Why are Leeds and Bradford being awarded so many of the Government’s Fibre Broadband Grants?
Simple. They are applying for them.
So, why is it going like a fair there whilst other cities are slow to catch on?
We asked John Duncan, Business Development Officer for SuperConnected Cities at Leeds City Council.
Abica: Hi John, Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions about Leeds and Bradford’s fantastic connection voucher uptake figures, some of the highest in the UK. We want to know why!
Abica: What was the initial reaction to the scheme amongst businesses in Leeds and Bradford?
John: From many businesses it was ‘great’ at last we’ve got a scheme which will really help my business and solve an existing problem I have with my business connectivity. From others there was skepticism that this scheme wouldn’t really benefit them, and would be a complicated, time-consuming government scheme.
Abica: We’ve found the same. It’s amazing how many businesses will struggle along because they’re just too busy to deal with what they think will be a bureaucratic pain. It’s like “we’ve struggled this far, we’ll fix it when it’s really a problem”. But you wouldn’t put off upgrading a server or a boiler that was about to stop working if someone offered you money to fix it.
Abica: Did you experience any negative reactions to the scheme? Any misconceptions?
John: Yes to start with we did, the scheme has evolved massively over the last year as initially it was deemed to be quite complicated, and possibly time consuming. Fortunately this changed dramatically when the whole application process was streamlined and made much easier for businesses to apply. Other misconceptions, which we had to start with were that the scheme paid for the on-going costs of the connection to superfast broadband, which it doesn’t.
Abica: Yes and we have found that people think it will end up costing them more per month. If they haven’t already decided that fibre broadband will help them, it looks pointless but in most instances, our clients have seen the sums and decided it’s a no brainer.
Abica: How did you help businesses to understand the scheme?
John: With a very clear and simple message, which we repeated across all our marketing activities. We developed very effective marketing materials, adverts in the press and presentations. The best way to communicate with businesses has been to speak to them about the scheme and show them how easy it is to apply and what the benefits to their businesses will be. Hence I spent a significant amount of time networking, and meeting key intermediaries who helped pass on the messages for us; i.e. banks, chambers of commerce, accountants, and business advisors.
Abica: Of the businesses who have benefitted from the vouchers, what were the main reasons for applying for the grant?
a) To fix a connectivity problem
b) To open up new business opportunities
c) To future proof
d) To save money
John: All of the above! We asked businesses who applied for the scheme this question and our response have been very revealing. A significant number have stated that they will use new technologies (such as cloud computing) as a result of having a new, faster broadband connection. Others have said that they will save money by removing servers from their office and moving to the cloud, others stated savings would be made because their teams would be able to work more efficiently due to the speed of sending and receiving documents, and much less down time.
However probably the most common reason is that businesses simply wanted a better connection, to have more efficient on-line business operations, and the ability to be able to send and receive large documents much faster than before.
Abica: Do you believe there is an understanding of the connection between the operational and engagement opportunities afforded by broadband and business growth?
John: To a degree yes. My experience is that many businesses understand that a key element of their business is to engage with their customers online. We have worked closely with the Superfast West Yorkshire team who have been offering free business support to local SME’s and one of the most popular areas of support has been that of how to use social media effectively for business. In my view though there is still a large amount of businesses not utilizing social media to communicate their messages to customers. Indeed according to recent government statistics 29% of SME’s* have no on-line presence at all, so how do customers find them or understand what they can offer?
(Source of statistics is from the DCMS do more on-line campaign).
Abica: What types of business have benefitted in Leeds and Bradford so far?
John: We’ve seen applications from across all the business sectors, but the ones that have taken it up the most are professional services, digital, communications and marketing businesses, manufacturers and retail. About 80% of the businesses who have utilized the scheme had fewer than 10 employees, and indeed we’ve seen a significant number of sole traders and businesses who operate from home use the connection voucher.
One high profile example we had was the Bradford Bulls Rugby League Club, they used their voucher to connect the stadium to superfast broadband for a range of reasons, firstly to offer better connectivity for their fans who can use WiFi across the stadium, secondly to improve the conference and events offer of the stadium so as to make the venue attractive for meetings and events which rely on a reliable Internet connection, and thirdly for the administration and operations team to be able to work much more effectively and efficiently. Such a locally high profile connection really boosted the awareness of the scheme in the area.
Another great example was a local TV production company called True North, they are now able to send large media files over the internet when in the past they had to employ carriers to transport the files for editing etc. This step change to superfast broadband has actually meant that they have not had to relocate, which is great news for us as a city and for them to keep their roots where they want to operate from.
Abica: Why are Leeds and Bradford taking up the grant so readily?
John: For a number of reasons; Firstly, we have marketed the scheme very effectively. For example all business rate payers in our area received information with their business rates letter, hence reaching a massive audience. Our activities have also included advertising with the local media, generating positive PR stories with great case studies, attending networking events and major business conferences, and engaging with local businesses via social media.
Importantly, Leeds and Bradford businesses themselves have really shown that they ‘get’ digital. So many businesses are using the latest technologies to boost their business, and to engage with their customers and clients. We have found there is a real demand for faster, more reliable connectivity within our cities, and it is now clearly recognized here as a key driver for business productivity and growth.
Abica: You see that’s what we think has been the key to your success. You are in a trusted and objective position and able to reassure businesses of the scheme and the benefits. With our existing customers, we explain it and it makes sense. But to try and explain it to other businesses that we could help isn’t so easy when they have either not identified a need or that it’s a genuine cost saving opportunity. That’s before we even start explaining the benefits of a wider connection.
Abica: What would you say to businesses who are unsure about how to make technology work for them?
John: There are people out there who will be happy to help you, whether its teams like ours, local businesses advisors, or IT consultants. There’s nothing to lose and possibly a lot to gain by getting in touch. I’d also tell businesses to check out the government website (http://www.greatbusiness.gov.uk/domoreonline/) there are some great case studies and tool kits which are available to help give ideas and advice on what could work for your business. Now is a great time to look into your businesses on-line presence and the opportunities technology can bring, because there is funding available now to help your business grow and future proof your business for years to come.
Abica: Thanks again for taking the time to tell us about your experience.
Every business finds it difficult to look beyond the pressures of day-to-day operations and sometimes it’s hard to believe that you are getting something for nothing. But in the case of connection vouchers, it’s worth the five-minute call to find out how your business could benefit. Leeds & Bradford are a great example cities making good use of the Government’s support to see the real business difference good connectivity can bring.
If you feel inspired to get some information and either rule it in or out, get in touch today.