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BLOG: Meet our advisers – Aruna Bhagwan

16 November 2021

Changing attitudes to business advice, how robust is your business and taking a holistic approach are some of the things we cover in our latest Meet the Adviser blog.

Aruna Bhagwan is one of 11 Business Gateway Advisers and has a breadth of business support experience across different sectors, industries and regions. We caught up with Aruna recently to find out more about her background and role as an adviser.

A trained tailoress and fashion designer Aruna has run her own clothing companies in the past making high-end wedding outfits and bespoke clothing. She understands the challenges and frustrations of running a business and is also aware of business support services having benefitted from them as a small business owner.

In her early career as an employee, she worked for health and social care within workforce development and then moved on to supporting community organisations helping them become profitable. She’s also supported social enterprises and was located in the first enterprise centre of its kind in Corby. As well as Leicestershire Aruna has literally put the miles in travelling across the Midlands with adviser roles for other growth hubs working not only with clothing companies, manufacturers, retail and technology businesses but across different sectors giving her all-round expertise.


What do you enjoy about your job?

We are brokers in essence, not consultants. Our job is to help businesses manage issues and put solutions in front of them, not sort out a problem hands-on.

If a business owner has come to us for advice, is genuinely looking for help and works with us openly that’s a huge tick in the box for me. It doesn’t matter if they are a start-up business or have a £5 million turnover if they are engaged and on the same page, it makes my job easier.

I love to see the amazing entrepreneurialism in people and the risks people take to be in business. Also working with female-led businesses seeing their drive, passion and complexity.


Where do you start when supporting a business?

The main thing I look at is the finances. I ask questions like: what’s your turnover, what’s your profit, are you growing? If you are three years in and not making any money we need to know why.

I’m currently working with a cake business that wants to grow. Their turnover went from £20,000 to £50,000 during the pandemic and they have maintained this higher level. Their wedding and celebration cakes are brilliant but very time consuming to make. They also have another product that they can sell in volume with higher margins.

If you want to grow it’s not about what you might like doing, it’s about doing what you need to do and that means volume. It’s my job to help businesses see where to spend their time and effort if they want to grow. For this cake business, it’s these higher volume products, not just the cakes.


Taking a holistic approach – personal lives, finances and commitments

I look at the whole picture including personal lives and finances when working with a small business. Micro and small business owners are overworked and don’t have any time; they are saturated and sometimes also have another job. That in itself rings alarm bells. You can’t sustain this in the long term. Your health will be affected or something will happen so it’s my job to give these businesses the bigger picture.

If they have families do they want to be working 24/7 or spend time with the children? Or if they are looking to buy new premises, for example, do the finances stack up? I will map it all out for them and look at the true figures to see if the plans are viable.

Sometimes I have to tell people what they don’t want to hear. I understand it’s their world and they believe they know what’s going to work. That’s all fine they have a choice, but our job is to advise and it’s up to them whether they take that on board.


Differing needs of a larger business

With larger businesses I often work with the development manager rather than the MD.

They already have a strategy and tell me the areas they have identified where they need support. For example, it could be leadership, management or sourcing funding for some equipment.

This is a different kind of relationship from the small businesses I work with. They tell me what they want and I get on with it, signposting and working with them on any areas that might be weak or they want to develop.


Have you noticed any changes since the pandemic?

We all know businesses have had to diversify to stay alive, think differently and become more innovative because of the pandemic.

I also think there’s been increased recognition for support services like the Business Gateway. That’s both for the business and the individuals running them whether that’s support with applying for Covid grants or for those that have gone back to employment.

Covid has made businesses think about the future, how they might protect themselves and be more resilient. If another challenging situation came along, what would you do, how would you keep things running and the money coming in?

Businesses have also cut their supply chains. Before they may have worked through a wholesaler but with lockdown, they’ve had to go straight to the customer setting up online almost overnight. This has continued post-lockdown for many companies including the cake company mentioned earlier which started selling online during the pandemic and continues to do so today.

Becoming digitally robust has been huge and those that have been tech-savvy have just gone ahead and done it. We’ve been able to help those without the skills to get there too through advice, workshops and access to free consultancy. Adopting digital technologies is a must-have now, including the processes and systems, especially for retailers.

Standing above the crowd

As well as the finances and forecasting I’m constantly asking my clients what makes them different? How can you be the best of the best? What incentives are you offering your customers, how are you generating loyalty but not giving too much away?

For example, if you are going to do an offer why are you doing it? Don’t put an offer on if you’re feeling worried or vulnerable because when you work from a fear factor, you will see different results. Think through your offers.

The other thing I ask about is marketing. What are you doing, what collateral have you got, are you on social media? What’s working and what isn’t?

For me reviewing your activity is massive because if you don’t review, how can you move forward. This then helps us formulate not a business plan but a business development plan.

I’m currently working with a new sports apparel business that is doing well but the owner also has a full-time job. She has loyal customers and I’m advising her also to look at the trends. You can gain a lot from your web stats – who is landing on your pages, what are they looking at, where are they coming from etc. It’s worth spending time on this.

If I’m helping a business, I will look at all areas – staff turnover, customer loyalty, marketing spend, training as well as finances. We’ll get things out into the open. It’s about getting all your ducks in a row to succeed, not just one area.

One food manufacturer I work with has helped his employees who have come from India find accommodation and also brought in a tutor to help them with their English language skills. His motto is “Happy Staff, happy products…”

Another female entrepreneur running a family business that makes high-end candles has only mums working for her so she opens at 9 am and closes at 3 pm so they can pick up their children from school, then reopens later. How can you be the best of the best?

If you want to talk to a Business Adviser about growing your small or medium-sized business in Leicestershire contact us on 0116 366 8487 to make an appointment or complete an enquiry here.