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Over whelmed by Free Business Support Offers? Get focussed and Open the Door to Growth

Over whelmed by Free Business Support Offers? Get focussed and Open the Door to Growth

Neil Coles benefited from the recent Small business Leadership programme at Nottingham Business School, Nottingham Trent University


Coles Sewing Centre is the largest dealer of Husqvarna Viking Sewing products in the UK. As a specialist store, the company offers advice and help on all aspects of sewing, runs sewing courses, and services and repairs all makes of sewing machine. They also sell fabrics, threads and haberdashery. Coles has also made a name for itself thanks to the support and expertise it offers, with everyone at the company passionate about sewing.

So what happened to the company when the pandemic hit in March 2020 and Cole’s had to shut its doors? Neil Coles explained:

“Covid-19 has been one of the scariest things I’ve ever faced in my life. My first priority was to make sure that all my staff kept their jobs during lockdown, with support from the Government’s furlough scheme. We then started to look at how we could deliver our sewing classes online. Because our courses are so tactile and hands-on, we couldn’t just switch to a platform like Zoom. It soon became clear it would be more complex than that – going digital would involve a major pivot.

“I’d done a business degree in the past, but faced with a whole new set of challenges, I wanted to make sure my skills were up to date and become a better leader and decision-maker. The Small Business Leadership Programme offered a useful way to do that.

Each module made me rethink a specific area of the business. For instance, I’d stopped doing regular cashflow forecasts once the company was well-established. Now, thanks to the programme, I’m doing them much more regularly.

“I’ve also spent a lot more time looking at our KPIs, to make sure we’re on track. They’ve developed as the business has adapted in the pandemic, and will strengthen the way we move forward. We’ve trimmed expenditure to make the company more resilient and as well as saving us money, it’s made us much more agile. Before the pandemic, we used third party companies to manage our Google advertising. Now we’re doing it ourselves in-house. We’re saving around 25k a year, while still achieving comparable results. We can also respond a lot more quickly and change content daily, often within minutes. It’s made our approach a lot more intuitive, driven by the wealth of expertise and experience we have as a company.

“The interaction with other business leaders was also a highlight of the programme for me. The pandemic meant we were all facing new challenges and being able to discuss our experiences and share what worked and what didn’t was invaluable. Beyond that, it’s also led to exciting new collaborations. For instance, we’re working with the recycled fashion retailer, White Rose, on a new upcycling project for young people, where there’ll be able to hire our machines and learn from our experienced sewing experts. With an increasing demand for sustainable fashion, upcycling and garment making is a real growth area for us, encouraging a new generation of stitchers to take up sewing.

“As a business, we’re still in survival mode but we’re starting to come out of it. Our in-person classes have returned and we’ve been working with NTU to develop a high quality digital channel for our courses, and a range of digital content including bite-sized ‘how to’ videos. A hybrid approach will enable us to provide a more bespoke service to our customers, now and in the future. Online will help us reach a wider audience and make our classes more accessible, while in-person will suit people who prefer a face-to-face experience. What started out as a challenge is now set to help us thrive and open up new areas of the market.There’s also been a demand for sewing machine servicing from schools and colleges, as the pandemic eases and teaching returns to normal.

“Being part of the programme has undoubtedly helped me develop as a leader. It encouraged me to think about my leadership style and move away from being the busy businessman that hasn’t got time for people. I feel as if I’m kinder, more understanding, and more appreciative of the issues facing my staff, customer and suppliers. It’s already had a positive impact on the company.

“We’re offering a more flexible style of working to support staff with young families for example, and just recently, we’ve retained a valuable member of our team by pivoting their role. They were working in our mail order department and unfortunately, it looked as if we may have to make them redundant. I sat down to find out if we could avoid that by finding them a new role and it turned out that they had a range of digital skills we hadn’t known about before. Now they’re managing our website and social media and we’ve been able to keep their valuable skills and experience in-house.

“Before the Small Business Leadership Programme, I didn’t take as much time to sit down with my team and work things out together. Not only have I learned how to be more receptive, I’ve learned the questions to ask to get the best responses.”

So if you are over whelmed by the number of free workshops and support offers available to businesses and want to benefit from a quality programme, designed by leading academics with input from professional accredited professional bodies then the Help to Grow: Management is the right place for you.

The programme of support is valued at £7500 the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy are funding 90% of the costs in a bid to drive productivity post Covid-19, with participants asked to make a small 10% contribution of £750.

The first cohort begins at the end of September so for more details please contact or visit

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