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Some things you do in life touch you more than others.

Sometimes it is not clear why, but in the case of delivering our final Peer Network’s cohort earlier this month, in tandem with our dedicated partners SEMLEP, it is really very straightforward.

During some very difficult times in 2021, this programme was able to bring together online businesses of all shapes, sizes, types, and positions to create a positive learning atmosphere, providing peer support and development; making a positive impact at a key time.

To be part of the team that did that for 110 amazing SMEs in our region makes me extremely proud, both of our team but also our programme cohorts and the journeys they have undertaken. And perhaps most importantly, to paraphrase the famous quote, the best bit is that our final cohort is not the end, it is merely the end of the beginning!

Falling out of love…

It is probably fair to say that most business owners have had a fairly difficult time of it during COVID, particularly as, for some, it came on top of other large challenges brought about by the UK leaving the European Union.

From businesses in travel and hospitality which had seen their offering decimated to even to those that had continued to do well, the strain of dealing with the constantly changing operating conditions and overall fear was clear to see; lots of owners were no longer in love with their businesses!

The ability to share that with a group of their peers in a safe space, as well as understand that they were not the only ones, often brought about instant relief and enabled the healing process to begin.

After all, who else can you talk to about these things?

Given the nature of the pandemic, it certainly wasn’t an option to talk to your team and often the strain of trading brought cracks in the management teams or relations with business partners.

Working on, not in the business…

It was also clear businesses needed time to work out their strategic direction and to give our owners and leaders time to decide where the business was going to next and how to seize opportunities and mitigate threats brought about by the changing market conditions.

The chance every week to focus on a particular key area of business, to share thoughts or issues with peers to get their feedback as well as having the mirror held up at regular intervals by our fabulous coaching team paid immediate dividends for many businesses, such as realising a price list on a website is not needed if you are not competing on price, resulting in large orders being won, was brilliant to witness.

And for those where the impact was perhaps not as immediately dramatic, there were clear changes, refinements of business offerings, and strategic choices made in producing business action plans that will deliver long-term benefits to them and our wider local economy.

Kickstarting the journey…

In this age of social media and reality TV, I realise the word ‘journey’ has been rather overused, but in this case, Peer Networks was very much that for a lot of the participants, and it was extremely enjoyable to be a part of.

Watching our business owners get their mojo back, creating and then presenting business action plans and generally focussing on their businesses from a strategic standpoint and taking time to develop them was truly brilliant.

So, whilst from a Bettany Centre for Entrepreneurship standpoint, the Peer Networks programme has come to a close, it is very clear (again paraphrasing the famous quote) that this is not the end, nor is it the beginning of the end, but it actually is the end of the beginning, and we cannot wait to see the business continue to grow and come and join us at Cranfield very soon.

Martin Spiller, Bettany Centre for Entrepreneurship

Written By: Tiffany Trethowan

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