Business leaders in rural Scotland can seize an ‘unprecedented opportunity' and capitalise on a shift in consumer buying behaviours caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
That is according to the Executive Dean of the Edinburgh Business School at Heriot-Watt University, Professor Heather McGregor, who says there has never been a better time for Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SME) to make the most of their online presence following a seismic shift in the way many consumers now buy goods and services.
Research released by the UK's communication regulator, Ofcom, found online usage increased by 70 percent during lockdown with an expectation that many people will continue to buy and communicate online [*].
Despite an apparent move away from the traditional High Street, Scotland's Rural Panel Survey Report [**] reveals rural firms are keen to grow, with focus on both local as well as external markets.
To aid in this effort, the Edinburgh Business School has launched a business course specifically for SMEs operating in rural parts of Scotland as part of its hugely successful, Help to Grow: Management programme. Among its aims are to encourage economic growth, boost employment and support companies as they target new customers.
Professor McGregor, said: “We recognise that SME's operating in rural Scotland have very different needs to those in urban environments. There is enormous potential for these companies to grow and through our Help to Grow programme, we will work with them to provide tailored, expert guidance in line with their own values and ambitions.
“At present, we are witnessing an unprecedented opportunity for rural SME's to expand as global economies start to recover. We want them to make the most of this and our expert mentors will be on hand to work closely with business leaders in order to help realise their ambitions and develop a business plan that works for them, their staff and their customers.
“That's why today I am inviting rural business leaders to find out more about this programme and learn about how our innovative approach can enhance their objectives.”
Help to Grow is a £520 million scheme backed by the UK government, offering custom-made support to owners of SME's.
It costs £7500 but participants will only pay £750 with the rest subsidised by the UK government. This includes 50-hours of in-depth training comprised of online seminars, and face-to-face workshops which will be delivered at Heriot-Watt's campuses as well as one-to-one mentoring. In this cohort, these will include sessions in Orkney and also in Galashiels in the Scottish Borders, and air travel, where appropriate, is included in the price.
Upon completion, participants will be equipped with a bespoke growth plan for their business as well as gain a range of new skills including in leadership, marketing, finance and innovation.
Justin Thomas, Programme Manager of the DYWDG (Developing Young Workforce, Dumfries and Galloway) at the Chamber of Commerce, voiced his support for the programme and the advantages it offers rural SME's, saying: “Dumfries and Galloway has always been a region that produces a wealth of superb SME businesses and the need for many more in the next few years is something that needs to be encouraged.
“The Help to Grow programme is a great idea and one that has the potential to reach out and support businesses in these troubled times and we hope that many of our regions businesses will take advantage of what is offered.”
The next cohort for the Help to Grow programme begins on May 3, lasting for 15 weeks. Applications must be received by May 1. To find out more or to apply visit H2GM Registration - Small Business Charter