LEEDS CITY REGION SMALL BUSINESS DIGITAL CAPABILITY PROGRAMME

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1 LEEDS CITY REGION SMALL BUSINESS DIGITAL CAPABILITY PROGRAMME EVALUATION REPORT Prepared by James Hopton, Research & Intelligence Team Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership

2 CONTENTS 1. PURPOSE OF THIS DOCUMENT CONTEXT PURPOSE OF THIS DOCUMENT THE FOLLOWING DATA COLLECTION TOOLS AND TECHNIQUES WERE ADOPTED THE STRUCTURE OF THIS DOCUMENT LEEDS CITY REGION SMALL BUSINESS DIGITAL CAPABILITY PROGRAMME INTRODUCTION PROGRAMME OBJECTIVES AND SCOPE PROJECT ACTIVITIES PROGRAMME PERFORMANCE AGAINST TARGETS INTRODUCTION PROGRAMME TARGETS WERE SUBSTANTIALLY EXCEEDED BUSINESSES FROM A BROAD RANGE OF SECTORS, AGES AND SIZES ACCESSED THE SUPPORT THE SUPPORT HAS DELIVERED A POSITIVE IMPACT AND MANY BENEFICIARIES ARE ALREADY IMPLEMENTING CHANGE QUALITATIVE FEEDBACK FROM BENEFICIARIES INTRODUCTION MOST RESPONDENTS FELT THAT THE SUPPORT THEY RECEIVED HAD ALREADY RESULTED IN A POSITIVE IMPACT ON THEIR BUSINESS SOCIAL MEDIA SUPPORT AND PEER TO PEER NETWORKING OPPORTUNITIES WERE IDENTIFIED AS TWO OF THE MOST USEFUL ASPECTS OF THE PROGRAMME PARTICIPANT BUSINESSES IDENTIFIED A NUMBER OF AREAS WHERE THE SUPPORT COULD BE FURTHER DEVELOPED AND IMPROVED IN THE FUTURE LESSONS LEARNED AND KEY MESSAGES INTRODUCTION LESSONS LEARNED: THE LEP PERSPECTIVE KEY FINDINGS AND MESSAGES EMERGING FROM THIS EVALUATION... 10

3 1. PURPOSE OF THIS DOCUMENT 1.1 CONTEXT Only 59% of SMEs have a website and just one third of businesses currently trade online. It is estimated that UK SMEs could increase their annual turnover by 18bn if the less digitally-capable firms began trading and marketing online. To capitalise on this opportunity and in response to the Government s Information Economy Strategy (2013), which committed to reaching 1.6 million Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) in order to help them to transact business online by 2018, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) launched the Small Business Digital Capability Programme. The programme aims to build the digital capabilities of SMEs in the following ways: Inspire: by explaining the benefits to businesses, inspiring them to take their first step; Educate: by explaining the options available, providing choice for learning and sharing best practice; Support: by signposting and supporting training and skills development opportunities, creating specific modules to enhance transactional skills and enabling users to acquire advanced skills; and Promote: by promoting the advantages using case studies and peer to peer stories and encouraging online community engagement. To deliver these aims BIS launched the 2m Small Business Digital Capability Challenge Fund, which invited LEPs to submit proposals for local innovative and sustainable activity to help SMEs improve their digital skills and ultimately trade online. Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership (the LEP) was successful in its bid for 110k from the Challenge Fund to deliver a local programme which builds on its existing Superfast West Yorkshire Programme by aiming to help small businesses improve their digital skills. 1.2 PURPOSE OF THIS DOCUMENT A key element of the programme was a requirement for LEPs to evaluate the impact of the funding against target inputs, outputs and outcomes. This report presents the key findings of evaluation of the LEP s Programme which has been delivered in line with the national evaluation framework developed by BIS. The report 1) analyses how the Programme has performed against its target metrics; 2) assesses the impact of the Programme on participating businesses, 3) considers what worked well and why from the perspective of business participants and delivery practitioners, and 4) identifies possible improvements for future delivery. 1.3 THE FOLLOWING DATA COLLECTION TOOLS AND TECHNIQUES WERE ADOPTED Monitoring returns: analysis of monthly expenditure and output monitoring returns submitted to BIS; Online survey: an online survey was circulated to all 304 participant businesses between March 16 th 2015 and April 10 th A total of 115 participants completed the survey, representing a 38% response rate. In addition, the data collected in the feedback forms completed by participants attending each the 8 events delivered by the Programme (see section 2) was analysed; and A workshop with the LEP Programme management and delivery team: to understand the benefits delivered by the Programme the; identify the key challenges faced and any lessons learned for similar programmes in the future. 1.4 THE STRUCTURE OF THIS DOCUMENT Section 2 Leeds City Region Small Business Digital Capability Programme: provides an overview of the project, its aims and objectives and the key activities that it delivered; Section 3 Performance against programme targets: details how the programme has performed against its target metrics; Section 4 Qualitative feedback from beneficiaries: draws on the open responses from the online survey, and feedback from the sessions themselves, including lessons learnt and what worked well; and Section 5 Lessons learned and concluding remarks: provides an overview of what worked well from the perspective of practitioners as well as the challenges they faced before concluding with a summary of the key messages emerging from the study, identifying possible refinements for future similar programmes. 1

4 2. LEEDS CITY REGION SMALL BUSINESS DIGITAL CAPABILITY PROGRAMME 2.1 INTRODUCTION The Leeds City Region Small Business Digital Capability Programme (The Programme) received 100k funding from the Challenge Fund for Small Business Digital Capability in November 2014, with an additional 10k secured in February The Programme builds on the Superfast West Yorkshire (SWY) project which aims to improve access to and take up of superfast broadband, aiming for coverage to 97% of premises by the end of The Digital Capability Programme enabled the LEP to extend the support on offer to businesses, by providing increased support to those already engaged by Superfast West Yorkshire, and to enable businesses not previously eligible for the Superfast West Yorkshire project to participate. 2.2 PROGRAMME OBJECTIVES AND SCOPE The Programme was delivered in partnership with the LEP s existing private sector partner on the SWY project, Leeds City Council and BE Group. It targeted companies who had already accessed the maximum support available under SWY, but who could further exploit the potential of technology with additional support. New entrants who were either ineligible or unaware of the Superfast programme were also targeted. The Programme had a clear focus on working with high growth potential SMEs who could benefit most from the support offer, and who could make the greatest contribution to the LEP s core objectives of increasing jobs and Gross Value Added (GVA) growth. It was intended that by engaging businesses the Programme would: 1) stimulate demand for broadband upgrades through existing programmes; 2) boost the take up of existing support programmes through the development of taster provision and on-line support materials; and 3) lead to the introduction of new and innovative support around exploitation of cloud computing, 3D printing and other digital developments. The Programme was also closely aligned with existing and forthcoming LEP services such as the Skills Service and Growth Service, to provide a co-ordinated support offer to businesses. The project had a five month delivery timetable and aimed to achieve the following targets: Activity Target (minimum) Shift The number of businesses taking up or participating in related local/government 100 initiatives. Engage 240 businesses engaged via face to face masterclasses, taster sessions and online 640 provision; 60 businesses undertaking further structured 12 hour programme of diagnosis and review/group workshops/masterclasses/individual support; 300 businesses downloading resources and advice from websites; 40 businesses sharing of best practice. Touch Marketing through magazines and e-bulletin. 22,500 Total businesses supported/engaged 23, PROJECT ACTIVITIES Eight events and masterclasses were held as part of the Programme at venues across the City Region. These sessions were the main channel through which beneficiaries received support. Each masterclass focused on a specific issue/theme. 146 people attended the masterclasses, with an additional 156 attending the Big Social Media Show, held in partnership with Microsoft. Businesses were engaged in the Programme through a range of channels. Telemarketing was a valuable tool in attracting participants, enabling direct discussion with SMEs and providing rich qualitative data which shaped the programme around business needs. Events and masterclasses Social Media for Business Get More Enquiries Social Media Content and Etiquette Get More Enquiries Social Media Masterclass Digital Marketing Boot camp Twitter for Business Big Social Media Show 2

5 3. PROGRAMME PERFORMANCE AGAINST TARGETS 3.1 INTRODUCTION This section assesses Programme s performance and the experience of participants. Performance against key metrics is summarised in Table 3.1 below, with further analysis presented in the remainder of the section. 3.2 PROGRAMME TARGETS WERE SUBSTANTIALLY EXCEEDED Despite challenging timescales, the programme met, and in most cases considerably exceeded, the targets agreed with government. In total, over 76,000 businesses were reached as part of the programme more than three times the initial target of approximately 23,200. Over 4,000 businesses were directly engaged with the programme, with 300 attending events/masterclasses (against a target of 240), and 700 contacted by telephone. Against a target of 300 businesses downloading resources from a website, 210 downloaded or otherwise engaged with the website, with 2,780 spending over three minutes accessing information on the site. As a consequence, over 200 businesses have already accessed related government initiatives that will help them exploit the opportunities offered by digital technology. This is more than double the initial target of 100. As detailed below, this number is likely to rise as many businesses intend to implement further change as a result of their participation in the programme. Many participant businesses received support through multiple channels. Over 95% attended an event or masterclass. 28% received information by , with 20% also getting face to face advice. 6% accessed online support, and the same proportion received advice by telephone. Table 3.1: Programme performance against metric targets Touch Engage Target Metric (Number of business) Achieved e-newsletter or e-alerts about the Digital Skills 50,995 Programme or Connection Vouchers Touch 22,500 Reached through digital media activity business businesses through 6,193 Twitter followers contacted magazines, e-bulletins etc. Total visitors to any project-specific website 13,985 Website traffic (visits to business pages) Leaflet distribution at masterclasses and other events 700 Target: Touch 22,500 businesses 71,873 businesses reached 60 businesses Face to face advice via business adviser contact at undertaking further Social Media show structured 12 hour 20 programme of diagnosis and review Attending events 146 (masterclasses) 240 engaged via face to face masterclasses, taster sessions and online provision. 300 businesses downloading resources/ advice Telephone contact with businesses on Digital Skills Fund and Vouchers programmes Use of a website (following a link/downloading resources/registering) 156 (Big Social Media Show Spending over 3 minutes on a website 2,781 Target: Engage 640 businesses 4,019 businesses engaged Take-up of Connection Vouchers as a result of 100 businesses taking 205 telemarketing campaign + direct business engagement up or participating in Moving online 0 Shift related Government Starting to promote online 0 initiatives Starting to trade online 0 Target: Shift 100 businesses 205 businesses shifted TOTAL BUSINESSES ENGAGED/SUPPORTED TARGET: 23,240 ACHIEVED: 76,

6 3.3 BUSINESSES FROM A BROAD RANGE OF SECTORS, AGES AND SIZES ACCESSED THE SUPPORT Table 3.2 below presents a summary of the key outputs from the online survey in terms of business demographics, perceptions of the support offer and the effects that the support has had on their business. Table 3.2 Business demographics, beneficiary perceptions and the effects of support Metric LCR output Business demographics Breakdown of beneficiaries by age of business 28% 3 years or less; 16% 4-9 years; 56% 10 years or over Breakdown of beneficiaries by type 89.6% private sector; 4.3% not for profit; 6.1% public sector Breakdown of beneficiaries by industry/sector See chart below Breakdown of beneficiaries by size-band 32.2% 1 employee; 28.7% 2 to 9; 28.7% 10 to 49; 7% 50 to 249; 3.5% 250+ Beneficiaries perceptions of support % better informed after taking part 31.3% strongly agree; 56.5% agree % satisfied or very satisfied with the support provided 52.2% very satisfied; 34.8% satisfied % who would recommend the support to others 58.3% definitely; 33% probably Effects of support % of beneficiaries who have taken, or intend to take, 40% have taken action; 53% intend to take action action as a result of the support Median probability that support will have a material positive effect on businesses performance over the Median = 7 next 2 years (1 = no chance; 10 = absolutely certain Key findings in terms of business demographics include: A significant range in the age of businesses participating in the programme, from less than one month to over 250 years. Over a quarter have been in operation for less than three years, whilst a third having been trading for over 20 years; Companies from most sectors of the economy accessed support. Professional, scientific and technical companies and arts/recreation services each comprised 12% of participants. Information and communications companies account for 11%, with manufacturers making up 9.5%; The majority of companies (c. 60%) accessing the support were classed as micro-businesses (employ 4 or less): whilst approximately 10% of respondents employed more than 50 members of staff. 3.4 THE SUPPORT HAS DELIVERED A POSITIVE IMPACT AND MANY BENEFICIARIES ARE ALREADY IMPLEMENTING CHANGE 40% have already taken action to exploit digital opportunities as a result of the programme, whilst a further 53% intend to act soon. The vast majority of participants (89%) are planning to take action to exploit opportunities on social media. 56.5% are acting on website development, with 39% also undertaking online marketing. 13% are also planning to trade online. Only 3.5% don t expect to take any action as result of participating in the programme. 25% 20% 15% 10% 5% 0% Breakdown of participants by sector 4

7 4. QUALITATIVE FEEDBACK FROM BENEFICIARIES 4.1 INTRODUCTION This section draws on the open responses from the online survey of business participants, as well as feedback provided by businesses in feedback forms submitted at the masterclasses and Big Social Media Event. It aims to illustrate the impact the Programme had on participants, which aspects were most useful, key lessons and what could be done to improve similar policy interventions in the future. 4.2 MOST RESPONDENTS FELT THAT THE SUPPORT THEY RECEIVED HAD ALREADY RESULTED IN A POSITIVE IMPACT ON THEIR BUSINESS Businesses were clear on the benefits of attending the masterclasses, with most attendees finding the sessions informative, whilst also offering practical advice on how to make improvements. For example: The Programme has addressed a gap in support provision. It has also provided businesses with an opportunity to develop the skills they need to capitalise on the opportunities offered by trading online; and Content was accessible to small businesses and delivered a wide range of benefits. For example, the masterclasses provided a valuable introduction into the benefits of embracing digital channels, and the key issues to consider when looking to make an impact online. Businesses found the masterclasses a useful opportunity to network and share experiences with businesses facing similar challenges Businesses are excited by the potential of social media Social media was the most common area in which businesses feel the programme aided their understanding, for example: For many businesses that were new to social media, the masterclasses provided a valuable introduction into how new channels can be used for business. The sessions helped to demystify what was, for many, a daunting concept. The sessions help improve the participants fundamental understanding of what social media is, and raised awareness of its importance to modern, forward-looking organisations. Participation also helped organisations to improve their understanding of how social media works, and how it can be applied to their business. The social media masterclasses were equally useful for participants with prior use and understanding of social media. For some, it provided reassurance that their current plans and strategies were correct, whilst others felt it would reinforce the importance of social media to decision-makers in their organisation and convince colleagues of the benefits of becoming more digitally active. The masterclasses enabled some to develop their current social media activities to the next stage. One aspect of this was the recognition that commonly used business planning tools can be applied to social media to ensure its effective use. This includes providing practical advice on how to develop social media strategies and put in place frameworks to ensure that the use of social media links with, and helps to deliver, business objectives. Participants found particularly useful advice on how to develop social media and digital plans, and how to monitor their effectiveness and revise and refine them accordingly. As a result of attending, participants had a clearer understanding on how to best utilise social media for business. They were introduced to new social media platforms that were better suited to their business and customers than the most It has helped us to realise how important social media is for our business. We regularly give social media support to clients, but don't focus as much on ourselves. This is going to change, as we shout out about our business. The social media masterclass has changed our perception of how Facebook & Twitter should be used. It has helped us become more efficient and proactive on social media. commonly used channels, and enhanced their skills at producing social media content that was more relevant to their existing customers and would also help them attract new ones. 5

8 4.2.2 The importance of an engaging, customer-focused website Businesses found the masterclass content around web design very useful, with practical, effective improvements that are quick and easy to implement. Further benefits identified include: The importance of basic advice and support. As with social media, for many organisations without a previous online presence, basic advice and support proved extremely valuable. This includes furthering their understanding of how to improve the layout of their website and its content, and including testimonials from customers as a marketing tool; The web presence survey is a valuable tool for businesses. One particular aspect that benefited a number of businesses was conducting a web presence survey, which assessed their online visibility and made recommendations on how to improve their presence and address gaps in information; and The support has enabled businesses to better focus online content on their target markets. In addition to providing some businesses with the tools to improve their existing site, other organisations also highlighted that the support had such an impact that they have undertaken complete redesigns of their website as a result A prominent online presence can help drive sales Key findings from the online survey include: Participants found the content on online marketing and search engine optimisation (SEO) useful. This is particularly true of those who already had an online presence and some understanding of this area; The Programme has helped businesses update and refresh existing skills in a fast-moving area by providing a fresh perspective to some participants on web marketing; The Programme also helped a number businesses optimise their online presence through a deeper understanding of SEO which has led to them redesigning their website and content to optimise their online presence; and Some businesses also stated that they would update their digital and content marketing strategies to maximise the impact of SEO, whilst other participant have already made improvements to their approach to online marketing as a result of taking part. 4.3 SOCIAL MEDIA SUPPORT AND PEER TO PEER NETWORKING OPPORTUNITIES WERE IDENTIFIED AS TWO OF THE MOST USEFUL ASPECTS OF THE PROGRAMME Over half of respondents to the survey identified support on using social media as the most useful aspect of the support received As highlighted above, for many the programme has provided a valuable introduction to using social media in a business environment, and developed their understanding of the positive impact it can have on their business. For those businesses identifying social media as the most useful aspect of the support, a number of specific impacts were identified, including: I attended a very useful session on website design and have completely redesigned my website as a result. From SEO training to one on one support, we have received great support for the development of our new website, SEO and social media. The social media strategy workshop was brilliant. We were using social media but hadn't thought about a strategy and will do so now. A greater appreciation of the importance of developing social media strategies and taking a more structured approach to social media, e.g. by identifying which platforms are the most appropriate for their business/sector, and how to apply these channels to engage and build their target audience; Introducing businesses to new social media platforms, beyond the more commonly used social networks; Providing participants with the tools and information needed to link social media and sales. Whether this is selling directly via social media, or recognising the opportunities offered by advertising/promoting 6

9 products online, many participants report that increased recognition that social advertising and trading online can be a cost-effective marketing tool, providing a channel into new and expanded markets Beyond social media, many businesses found that the support provided had helped them improve the technical skills and capabilities required to enhance their company website For some businesses this was perceived as equally fundamental to completely redesigning websites and changing the core platform used to build their sites. The Programme has armed businesses with a greater understanding of the issues and differing strengths of alternative platforms. Participants also felt better equipped technically to implement such changes to their websites following their participation. The same can be said of other issues such as cloud computing, the benefits of which had not previously been fully appreciated but could now be implemented and increase efficiency within participants businesses The masterclasses provided a platform to offer peer to peer support and share ideas on how technology can best be used to accelerate business growth Whilst for most businesses the advice and support on the technical and technological aspects of trading online proved most useful, a significant number of businesses found most value in having an opportunity to network with companies at similar stages of development, and who are experiencing similar challenges in moving their business online. The masterclasses provided a platform for participating businesses to share ideas with their peers on how technology could be applied to accelerate the growth of their business. Away from the masterclasses, businesses appreciated the expert advice and support on offer, as well as support to acquire new hardware that was right for their business. 4.4 PARTICIPANT BUSINESSES IDENTIFIED A NUMBER OF AREAS WHERE THE SUPPORT COULD BE FURTHER DEVELOPED AND IMPROVED IN THE FUTURE Whilst the vast majority of respondents to the survey were extremely positive about their experience of the programme, they have provided valuable feedback which will help shape similar provision in the future. The value of the programme to businesses is evidenced by the fact that many respondents felt that they would benefit from an extension of the support on offer. For example, respondents who accessed their full 12 hours of support felt there were other events or avenues of support that would help them develop their business s digital skills still further. Many also felt that the workshops should continue to be offered, with a rolling programme of events available at a variety of locations One challenge posed by the masterclasses was the differing levels of knowledge and experience of the subject matter among participants Some of the attendees who already had previous experience of using, for example, social media felt that although the content was useful, much of the time was spent explaining the basics of the technology to those completely new to it. This meant that the more advanced content was often not covered in as much The most useful aspect for us was a better understanding of the strategic elements of online marketing. Provide free support beyond the 12 hours offered - I attended two very worthwhile sessions, but would have really liked to attend a further session on SEO It would be useful to group participants by initial level of knowledge and expectation. I felt that some participants would then gain more whilst others aren t left behind. detail as had been originally intended, and so diminished the impact of the course for more advanced users. At the same time, some attendees with little previous experience found the content too technical and a little overwhelming Many respondents therefore felt it would be beneficial to offer courses on similar themes but to a more targeted audience A number of businesses highlighted that greater value could be gained if the masterclasses were more targeted in terms of both their content and their target audience. For example, entry-level support could be offered to those without previous experience, whilst at the same time ensuring that content was relevant to help more 7

10 experienced attendees develop their business. A number of suggestions for improving the targeting of future delivery were provided by the businesses surveyed, including: Tailored sessions to be provided to businesses within certain sectors, industries and stages of development. This would ensure that the needs and wider business experiences of attendees would be broadly similar, and would ensure that the content was more consistently useful to all who attend (e.g. offering support tailored to helping start-ups trade online); Delivering smaller, targeted sessions. One benefit of more frequent and more targeted events would be the ability to offer smaller sessions. Whilst the large masterclasses have been invaluable in enabling as many organisations as possible to access support in a short timeframe, some participants felt that smaller sessions would enable all attendees to express their views and receive tailored advice; and Opportunities for further sessions on adopting and/or applying new forms of technology. Especially as new products continuously develop. Sessions on using apps and tools to improve productivity was one suggestion in this vein The popularity of the social media events has highlighted a demand amongst businesses for further support This could including focusing in more detail at areas already covered by the masterclasses, whilst also exploring new issues. A number of businesses considered that further sessions on specific social media platforms would be useful, such as more detailed and practical support for those looking to specialise on one platform. Others were keen for more detailed and practical sessions on how to take forward ideas about web design The benefits of peer to peer support could be extended by providing follow-up sessions six months after the initial masterclass. As previously highlighted, participants found the networking and peer to peer learning elements of the programme extremely valuable. Providing follow-up sessions could however provide an opportunity to share experiences since the first session, as well as providing an incentive to implement any ideas ahead of the follow-up event Refining the masterclasses and their content to ensure they remain relevant and accessible to businesses. A number of recommendations were provided by businesses to inform the future refinement or development of support to ensure that it remains relevant to business needs. These included: Reducing the length of some events. This was an issue for some attendees, who found a six hour session too long. The length of these sessions meant attendance was a substantial commitment for businesses, particularly those with very small numbers of employees; Reducing repetition and delivering more practical session. Some of those organisations who attended more than one masterclass also found some repetition between sessions, whilst others were keen to see more practical sessions, enabling them to work through practical examples in real time. This was particularly true of web design, with respondents keen to put their learning in this area into practice; Providing on-site support and/or one to one support. Some suggested it would be useful to have onsite, one to one support sessions at businesses premises, perhaps as a follow-up for those who have attended a masterclass and are seeking more practical support on implementing change. The possible option of a mentoring scheme was also suggested; Ensuring venues have appropriate digital connectivity. Although the aim was to have all sessions taking place in an online environment, connectivity issues made this a challenge in certain locations which did impact on what was achievable in certain sessions. The small amount of negative feedback received from attendees generally relates to sessions which were disrupted by connectivity issues. This emphasises the importance of choosing the right venues for the classes offered; and Remote sessions and webinars. Providing remote sessions and webinars was also suggested. This could enable businesses to participate from their place of work, and immediately implement any actions. 8

11 5. LESSONS LEARNED AND KEY MESSAGES 5.1 INTRODUCTION This section summarises the key lessons learned from the perspective of the LEP and its delivery partners. It concludes by summarising the key messages emerging from the evaluation of the LEP s Small Business Digital Capability Programme, identifying recommendations for future policy delivery. 5.2 LESSONS LEARNED: THE LEP PERSPECTIVE The greatest challenge the Programme faced in terms of its design and set-up was responding to the very tight bid submission and programme delivery timescales The delivery period was just five months, and the period in which to design and submit proposals for the project was also very limited. Timescales were therefore critical in terms designing the scale and scope of the project, and had an impact on what could be delivered One positive of outcome of this was that it necessitated the development of a streamlined and focused programme of masterclasses Originally, the aim was to assist fewer businesses based on 12 hours of support. However, it was decided that the effectiveness and impact of the programme could be maximised and more SMEs could be assisted with the funding available if 6 hours of activity was offered. Many beneficiaries did however access the maximum 12 hours of support available by attending multiple sessions The use of existing intelligence, gathered during the development and delivery of the Superfast West Yorkshire project, proved invaluable in designing the programme Feedback from businesses on the SWY project provided evidence of demand for the masterclasses, and informed the selection of the themes on which to focus. Without the existing SWY systems in place, and the understanding of the landscape this provided, it is unlikely that the project could have been as successful The programme proved highly successful as it linked well with, and complemented existing programmes As outlined in Section 2, the Programme far exceeded the targets agreed with government, whilst also providing an ongoing opportunity to provide support targeted at businesses looking to grow by capitalising on digital opportunities. The project s tight delivery timescale did however result in a number of challenges related to the implementation of the Programme. These included: Recruitment: issues associated with recruiting suitable trainers to deliver the masterclasses, as well as support staff, were made more challenging by the condensed mobilisation period; and Finding suitable venues: Challenges in finding venues meeting the project s specification was again made more difficult by time constraints. Whilst for the most part the trainers and venues used were of excellent standard, there were occasional technical difficulties which prevented attendees getting online, resulting in some components of the session not being delivered as intended. The small amount of negative feedback received generally related to those occasions where connectivity issues made delivering the content as planned more challenging. This emphasises the importance of ensuring that venues meet the necessary technical standards, and that trainers are fully equipped to deliver the content A flexible and proactive approach to marketing that utilised multiple communication channels was of critical importance to the successful delivery of the Programme Telemarketing and were the principal mechanisms used to attract attendees, supported by social media and radio. The use of multiple channels was key to ensuring that all masterclass sessions were well attended at relatively short notice. Data mining and segmentation were used to enable a targeted marketing campaign and develop a pipeline of businesses interested in attending. The expertise of Blueberry Marketing Solutions, the LEP s marketing partner on this project, in segmenting business data was crucial in driving demand. The fact that many businesses signed up to the masterclasses even before dates and venues for the sessions had been confirmed is further evidence of the appetite for such events among businesses. 9

12 5.2.6 Several areas of improvement that could be incorporated into future provision to improve the participants experience were identified including: A longer delivery timeframe and additional resources could extend the scale and scope of activity. The interactive nature of the masterclasses worked well and was well received delegates were able to use their own devices to learn in a realistic environment and put learning into practice straight away. A longer timescale and greater resources would enable more masterclasses to be delivered at a wider range of venues. This, along with running remote sessions with innovative delivery mechanisms such as Google hangouts, would enable greater programme reach and reduce the time commitment for participants; The delivery of one to one advisory time: With greater resources, it would also be beneficial to provide more face to face time with advisors offering diagnostic and other support tailored to individual businesses. There are opportunities to link this programme with the LEP s soon-to-launch Growth Service, which will offer such services. Links to the Growth Service could also enable beneficiaries to access an account manager, to ensure they are signposted to the most appropriate support and funding opportunities; Any future programme should be as inclusive as possible. This programme aimed to provide support to a wide range of businesses, and any future programme should be as inclusive as possible whilst ensuring support is relevant to companies with high growth potential in the LEP s key sectors; Data mining and segmentation is key to the successful targeting and recruitment of businesses. The approach taken by Blueberry Marketing was vital in targeting support in this programme, and this process could be strengthened by combining databases and information sources to create a single, more coherent business intelligence tool. This intelligence is also critical for ensuring that programme content remains relevant to businesses and is constantly updated to reflect the latest trends and developments. Embedding peer to peer networking opportunities within future delivery provision. The peer to peer networking opportunities offered by the masterclasses proved extremely popular with businesses, enabling them to share ideas, common challenges, etc. (e.g. how technology could be applied to accelerate the growth of their business). 5.3 KEY FINDINGS AND MESSAGES EMERGING FROM THIS EVALUATION Targets have been substantially exceeded despite a challenging timescale and a short mobilisation period, reflecting both the effectiveness of the approach of the project team to identifying and contacting participants and the clear demand for support among businesses; Feedback from participant businesses has been overwhelmingly positive with the vast majority of respondents finding the classes worthwhile, and offering useful, practical advice and support that businesses could easily implement, regardless of their size and previous experience; Beneficiaries found the social media content hugely valuable. The programme has clearly sparked an interest among participants for developing these skills further. Additional courses on specific social media platforms, and moving beyond the basics and into creating engaging content, would certainly be popular; A strong appetite for social media shows a willingness to embrace the digital agenda. Beneficiary companies are aware of the potential of social media to support the growth of their business, but many remain unsure on how to capitalise on this potential. Although the potential benefits of technology extend well beyond social media, social media is a useful way of engaging businesses in the agenda; Businesses want to capitalise on the opportunities offered by digital. The fact that so many respondents have been so quick to implement changes suggests a pre-existing desire to further their understanding of the opportunities offered by digital technologies; The programme has proved useful in driving future demand by fulfilling its aim in stimulating demand for other LEP and government initiatives. Linking any future provision to existing government programmes and the LEP Growth Service will ensure that businesses receive tailored and effective support. A particular demand for support in the application of digital technologies and social media was identified; and Future provision should be open to all, but targeted to its audience. The evaluation has emphasised the need to ensure that future provision should be open to all businesses looking to grow. Future support should also be tailored to meet the needs of specific audiences and should minimise duplication. Providing more focused sessions in multiple locations to minimise travel time, or eliminating travel completely by conducting webinars, would also reduce the time commitment on businesses. 10

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