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It’s not news that trading conditions since March have been chaotic. As we reach that twomonth lockdown point, however, things have begun to settle. Companies are gaining a better understanding of the likely impact and getting more of a handle on things – although nothing is certain of course.

The consensus seems to be that there’s little chance of normality coming back before early 2021 at the earliest. What has been clear to Silicon South is that paying towards a Sector Network is unlikely to be top of anyone’s agenda right now and to be honest nor should it be. People need to look after themselves, their businesses and their staff.

The good news from our point of view is that after 9 months of negotiation we have finally secured new funding from ERDF. It’s not as much as before and it won’t last for ever but it buys us time to do something, which we hope can make a difference. Our hope is that, in 12 months’ time, the world will have more certainty in place.

So, we’ve created Mission 21. It’s our pledge and ambition to do all we can to make sure Bournemouth, Christchurch, Poole and Dorset’s Digital, Creative & Tech (DCT) Sector is still very much on top in April 2021.

We want to ensure that we are a success story – a story of survival. However, that survival has to be built on businesses in the sector absorbing the shocks, adjusting, developing new strategies, planning, innovating and being bold – not reckless – but still bold.

We will be investing this European funding into helping make that happen. First off we will be providing a 100% discount to join the Silicon south Network. this will remain in place at least until October – when we’ll review the situation again.

We’d like to invite you to sign up to join the Network if you haven’t already. We’d love you to try it and see if it helps you at all. By the time we have to reintroduce any charges, you’ll have a strong idea if you’d like to stay part of it or not.

Here’s a quick overview of what we’ll be doing during over the coming months

The Plan

An Extensive Network

The Silicon South Network is now totally free for every Dorset DCT company to join, until October 2020 at least. With 100s of companies registered this provides:

  • Map and database discover the DCT companies in the region
  • Add articles, videos, stories & events to website
  • Search for specialists and project partners
  • Monthly meetups a chance for all staff to network amongst the sector (on Zoom)

Direct Support for Business and Leaders

To help you adjust, plan, innovate and be ready:

  • Grants £1000 – £5000 match-funded business growth grants
  • Access to Specialists and mentors to help you address challenges and opportunities
  • Director Discussions intimate regular meetups for closely-matched peers
  • Topic-relevant Workshops – to interrogate core themes of your business strategy
  • Shared Researchsummaries of industry trends, and in-depth insight reports
  • Meet the buyer – Sit down with decision makers from prospective clients

Skills, Talent & Lobbying

Keep up the confidence, skills and abilities of your staff. And let’s not forget preparing the next generation for their first jobs.

  • Skills Development Groups facilitated, discussion groups to learn from your peers
  • Nurturing new talentSilicon South – A central channel to Universities & Colleges
  • Pathway for Placement, Apprentice and employment
  • Lobbying & pitching for funding

Stronger together

Sitting in the middle, Silicon South sees amazing talent all around. We’re happy to provide support as usual, but right now theres a unique opportunity for the sector to come together, support each other, and ride out the stormy economic climate to emerge stronger, fitter and ready to take on the world – whatever it looks like!

Be part of it, sign up now.

You can also watch the full webinar here

Silicon South Mission ’21 Webinar from Silicon South on Vimeo.

Education is constantly evolving. That could not be truer than during the throes of a pandemic. With this new way of life beginning to settle in for the foreseeable future, businesses are looking for ways to help employees adapt not only to working from home, but also to stay connected, productive and most importantly – to enable maintenance of a positive wellbeing following the chaos of the disruptions. With learning opportunities now easily accessible beyond the 9 to 5 through virtual and immersive learning, an opportunity for employee support through this uncertain time, both personally and professionally, is found through blended online learning programs. Virtual Learning Environments, accompanying courses & immersive e-learning content is extending the space of learning possibilities – and with over 10 years of experience in creation of VLEs and immersive technology using Unity3D, Moodle and Articulate, Dorset Creative is a specialist in this field.

VIRTUAL LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS (VLEs)

Virtual learning environments (VLEs) are established educational online tools that are ways to structure, manage and deliver learning activities and content at a distance. With capabilities to track learners and manage online assessments, VLEs are centrally managed systems that support everyone involved – learners, managers and administrators.

VLEs include communications mechanisms to support dialogue between learners and those managing courses, through email, bulletin boards, forums or instant messaging (chat) – offering shared workspaces to support collaboration.

Even before COVID-19, the high growth and adoption of education technology reached over £15bn in 2019, projected to reach £300bn+ by 2025. The springboard effect of the pandemic has only highlighted the significance and requirement of distance learning, with surges in enrolments and virtual learning ranging between 110% to 400%, research shows, across hundreds of companies.

Here’s why:

SELF-MANAGED & ACTIONABLE

Easily accessible to deliver ready-made online courses, VLE and e-learning solutions have become the go-to resource for employees to access immediately from anytime, anywhere.

Designed to meet technological ecosystems today’s learners demand, VLEs allow learners to acquire skills, training and further information to take their expertise to the next level, whenever. With the blurring of times and days brought on by the pandemic’s crossover of the weekend and the days of the week, VLEs and custom interactive learning modules allow learners to manage their own learning pace – empowering learners with the ability to share content, participate in discussions using any device, practice collaboration and pace their consumption all in an easy-to-use platform.

Administrators or educators on the other side, across all geographies and industries, are not only busy serving up relevant learning content to hungry employees – they are also tracking learning progress and development of multiple learner groups, with built-in insights and reporting tools, allowing the easy identification of areas that need improvement and helping learners build their talent and potential. VLEs create flexible ways for learners to engage with educational content and to receive feedback on assessments for each course or module.

COLLABORATIVE & SOCIAL

VLEs fulfil a powerful social role. Seen as no longer just an independent means to upskill, the social network development within VLEs allows learners to feel immersed inside the learning environment – contributing to others’ motivation, involvement and contentment. Learners seek a like-minded community to learn and navigate their journeys together, which they can find, at the safety of a distance with virtual learning.

When limitations of time are removed, distance learning creates a strong internal affiliation to the subject studied, and true commitment paths are strengthened through learning alongside peers. Critically, the technology behind distance learning is the key factor in attracting learners to the VLE, to build the essential community for this collaboration. During this time of pandemic, online learning opens up new routes to education and training which would be otherwise unavailable in traditional classrooms where social distancing is impossible. The dynamics of interactive modules, collaboration and simply the trend of technology is advancing learning in today’s social climate, comprising best practice learning methodologies in this time of global crisis.

PRACTICE & FEEDBACK

Effective educating & training requires carefully designed virtual classrooms that secure engagement from learners to course managers, creates peer groups and delivers the course content in an attractive, immersive format. The monitoring of student progress and follow up issues or barriers are also critical for educators, to evolve learning paths and to minimise the likelihood of disengagement or regress.

Virtual learning employs a plethora of tools, with the ability to employ custom features specific to organisations and its learners. Through automatic grading and progress tracking, to certification and awarding – VLEs are equipped with the answers to learners’ satisfaction.

There are particular pressures evident in any online course, and the ability for learners to proceed and continue in a fail-safe or fail-forward environment is fundamental to delivering an increased proficiency in any subject. Monitoring progress can help to quickly identify and address potential concerns, this means that the provision of comprehensive services and support is pivotal in enhancing the virtual learning experience through peer-to-peer and learner-to-instructor dialogue.

SUMMARY

Digital training and online learning are key in allowing businesses to support their teams through this time of global change. New learning habits will be forged during this time and users will come to expect more accessibility to distance learning options. Acutely, many employees have a lot more time on their hands, and are craving investment in their personal development path, whilst others see how beneficial virtual learning is and want to engage outside of work.

Dorset Creative have been securely developing, supporting and configuring Moodle for over 10 years, across a broad range of sectors including financial, hospitality, health and medical solutions, for both the public and private sector. Combined with our extensive expertise in Unity3D and capabilities in Articulate, and with our very close ties to Universities, we are well-placed to create or upgrade any VLE and immersive educational content. We remain open as usual for consultation to find out more about your challenge, and to create your own virtual learning environment and immersive educational content which will satisfy the new needs of learners in 2020 and beyond.

 

Visit www.dorsetcreative.co.uk to find out more or call us on 01202 237899.

 

 

Don’t hold your breath, but there is promising news for anyone hoping that Covid-19 might stop dominating every thought, word and news report. The whispers coming from the latest discussion group amongst leaders of mid-sized agencies suggests there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Fair enough – the media isn’t going to stop talking about the pandemic until there is a better way to sell advertising space things have levelled out and there are other important topics to consider… However, what was really interesting about this conversation were the strong feelings each creative and digital founder expressed about wrestling back greater control of their business.

Over the past 6 weeks of lockdown, the narrative has been dominated by the need to confront, react and respond to a brand-new set of circumstances that no one has faced before. But it feels like the confronting, reacting and responding stage has been completed – Phase 1 at least.

With the situation accepted and to some extent controlled, the doors have been opened to that all-important question about ‘how do we move forward from here’? Part of the reason for this sense of control has been a steady return of clients. In March, it felt as if clients had disappeared off the face of the earth. But they too seem to have adjusted more quickly than was feared, and they are beginning to pick up on old projects or are rushing through new ideas to help them respond to the new situation.

Obviously, that’s not the case for every sector, and there are still large swathes of the economy which face much longer periods of hardship. I’m not suggesting they should be dismissed, and the inevitable rise in unemployment will be tough and unfair for many. The point is that, for the digital and creative economy, the scope of damage and its impact on the industry is beginning to be assessed and understood… for now, at least.

 

So how do businesses want to move on from here?

One thing many companies are accepting is a shift in the way of doing business. Companies that normally wouldn’t have got out of bed for less than £10k are starting to see projects with a lower value – and in some cases no value – a necessary (even promising) way to develop relationships, which can lead to bigger and better contracts.

Clients are rightfully cautious; some are downright petrified. With revenues decimated and the furlough end-date skipping down the calendar, holding on to cash is seen as imperative. So, clients don’t want to spend unless they can have some of their fears allayed and risks mitigated.

It’s a great opportunity for creative teams to use their creative thought-process to help a non-creative company understand the threats and opportunities in a different light. We’re uniquely placed for this. For starters, we have expertise in understanding what their customers want: We understand the difference between need and demand; We know when their customers want the sizzle not the sausage; Most agencies are at least a page ahead of their clients in understanding behavioural science too (and if you’re not, why not?!).

Agencies look at new challenges every day, while most clients deliver the same products and services day-in day-out. Letting them dip their toe in the water by helping out with a new, low-cost project is proving an efficient way for clients to experience new concepts – in a way that agencies take for granted. If you do your job right, you can 1) help prove a concept and 2) educate them as you go along, about how they can reach their bigger goals.

Perhaps, what this is showing is that what we do is not always the most important bit – at least, that’s not what clients always want. It’s what we know and how we do it which is making a difference. Could this be a defining ‘CD moment’ for agencies – as it was for the music industry? Say you’re a web developer -half the world can build their own website on Wix now. So, what can you offer – Where do you think your value is?

The experiences of our discussion group suggests it’s the thought process, guidance and reassurance that clients really value right now. And that might have a big impact on how we move forward.

Okay, the title sounds a bit wishy-washy for a business post, but 6 weeks after lockdown some fascinating ideas have emerged from discussions between a group of micro companies who employ 1-5 people. This key insights here are very much influenced by the reassuring presence of Carolyn Freeman who, as a psychologist, brought different perspectives to the challenges of pushing ahead with business.

The good news is that some calm and consistency seems to be descending on agency founders. But all things are relative. Micro business founders are invariably used to battling on multiple fronts every day – as they take responsibility not only for delivering services and products, but providing staff-management, business development, company strategy – even the bookkeeping, and so on.

But there has been a shift. Up to now, anyone has been able to understand the rules of engagement, no matter what sector you work in. Suddenly, to borrow the Government’s metaphor, there are new battle lines being drawn, it feels like, every day. To be honest, it’s not as if it was easy before – but now, it’s even tougher trying to navigate your way through a world of shifting landscapes – with clients unreliably popping up and down like a game of whack-a-mole.

A big relief for every founder is to know they’re not the only ones having a hard time – Everyone is in the same boat! Somehow, it’s reassuring to know that, even if your confronting the worst business prospects since I don’t know when, you’re all in this together. It’s not you – it’s them.

Even so, most of us are working with a low level of anxiety – whether we realise it or not. Even when we think we’re coping, the external concerns over which we have no control force us to think more deeply about how we tackle things right now. Curiously, this is ramping up the amount of bizarre dreams many of us are having at the moment – because our brains are being made to work harder. Using the brain also uses up a load more energy than we tend to realise. So, if you feel more tired at the end of the day, don’t beat yourself up – it’s okay – It’s only to be expected.

 

What can we do to help ourselves?

 

Nobody knows what the future looks like. Everything is guesswork, so it seems best to accept that. Now is not the time to be striving for perfection, because it’s impossible to tell what perfect looks like. It will just make you go round in circles and possibly end up a little bit crazy.

Time management is probably going to be a frustrating enemy. There’s so much distraction, it’s hard to stay focused. More than ever, it’s important to be methodical with what you are doing. Write down lists and stick to them. The likelihood is that the next 6 months will be tougher than you want – but not as bad as you fear. One life-hack is to think about how things might look in 6 months-time, and then look back on today from that viewpoint, as if the time had passed already, and how you might have got there. It gives you a bit more perspective about how the future could pan out.

It’s also a good time to reflect on yourself and your personal ambition. All this time to ourselves is striping away some of the artifice of life. ‘Self’ is sometimes described in 3 ways: 1) The ‘Ought self’ – the person you think you should be; 2) The ‘Ideal self’ – who you aim to become; 3) The ‘Actual self’ – who you really are.

Lockdown is helping people to rediscover their ‘Actual’ selves. This is positive because working within the limits of our inherent abilities makes us more naturally productive. If we’re not trying to force our work through the prism of a person were pretending to be, we will be in much more control of our actions, and feel surer of them too.

As a last word, a great way to deal with low level anxiety is spending time around nature. If you’re luck enough to have a garden, spend some time in it. Get weeding! Being tactile in nature helps to (literally) earth us. If you don’t have access to a garden, amazingly enough, simply looking at pictures of nature has been shown to have beneficial effects – nearly as good as the real thing.

Change can have a big impact on life. While, usually, it’s not as major as bereavement, the impact of how change makes you feel follows a pretty similar pathway. It looks something like this…

Shock –> Denial –> Frustration –> Depression –> Acceptance –> Experimentation –> New Normal

Obviously, we’re in a pretty major change situation right now. For business founders, there is an impact on them directly as individuals – but, also, they have to manage the effects of change on their business too. Interestingly, nearly all of them have skipped over worrying about how this is affecting them and are much more concerned about the wellbeing of their business.

Six weeks into lockdown, the Shocks and Frustrations have more or less been navigated and most leaders have at least reached some level of Acceptance. In fact, most have moved beyond this and are in the Experimentation phase. A common characteristic for most successful founders is being fundamentally motivated – and that drive, which pushed them into setting up their own business in the first place, is now pushing them to find ways to make the make the best out of tricky circumstances.

(if you’re interested in the characteristics of a founder, it’s something that the entrepreneur Andrew Walker talks about with a lot of perceptiveness, in this 10th Degree podcast.)

One of the positive side-effects of working from home has been the opportunity for uninterrupted thought. It’s giving leaders time to think about their business more than usual. To be honest, for a lot of people, this has been an uninvited necessity thrust on them, but it’s reassuring to see the vast majority respond to the challenge.

This new way of working has certainly elevated issues of staff well-being, motivation and capability right back up to the top of everyone’s agenda. There is a great deal of thought dedicated on how to support staff – so they can continue to work in a way which is beneficial for everyone. Lockdown has opened up new ideas about how work should be conducted in the future. For instance, what is the function of an office in 2021, or is it right to expect much higher levels of homeworking?

In considering this, the more experienced leaders realise they are often in a privileged position. A bigger house, a garden, greater experience to draw on – all help to make this situation easier to deal with. But not everyone has that advantage. Many staff have not progressed along those 7 Stages of Change nearly so easily. Six weeks of lock down stuck in a small flat, with no outdoor area or fighting house mates for workspace on the kitchen table has left a lot of people fighting Frustration and lapsing into Depression. At the same time, staff on furlough face different pressures and uncertain futures – and are left to question what happens if they don’t get their old job back.

There seems to be a limit as to what can be achieved right now, with circumstances dictating the limits of help that can be provided, but there are glimpses that some allowance of movement will return in the nearer future. The expectation is, however, that social distancing will need to be retained for quite some time yet – including in the workplace – potentially for months.

The next hurdle for leaders is deciding how do they adapt to make sure the business operates successfully, but also that staff function to their best ability and in way which works for them.

 

 

It’s not surprising that business has been impacted by lockdown but it’s not all negative.

Every fortnight Silicon South has been hosting discussion groups for small numbers of digital, creative and tech leaders. For the leaders of some of the regions bigger agencies the impact of working from home has catalysed some radical thinking about how they might operate in the future. There observations are outlined here.

 

At the forefront is the release of self-imposed restrictions they have placed on their business, based on the locality of the office – e.g. if this has meant you have, predominantly, seen yourself as a Dorset-based business. The ability to be able to service clients remotely – i.e. perfectly well from a home-based workforce – shows how clients could be serviced anywhere in the country or the world.

 

Up to now, some companies have seen proximity to clients as being important – from now on, perhaps this is not the barrier it was previously considered to be. For some it has been the expectation of the clients wanting to meet face to face which has been the reason for this. Lockdown should have lessened that expectation. Dialling-in won’t be frowned upon as much, anymore.

 

For companies which carry out strong levels of national and overseas trade already, they expect to reduce their levels of travel. This frees up more working available time – which in turn improves the means to explore further market opportunities.

 

This opportunity works both ways, of course. As well as opening up new prospects further afield, it opens up the local client markets which agencies have traditionally seen as ‘ on their patch’ to a wider (national) agency sector. So, what improves a business’ ability to serve a more wide-spread client base.

 

Focusing on a niche

The benefit of focusing more strongly on a specific niche has enabled agencies to widen their geographical targeting. Increasing levels of digitisation enables clients to be served further afield. Also, a clearer niche enables a service to be more streamlined and productised, this helps set better client expectations which can be managed more straightforwardly as a remote service.

 

Having a niche also reduces levels of competition from the larger numbers of ‘generalist’ agencies and it increases clarity about what you offer. It helps in being seen as specialist in a specific area.

 

In the international market a UK business can be seen as an ‘exotic’ choice amongst the local offerings, which is attractive to some clients. In addition, British products and services are seen as top quality – British creativity are seen as world leading and that instinctively strengths the brand of any British agency, without you even needing to try.

 

How about showing off that quality more blatantly. Is it worth pursuing ISO standards?

It’s hard to be definitive. If it’s relevant to your specialism, then certainly yes – e.g. in finance. If it’s not, it only makes a difference to people who already required it to begin with. If it’s not expected by a client, the fact that you have ISO will make very little difference to them or their agency appointment decision.

 

If you decide to focus more on your niche, it helps by starting with an ABC breakdown of existing clients. Identify who makes it into the top-level A category. Look for areas of commonality between them and use that to help you define the area where you should develop your niche capabilities.

 

Use the data you already have access to – to identify where the most effective business was coming from; what did people seem to be looking at; where would repeat business come from, etc.

 

It might be worth asking yourself the question, if you were only ever paid based on your performance what would be the kind of client you would go for?

 

As every agency knows, selling ‘hours’ is a difficult business model. So, is it worth considering performance-based contracts? Or providing service for free in return for a share of future revenue.

 

The issues are that, unless you control all the data, it has to be done on trust – and the clients have to report back accurate figures. They are also in charge of the business delivery. You don’t have a say in what they do, so you have to believe they are making the right business decisions. You have no control if they run out of stock. Do you have the right level of trust to be able to do this?

 

Impact of home working

On the whole it seems to have been harder on younger people than older, unscientifically this might be because:

  • They have smaller spaces to work in
  • They do not have as much experience to rely on do deliver their work
  • They have a stronger need to interact with others and are more social
  • They have more energy

 

If younger people are released from lockdown before older people, as has been mooted, how does management supervise them? Is it possible to manage people effectively in this way? Might it be better to keep offices closed until everyone can return?

 

Some agencies are really enjoying how this is working – in fact, it argues for a continuation of more home working in the future.

 

Generally remote working has worked pretty well for most and some are considering how they can continue this after lockdown has ended. There is interest in:

  • Part-time office space
  • Sharing with other agencies and each agency taking over the space as their own, on alternating days
  • It is not clear what the best model of sharing an office might be
  • There is also interest in using empty high street spaces for offices, although this has challenges from landlords (e.g. pension funds) unwilling to shift rents down to make them affordable

 

It’s not clear what the perfect solution is right now – but one thing that seems certain is some of the changes forced on to business are actually revealing better ways to work, and some of that is going to stick.

 

What’s been the impact of lockdown on businesses across our region? How bad has it really been, and which areas are doing better than others? Silicon South has been hosting a number of discussion groups for leaders of digital creative and tech businesses. The groups have been curated so leaders talk with others in similar positions and kindly been facilitated by several local directors. This article provides a summary of the discussions held by leaders who employ between 6-16 staff.

 

Client fallout

There has been an increase in actions from clients that have a negative impact on business.

  • Top of the list, from the moment lockdown was announced was the cancellation of proposed projects
  • Secondly clients have halted projects in progress,
  • Clients have also cancelled ongoing retainer-based contracts.
  • Some clients have simply stopped paying for ongoing services including web hosting, without any contact. This raises the immediate question do you still want your website? More charitably agencies are reacting by offering more flexible payment terms.
  • As lockdown continues, clients have been looking to reduce prices/quotes, but without any specific basis other than they don’t want to pay as much.

 

This last point raises the question of how you value your business. If there is no profit for you is it worth delivering, just to keep turnover going? What message does this send to clients – will they expect discounts in the future, regardless of lockdown? Most agencies feel its important to rates as best as possible, while some discounting is okay – you don’t want to come out of this only to find you’ve driven the expectations of your business to operate at an unprofitable level.

 

It’s also possible to renegotiate the spec if you’re charging a lower level of revenue. For instance, there’s only so much discount a store would give you if you go to buy a shiny new iPhone – at some point you have to accept you can only afford to buy an iPhone SE!

 

The biggest hits are coming from retail, leisure and tourism. As this continues, this will continue to affect the supply chains that serve them. For clients outside of these industries, the biggest reasons for halting work is to retain cash. Businesses in all sectors see that cash is king right now – they need to have the ability ride through the crisis. Once they see the green shoots of recovery, the indications are that they would be more prepared to pick up on their previous project plans.

 

This puts our own sector in the same position. If customers are not commissioning from us, then we will need to ride the slowdown and still be ready and able to pick up on the work when it finally recommences.

 

Most companies have placed at least some staff on furlough. The level varies greatly depending on how badly impacted they have been. Some companies have revised their initial furlough plans to retain more staff as the knee-jerk reaction of clients has reversed with some, in fact, pushing forward with planned projects.

 

It is heartening to see that some companies have secured new contracts. In many cases these were in the pipeline before lockdown, so the concern is in the absence of new work being originated since lockdown began.

 

Most agency financial forecasts suggest April will be down on March – which was already down on February. At best, May and June are unlikely to be any better than April, and the jury is out as to what happens in July onwards. Some companies are really only looking one month ahead suggesting that the current level of uncertainty, makes everything else mere conjecture.

 

Where is the good news?

 

This is not the case for everyone, happily. The most amount of interest for new business enquiries seems to revolve around ecommerce. More businesses who are unable to trade right now are looking to establish direct relationships with customers online.

 

This raises really interesting question for the future of high street. Already the high street has been witnessing a slow decline for a number of years. If online commerce works successfully for these new players does this reduce their incentive to reopen a bricks and mortar shop when lockdown is lifted?

 

Other sources of new business have come where existing agency relationships have been challenged because too many staff are on furlough to deliver the client needs, which is pushing clients to look for a new supplier.

 

Some Agencies are also looking at offering performance delivery model options – i.e. revenue share. This mean you can build, for example, a new ecommerce site for a business, not charge for it and take a percentage of the revenue made by the platform.

 

This is attractive to clients – it looks like they get something for free, but it is not straight forward.

The issues are that, unless you control all the data, it has to be done on trust – and the clients have to report back accurate figures. They are also in charge of the business delivery. You don’t have a say in what they do, so you have to believe they are making the right business decisions. You have no control if they run out of stock. Do you have the right level of trust to be able to do this?

 

With client work at a lower level it has been possible to focus staff on developing some internal projects which have been kicking around for a while but never had the time to do. This might be anything from sprucing up the company website, to reviewing SEO strategy.

 

 

Looking ahead

There are mixed expectations about how things will evolve out of lockdown. One thing that everyone agreed on is that normal business will not be resumed all at once. There is likely to be a tiered approach to re-establishing normal levels of contact.

 

How this happens might influence the confidence of client sectors and their ability to commission new work going forward.

 

Retail is likely to one of the early areas to reopen as social distancing can be observed. Likewise, office jobs – where there is enough space in the office to maintain distance between staff.

Pubs and bars are likely to be last as they support the greatest level of social interaction. It’s worth looking into the sector you work with most closely to assess where they are likely to fall in the phased relaxation of lockdown.

 

Perhaps the staff who have been worst hit by furlough are at the junior level – as they require the most amount of support, which is hard to do remotely. This means that in the autumn this is likely to be the group which has endured the highest level of redundancy, especially considering how many companies expect to reduce their workforce numbers.

 

Hopefully as business picks up again there will be new job opportunities, but this does raise questions for the school and university leavers who are keen to get their first job in the creative digital and tech industry.

 

An unknown quantity is how people are feeling? The great British public, who drive the consumer economy and consequently much of the business economy which support them. It would be helpful to have a better idea of people’s attitudes towards spending once lockdown relaxes. If expenditure is down, who has the money?

 

Consumers whose jobs are unaffected are likely to be better off because they won’t have been able to spend so much, but how does this balance out of the economy as a whole given the number of people whose jobs have been affected and are on furlough or universal credit. The same question applies if applied to businesses as well. Further insights into this can help in strategic planning and identifying where business development might be focused.

 

Overall, will people and companies be cautious about spending – or will they hold onto savings until they have more confidence that things are on the up and their revenues are protected. If a cautious approach is expected it is likely that growth economy will be in a U shape not a V shape

 

We are hosting regular directors discussions – see Eventbrite to find when the next ones are

 

We’re pleased to announce that we are now able to offer grants of up to £2,000 to businesses in the digital, creative and technology sectors in Dorset thanks to continued funding from the European Regional Development Fund, which we’ve been pushing for over the past 9 months. These 25% match-funded grants are now available for local businesses.

It’s worth stressing that the grants, the match funding requirements and the eligibility criteria were all, unfortunately, set out and agreed in a pre-Covid-19 environment, so some of the restriction might not be as helpful as we’d like right now, but, it does mean that some funding is available to companies who can continue to invest, innovate and create new products at this time. They (and we) are tied to certain criteria in order to get this money out to local businesses.We will be reserving a portion of the total fund in the hope that it can support more businesses once this uncertain period is hopefully behind us.

The grants can provide a 25% contribution of £1,000 or £2,000, for any business spending a total of between £4,000 and £8,000.

The basic criteria:

  • You MUST be a business based in Dorset
  • You MUST NOT have received grant funding from either Silicon South or Dorset Growth Hub since 2017
  • You MAY have received other support
  • You MUST be able to spend the full grant total before the end of June 2020 (for this initial round of grants) – the grant will be reimbursed to you upon completion of all the project spend
  • The full project budget MUST ONLY pay for external costs i.e – specialist equipment, consultancy fees etc. You CAN NOT spend any of the budget of PAYE staff
  • You MUST provide bank statements and invoices as proof of all project-related spend prior to the grant being released to you
  • You will need to fill in a few forms (sorry!) but please don’t apply if you aren’t happy to do this – we will help guide you through all of it!

This grants scheme is in partnership with Dorset Growth Hub – and full guidelines have been compiled here.

To apply for the grant, please fill in this form. If you have any questions prior to your application please email [email protected] to set up a phone call.

 

 

Imagine the Titanic has hit that iceberg, there’s a sweep of lifeboats scattered around the ocean held together with flimsy communication cords – and you know not everyone is going to survive. That’s pretty much how it feels right now for most of the businesses in Silicon South’s digital, creative and tech network.

Covid-19 has reared up, seemingly out of nowhere, to turn everything upside down. Staff have shipped out to work from home. Many are facing the uncertainty of furlough (who knew that word two weeks ago!) and, even tougher, it’s not certain that every business has the capacity to make it through to the other side. For the ones that do, it’s not clear what the other side even looks like.

Unsurprisingly, there is no business manual for people to reach for, to help them process the effects of a pandemic. For nearly everyone running a business, it’s been a whirlwind 21 days: Shock – followed by confusion – followed by action – infused with hope and possibly prayer. Business leaders have had to respond as best they can in distinctly uncharted waters.

But where does this leave us? How have businesses reacted and what does the future look like? Silicon South has held several virtual discussion groups, bringing leaders together to compare their experiences, choices and actions. It’s resulted in some open, honest and, at times, painful discussions, which have helped to provide some perspective and insights for everyone involved.

The discussion groups were curated to bring leaders working at similar levels together. It meant they could talk through issues with other people who were facing similar challenges and have been through similar experiences. So far groups have been held for leaders of: 17+employees; 6-16 employees; 1-5 employees, and early stage Tech.

Although each group expressed challenges specific to their size, there were similarities running through all of them. The biggest impact for everyone, since lockdown was announced, highlights the inescapable fact that ‘creative’ is one of the first things to be hit in any major downturn.

Every company has experienced some instance of clients putting on the brakes or cancelling projects, freezing projects mid-delivery or pulling out of existing contracts. Some clients have simply stopped paying, whilst their own future is put under pressure, and, worryingly (for the whole economy), some clients face a real danger they might collapse altogether, if they haven’t already.

The consequences highlight the dependencies and fragility of the supply chain. Perhaps most gutting of all was that business was beginning to pick up after the torrid uncertainties of Brexit. A lot of companies said that March 2020 was on course to be one of the best trading months ever. Of course, we know how that’s panned out.

Positively, after the initial shock subsided, the business community have taken a raft of measures designed to give their businesses the best chance of survival and, more importantly – and something everyone emphasised – the best chance to keep the jobs of the people working within them.

But, as no one reads long articles anymore, I’ll pick this up next week and dive into more of the detail then. It’s not clear where the rescue boats are coming from yet – and it seems like this will go one for months rather than weeks. Positively the leaders are showing a strong response to the alarm and working their hardest to keep the lifeboats afloat with as many people on board as possible.

 

Next article to include…

What action have the leaders taken…

What business models seem to be holding up…

Who’s come out in a stronger position…

What approaches are being taken to protect staff…

 

Join the next Directors discussion groups:

Early Stage Tech Founders 15th April, at 12:30

Founders of businesses with 1-5 employees – 16th April at 11:00

Founders of businesses with 6-16 employees – 15th April at 16:00

 

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Silicon South has launched a new supporter network for everyone working in the digital creative and tech sector in Bournemouth, Christchurch, Poole and Dorset.

This launch represents a big shift in the emphasis of what Silicon South stands for and delivers.

After several years of delivering support to businesses in the digital, creative and tech sector, set by a publicly funded agenda, we are changing to deliver an agenda set by the sector itself. The Network is being championed by a range of businesses from across the different elements of the sector who are all keen to promote the expertise and world-class talents of our sector.

Silicon South becomes a supporter-led organisation which will deliver three key goals:

  • Build the reputation of the region’s sector, maximise the appeal of working for the companies in it – and attract people and business to locate here
  • Strengthen the interest of potential customers in the services and products offered by businesses in our Network
  • Improve the capability of local businesses to manage ever-evolving demands and opportunities, and deliver financially-sustainable, imaginative and innovative solutions

Our Ambition is to raise the reputation of the sector to a level that is nationally recognised, e.g. on par with Bristol, Manchester, Cardiff, etc.

Silicon South will develop a campaign strategy that can significantly extend the reach of our reputation, both inside and outside the region. The details of the campaign have not been set yet, we want to have a wider consultation with businesses, as they become supporters of the network, to make sure we take into consideration the aims of a wider range of companies.

The end-goal of this campaign work must be to improve knowledge about the sector with potential recruits and customers, and making sure this leads to concrete actions for our supporters – such as stronger employment or increased customer enquiries.

As a first step we have implemented a series of practical online functions that can provide support in delivering these bigger goals. This includes:

  • News and stories: A single location where local business success stories and insights, demonstrating expert knowledge, can be found on this website. Primary mediums are articles, podcasts and videos.
  • Promotion and social media: the Silicon South team will use social media as a principal medium to promote stories, backed up by PR and other marketing options
  • Searchable database and map: The database on this website provides an overview of the expertise and skills offered by Network supporters. So they can be discovered by interested parties
  • Jobs board: Displays the breadth of opportunities in the region, and emphasises the choice available to applicants to provide a destination for them to appreciate the range of opportunities on offer
  • Contract finder: A place potential customers can advertise opportunities
  • Speaker/expert opportunities: Allows companies from other sectors to find businesses or consultants that can deliver news expertise they need

The Silicon South team will also be running a range of activities to ensure to push the wider agenda:

  • Develop links with other industries, to promote commercial potential offered by the sector and deliver meet-the-buyer activities especially around digitally-based innovation
  • Networking: to enable companies to connect with other local companies to share advice or find potential pitching partners, including meetups and dinners at a peer-appropriate level
  • Opportunities to grow and develop: The team will continue to deliver a range of programmes to support business leaders including: Mentoring; Access to expert advice; Specialist workshops and Masterclasses. We will use the expertise of the network to develop each other’s knowledge
  • Employee support programme: Enable employees to gain access to peer-appropriate support, to enable them to develop their skills, gain confidence and overcome imposter syndrome.

Joining the network is easy and your best way to keep up to date with the opportunities that will be on offer. You can sign up here https://siliconsouth.org.uk/memberships/