back to news

BLOG: Meet our advisers – Paul Bennett

28 July 2021

In the next ‘Meet the Adviser’ blog we caught up with Paul Bennett.

Paul has been with the team since March last year joining at the start of the pandemic and is only just meeting a lot of the wider team face-to-face now that restrictions have eased.

He comes from a banking background working mostly with manufacturing and engineering businesses to help them grow through finance and then supported start-ups through a programme with Coventry University.

As an adviser with the Business Gateway currently 70% of those he’s supporting are start-ups or people wanting to scale up and grow their part-time hobbies.

A lot of his time has been spent on supporting businesses with grants, particularly our own Business Growth Grant* and so far he has successfully supported 12 grant applications with a 100% approval rate from the grant panel.

Grant application support

Paul says what he finds is that many businesses haven’t got the required details needed or can’t support what they’ve said in the application with statistics or evidence. “A lot of the information is in their heads and it’s my role to tease this out and provide examples of what the grant panel is looking for. I help businesses see the grant as a return on investment, a project to grow the business, not a short-term,  one-off cash payment.”

Paul adds it’s useful to break things down on the application into bitesize chunks and he takes the time with each client without rushing through, reviewing what’s been written, and again if necessary.

He also likes to explain the process, including what happens afterwards and how the money is paid.

What kind of businesses are you talking to?

Some of the biggest challenges have been with his retail customers who haven’t been fully operational due to lockdowns. They’ve still had costs to pay such as rent and staff but seen a massive drop in sales, around 70% in some cases.

Conversations have been around diversifying and using innovative ways of getting new clients, increasing value per client or offering more products or services. In some ways, this has been a case of going back to the drawing board, almost like the early days of starting the business.

Paul says he’s asked the business to go back to its client base and study how they can do more for them, helping them look at the situation from the outside in. This is something many have wanted to do but never had the time.

Paul sets goals or small tasks his clients have to do before their next meeting with him perhaps starting with marketing or finance depending on the problem. This provides some focus and reduces what can be an overwhelming time for the business.

Using the Lean Model Canvas

Paul will often use the Lean Model Canvas model to help his clients get clarity and check the feasibility of their ideas or investment plans. This involves breaking things down e.g.

  • what is the problem they are trying to solve (from the customer’s eyes)?
  • is the problem painful enough that they would pay someone for a solution?
  • have they talked to competitors about their solutions (who may already have realised there is no demand)?
  • creating a powerful message through emotionally relating to the customer through building a unique value proposition.

“This will help you build the product or service around what the customer actually wants, not what you think they want. All saving you time and money in the long run.”

Currently, he’s seeing a wide variety of businesses including a crochet and knitting business that wants to diversify into training and helping those with mental health challenges in the community. Also, a business that will buy food from supermarkets that would have gone to waste and distributing food packs to schools for parents that may be struggling. He’s also just helped a firework business successfully apply for a grant to do 3D fireworks (more on this coming soon!)

Someone to listen

Being a business owner can be difficult and lonely at any time but the last 18 months have been like no other. Paul says people have really appreciated having someone there to listen to them, a friendly voice at the end of a phone.

He mentioned a high-end photographer that was really struggling because Covid-19 had wiped out his large contracts on location at sporting events around the world.  This included events for luxury brands such as Rolex which came through an agency.

Paul discussed how this business owner was feeling and what he was going to do. He helped him apply for a grant from his local council for some new equipment and offered some well-being options to help with his mental health. He followed up with him several times on how things were going and fortunately things had started to get better with Rolex contacting the photographer directly, as well as the agency returning with other contracts.

His greatest joy? As you might expect, helping with grants and finance, which is where we started this blog, as well as getting positive feedback from businesses he’s helped. So if you’re been working with Paul, don’t forget to let him know how you’re getting on, he’d love to hear from you!

If you want to talk to an adviser for a free business review call 0116 366 8487 or email