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A Spotlight On: Chris Sharman, Business Growth Adviser for South West Norfolk

This month’s A Spotlight On features our Business Growth Adviser for South West Norfolk, Chris Sharman. We were pleased to speak to Chris about his role here at the Growth Hub and how he helps businesses to sharpen their marketing strategy and boost their growth.

Can you tell us a bit about your role and your responsibilities?
My role at the Growth Hub is to support businesses in Norfolk and Suffolk in three main ways.

Firstly, to talk through their situation and understand their needs and challenges.

Secondly, to identify what funding and support is out there to help them overcome any barriers to growth.

Thirdly, to introduce them to private and public organisations that can help them overcome these barriers.

In the case of grants and funding, we can even help businesses prepare the paperwork increasing their chances of success.

What do you like most about working as part of the Growth Hub team?
It’s great to be part of such a knowledgeable and supportive team. We have staff members from many different backgrounds who can assist businesses overcome obstacles to growth through a range of training and advice. And if we can’t help directly, we can always find someone who can.

What experience/skills have you brought to your Business Adviser role?
I have been very fortunate to have worked in marketing and business development for businesses of all sizes; anything from a start-up to an international business with worldwide reach. I have even worked on a self-employed basis and know all about the challenges of generating business for yourself without the help of others.

I have been able to take the knowledge gleaned from these different roles and use it to help local businesses identify the help they need at their stage in their business journey.

What advice would you give a company looking to improve their marketing strategy?
The fundamentals of marketing are the same whether you are a self-employed consultant or a well-established business.

It’s about listening to your customers, understanding their needs and challenges, and designing your products and services to meet those needs.

Once you have honed your offer it’s about setting out your proposition in clear and simple terms and communicating this through the right channels so your audience is aware of what you are offering and why they should contact you.

What are some key challenges businesses face in the growth stage, and how do you help them overcome this?
Growing a business can be a scary and daunting experience. There is never any shortage of advice but what is the right advice? Often family and friends say what they feel you want to hear. The key thing is to get impartial advice that will help you plan a way forward and give you the confidence to make the necessary decisions to be successful.

Can you share a client success story?
A small growing professional services firm based at home wanted to expand into new premises on a business park.

The owners were worried about the expense of moving rather than the opportunity to grow.

After discussing the challenges they faced, we identified a free mentoring and business planning programme for them to attend.

This course helped them build a stellar business plan and gave them the confidence to recruit new staff members and see the move to larger premises as a real opportunity to put themselves on the map in their field.

What do you think makes Norfolk or Suffolk an exciting place to grow a business?
Norfolk and Suffolk are often seen as a sleepy backwater to hot spots like Cambridge and London.

My experience has been completely different; we have a huge range of diverse businesses producing all manner of weird and wonderful products and services.

Accessing the networks of these local businesses is key to being successful; they are a rich source of support and inspiration for anyone wishing to grow their business.

If you don’t know how to reach and get in touch with the right businesses, talk to the Growth Hub for an introduction.

If you could go back in time, what business advice would you give to a younger version of yourself?

I would remind myself of a quote from American army general and statesman, Dwight D. Eisenhower who once said, “In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless but planning is indispensable.”

Orford in Suffolk | credit: Gill Moon

This just reminds me of the need to keep in mind the purpose and goals you are aiming for and the reasons you are on the journey.

It just isn’t possible to formulate a plan, follow it and be successful.

It’s a case of constantly updating your plans to overcome changed circumstances as you go along.

What would someone be surprised to know about you?
I’m actually a marine biologist by training having graduated from Swansea University with a BSc Honours. I’m not sure it’s proved that useful as a business adviser but it was great fun diving around the UK during the course!

And finally, where is your happy place you like to spend time in our two counties?
My favourite place is Orford on the Suffolk coast, an atmospheric village that has not changed much in appearance since medieval times. It’s a great place to take your dog for a walk so long as you keep them out of the mud!