of yourself. It’s OK to be nervous. It’s most important to be ‘you’. Networking is about developing relationships, so smile, be honest and be friendly.

My next tip is, relax. When you stand up to speak take a breath in and let your shoulders fall. If your head and neck are tense it will affect your voice and your delivery.

Varying the pitch and pace at which you speak can hold people's attention. Brace yourself and record your 60 seconds on your phone. Be honest with yourself; do you have a monotone voice? Can you inject more energy and animation into your pitch? Try a few different styles and record them and find something that sounds engaging but is still ‘you’. 

I think it’s absolutely fine to read your 60 seconds. As you grow in confidence – and when you have time to practice more – you can commit more of your words to memory and look around the room to make eye contact with people who ARE looking at you.

So, what about tips for writing out those words that you are going to speak?

You are trying to make people want to buy what you sell or introduce you to someone else who will, so you need to cover:
  •         What you do
  •         What makes you different
  •         Who you want to work with and how they will benefit from working with you.
A traditional structure would be:
  • Your name, company name, who you work with and what they buy from you.
  • Next comes the section that will hopefully make people sit up and take notice: It could be a quick story of how you helped a customer and the results for them or something topical in the news that relates to your business or some news about your business.
  • Tell people how they can help you. This is the call-to-action for people in the room. Is there someone that you would love to meet to offer them your help? Maybe someone in the room knows them.
  • Remind people of your name again and sign off with a tagline or slogan if you have one.
Write it down. Time it. Practice it. I have found that I need to write 150-160 words for a well-paced 60 seconds. If you try to cram in more than that you will probably end up gabbling, which makes it harder for your audience to follow what you are saying.

Don’t beat yourself up if something goes wrong or you trip over your tongue. We all do it. The great thing is that practice really does get us closer to, if not perfection then at least a more relaxed and effective 60 seconds.

If you attend the same networking meeting regularly, then it’s good to vary what you say to stop people being bored or feeling that they don’t need to listen because they know you’ll always say roughly the same thing.

My final tip is, why not ask for feedback from some of the people at your networking meeting? Ask them if they are 100% clear on what you do and how you can help and if they have any suggestions on how you could improve or stories you could tell in future 60 seconds.