Chalk Talks S2 Ep4 - Talking Business Support with Mike Watson

Season 2 of Chalk Talks focuses on conversations with business owners and public officials about different aspects of business. Episode 4 of this series features our fourth guest, Mike Watson of the South East Growth Hub.

We speak to Mike about his role as Business Navigator and how the South East Growth Hub can offer support to business owners whether they’re starting up, needing to scale, or need advice on how to survive these crazy times.

You can listen to the episode now in full via Anchor FM, Apple Podcasts, or Spotify, or have a quick skim of the highlights below.


South East Growth Hub is there to support SMEs in the East Sussex area who are looking to grow. They will help SMEs to overcome barriers so they can continue on their journey.

Mike’s role as Business Navigator leads him to listen, understand, and facilitate with issues and be an independent point of reference. He can help guide SMEs towards an appropriate solution, whether it’s additional support or financial assistance.

South East Growth Hub works across most industry areas apart from primary sectors such as fishing and farming. They are part of East Sussex County Council, but aren’t held up by the bureaucracy you may expect from such an entity. Mike and his team deal with SMEs directly at their point of referral, or book in a longer discussion within a week or two after time for reflection and research. They try to move SMEs towards the right outcomes as swiftly as possible.

A case study

One SME, a mobile seaside-based restaurant, approached the South East Growth Hub looking to grow their business and thinking that this stemmed from monetary support.

Following consultation, it actually turned out that prior to additional funds, they needed to put proper financial planning and a structure to the business in place. Mike was therefore able to introduce them to a support programme run by SEBB (South East Business Boost), which enabled them to benefit from marketing and digital media support, as well as financial planning.

This support gave the SME the direction they needed and allowed Mike’s team to suggest appropriate grants for them and indicate a further way forward.

The relationship needn’t be over at this point; the SME can return for further support and guidance whenever they need it.

How has demand for support changed since the pandemic struck?

It’ll be no surprise, but demand has gone up. Initially people wanted help navigating their way through all of the new schemes introduced by the government, but as time has gone on, SMEs have just wanted someone to talk to - especially as so many other routes to support have been driven to email due to homeworking. The overwhelming demand has been for guidance and just being at the end of a phone.

Since March last year, the three members of staff on the South East Growth Hub team have touched nearly 800 businesses in the region. Many have been light touches, such as signposting towards COVID-19 support, but upwards of 100 have included more involved support.

Many businesses still don’t realise that the South East Growth Hub exists, but their profile is being raised due to COVID-19 and the information they can feed back to central government. There are 38 growth hubs nationally who can help feed into the government’s overall view of businesses, as well as specific regional needs, such as tourism and hospitality here in the South East.

What specific areas of support can businesses trying to survive access currently?

There are a number of COVID-19 schemes still ongoing, but some are coming towards their ends now.

South East Business Boost has two schemes, the Support scheme and Grant scheme, which are both up and running for another 18-24 months. The Support scheme gives businesses access to 9-10 hours of free support around business assistance, such as marketing and HR. Professionals give their time for this and SEBB picks up the tab. The Grant scheme is available to businesses who are looking to grow or pivot their business, and will make a contribution towards 30% of their spend.

There are other programmes starting this year, bringing businesses together for peer-to-peer advice and sharing of best practices, and helping businesses to scale up with free advice.

Mike recommends signing up to the South East Growth Hub’s newsletter for the latest news on schemes, and visiting their website for more information.

What next for businesses in the coming year?

Mike hopes for businesses to recover and return to better health. However he doesn’t think it’ll be a straightforward journey, unlike other economic recessions: businesses will need to look at their business models, how they position themselves, and how they operate into the future. They may need to up their game with their online presence and offerings, so it may be as much about redesign as it is about recovery.

For more information from Mike and for his advice on upscaling and growth, listen to the full episode via Anchor FM, Apple Podcasts, or Spotify.

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