Businesses face chaos and not just because of Brexit – Hugh Lightbody

Being in business right now can feel like walking a tight rope with no safety net (Picture: Jane Barlow)
Being in business right now can feel like walking a tight rope with no safety net (Picture: Jane Barlow)
0
Have your say

In the years since Business Gateway began, the world around us has changed beyond our recognition. From 3D-printed pizza to asteroid mining, we have hurtled at pace to readily adopt new technologies that change the way we behave, live, how we do business and the business we do, writes Hugh Lightbody.

Many of us make buying choices via the super computer in our pocket, transactions take place without a word being exchanged between customer and retailer. And if they don’t like something, the consumer of your service or product can tell the world their opinion in 280 characters or via various review sites. Data protection, cyber security, digital disruption are now common parlance in the boardroom.

Open banking, artificial intelligence, watches that monitor our health – there are so many incredible, innovative businesses emerging that not even the most enlightened futurologist could have envisaged at the turn of this century. Tech has, of course, made doing business easier too. Armed with our trusty smartphone, our office can be anywhere from the beach to our kids’ sand pit.

And, as if that wasn’t enough plate spinning for the modern business person, along comes Brexit and now you’re on a tightrope with no safety net.

As business confidence wavers under the uncertainty and dire warnings of chaos and disruption, the message is clear. Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. Yes, it’s a challenging time for Scotland’s businesses – uncertainty exists all around us – but it’s also a period of opportunity.

Back in 2008/2009, the financial crash left us with tinnitus, but it also fuelled Scotland’s culture of innovation, entrepreneurialism and resilience. I, for one, am confident that Scotland’s reputation for ingenuity will continue to prevail.

READ MORE: Comment: Small firms must prepare for any Brexit outcome

As we enter 2019, Scotland is far better equipped to support start-up and growth businesses than back then. By recognising how important it is not to think of ‘business’ as a homogenous blob, services now offer bespoke support to growth and start-up opportunities. And yes, developments in digital aid this approach, however there is no substitute for the personal touch.

People run businesses. And different people have different strengths and talents that make them successful. Equally, there are likely to be areas in business management about which they could use some pointers. Business Gateway’s 170-plus advisors – or connecters as they are really – are generalists. Their key skill is to listen, to understand and ask questions in order to connect a business to online resources, workshops or external services ready to help make a difference.

Back to 2008, the hangover from the financial crisis was lengthy. And as ever, necessity became the mother of invention. Gin was one product that was being re-invented into a multi-million-pound sector.

The need for quicker cash flow meant that traditional distillers had to adapt. A speedier production time from distillation to shelf, coupled with the rise in consumers’ growing interest in authenticity and provenance, gave way to the gin fever we know and love today.

Botanicals in gin creation offer the vital ‘story to tell to sell’, and Scotland has plenty to offer in this field. A sense of place, hand-crafted methods, quality ingredients – rooted in a historic excellence in distilling spirits.

READ MORE: Reverse Brexit, say eight in ten small Scottish businesses

So when Ray Clynick Jnr completed his Master’s degree in chemical biology, he decided to follow a slightly different path and instead make gin. With support from Business Gateway, Ray started work to set up a distillery at Dalton, Dumfriesshire.

The OroGin Distilling Company is a family venture, which also involves Ray’s dad, Raymond, and mum Jacquie. By January 2017, the trio was preparing to launch the company’s premium Oro and Oro V spirits in the UK and overseas.

“Business Gateway’s support has been invaluable as the project is multifaceted,” says Ray. “Recruitment has been a big focus so far, with five people employed by the gin distillery in our first year. In the longer term, the Tasting Rooms, bar, visitor centre and Scandinavian barbecue hut will together call for another seven staff.

“Business Gateway identified employability support through the Dumfries and Galloway Employment Total Access Point programme. This connected us to the Regional Selective Assistance and Financial Assistance to Small Business funding to assist with the cost of specialist equipment and the creation of an e-commerce website. Furthermore, additional exporting and innovation support through Scottish Development International and Scottish Enterprise has taken us from strength to strength.”

Even in January, I’d drink to that.

At a time when there has never been so much uncertainty in the business and political world, Business Gateway has more to offer businesses than ever. We’ve launched a new website where – amongst an abundance of resources – you’ll find help and support in terms of preparing for Brexit.

And this month, the launch of our new campaign – Missing Pieces – aims to encourage businesses to connect with us, and to explore how we can help existing businesses grow and new businesses start.

Over the past 10 years, Business Gateway has helped to establish more than 99,000 businesses which have created over 100,000 jobs.

We’re going to make the next 10 years even more integral to Scotland’s economic growth. No matter what the future holds.

Hugh Lightbody is chief officer of the Business Gateway National Unit.