Posted: Tue 7th Feb 2023
We partnered with Vodafone to launch business.connected, helping 800,000 small and medium-sized businesses take their digital skills to the next level over the next three years.
Business owners can take part in e-learning modules, digital workshops delivered by business.connected advisers and Lunch and Learn webinars, and have a free consultation with a Vodafone V-Hub adviser.
The business.connected programme covers a range of core digital topics, from SEO and e-commerce to cyber-security and connectivity.
We're catching up with some of the business owners who have been taking part in the initiative to find out about how it's benefited them so far.
Here, we talk to Angela Loveridge, whose business Better Together offers child online safety workshops and customised family support designed for parents, guardians, caregivers, teachers and non-teaching professionals who work with children.
How did you first discover the business.connected programme? And what were you seeking help with?
I found out about the programme through an email newsletter from Enterprise Nation. I signed up straight away.
I was looking for help with digital marketing, because that isn't my background. I'm good at what I do, and I'm comfortable, confident and competent in my role. But when it comes to promoting myself, that's a completely different skillset. And, obviously, digital marketing is the most proficient way of promoting oneself these days.
I took part in some of the business.connected digital marketing sessions, just to get my head around what it means to promote yourself digitally. What does it look like to do that successfully?
I'm a lifelong learner. And since the pandemic, I've been doing various online courses just to try and seek out nuggets of information that might help me to be more efficient or to improve or to refine what I'm doing.
Can you talk about your background and what led to you becoming a business owner?
I'm a mum of two. They're both nearly teenagers, but when they were very young, I heard that there was going to be an online safety workshop locally.
And because of my tech background – I have a master's degree in IT and got a distinction for my dissertation on online cookies – I thought it'd be useful for me to go along. Just to find out what I need to be aware of before my two kids ever go online.
When I turned up, I was the only parent there. The person who was running the workshop said, "Well, as you're the only person who's here, I won't bother to do the workshop, but just help yourself to some leaflets". Looking back, it was a significant event.
Fast forward a couple of years, I was an active user of my local children's centre. I'd take my children there every week so they could benefit from the activities. And over time, I built a relationship with the centre manager.
Once my youngest daughter got to school age, I had a conversation with the centre manager about getting back into work. I said I'd perhaps like to do something that involves working with people, and she asked if I'd ever considered combining my IT experience with my experience of being a mum? Had I thought about online safety?
And I was like, "Oh my goodness, how did I not think of that?" It just made perfect sense in terms of who I am as a person and my natural skillset, personality and interest in IT.
How did you take it from the initial idea to an actual business?
The children's centre manager invited me to attend some local online safety training. I was able to sit in and get a flavour of what it was like. Learn from what's being said. I attended several of those sessions. That was between November and February 2015.
In spring 2015, I enrolled at my local college to do an entry-level teaching qualification. Rather than sound like a mum on a soapbox, I wanted to formalise how I'd communicate. As part of that qualification, I delivered a mini presentation of what my training would be like.
At the end, the assessor told me she could see I'd done this before. But I hadn't, it was the first time I'd ever presented something so comfortably. With online safety, what I've noticed is that I have a strong passion for what I'm talking about, and people can see that.
I stayed in contact with the children's centre manager, and we set it up so that I could run an extended version of this mini presentation for local parents. I ran a few, they were well-received, and the good feedback I got compelled me to find a way to spread what I was calling a practical approach to online safety.
So in January 2016, I created Better Together and got my first paying client – someone who'd attended the same teaching course that I attended that previous year.
I began doing workshops to signpost to practical tools, techniques and resources so parents can pick and choose what suits their parenting style and their children's unique needs. Because in my view, parents know best when it comes to their children.
Starting a business is challenging to say the least! Where did you go for support?
I sought support from various sources. As you say, it is difficult to make the leap from conception and idea to actually doing it, but for me it just had to happen.
Whether it was called Better Together or anything else, it had to happen, because there are kids who are vulnerable and, based on my experience of going to my very first workshop, I didn't feel my needs as a parent were being met. And if I felt like that, it's likely other parents were feeling like that too.
In the very early days, I was tapping into the support of local friends who were in business. I was invited to some networking events as a result – I didn't even know that was a thing.
Although I started out wanting to work with parents one-to-one, the practicalities of having very young children didn't really lend itself towards that. My ideal target audience was the parents and carers who attended the networking events, but my easiest audience would come from the B2B route, like schools and charities.
Once I built up a group of friends through the networks, I'd hear about other organisations like Enterprise Nation. I think I found out about Enterprise Nation by somebody who was attending the Festival of Female Entrepreneurs some years ago.
What were the main things you learned?
Identify your target audience. Find out what they need, and talk to them about it. Any communication you give must be with those two things in mind.
I was looking more at social media than email marketing, let's say. GDPR came in back in 2018, and so rather than getting caught up in that, I've avoided doing the whole email marketing thing – maybe to my detriment. I may yet still do it, but I feel that with social media marketing at least I'm able to put content out there more regularly. And those who want to engage can engage.
With email marketing, you're just throwing it out to the wind and seeing where it lands. It might land in a real good spot, or it might not. If it's social media marketing, people are choosing to go on those platforms. And if it's relevant to them, they'll stop. If it isn't, they'll just keep scrolling and that's fine.
How are you feeling about the future? What are you hoping to work on next in terms of developing and growing the business?
I'm really excited. Up to now, I've delivered workshops to help parents pick and choose how they'll protect their children's online safety. And those tended to be group-based workshops. However, I'm about to launch what I'm calling my whole-family approach.
I'd shied away from doing that because I felt parents might expect me to come in with a magic wand and make it so that no-one would ever be able to contact their child inappropriately, or their child would never be able to access harmful content online. And I can't guarantee that. I can't even do that for my own children!
The entire purpose of the whole-family approach is provide a facilitated safe space for parents and carers to start those awkward online safety conversations with children. Knowing that if they continue having these conversations, their children will learn how to make their own informed decisions as they transition through childhood into adulthood.
As well as the whole-family approach, there's an element of coaching I can provide which will be for those families who are frustrated, overwhelmed, utterly exhausted, perhaps not tech-savvy, or for those parents who have children with special educational needs, who wouldn't be able to sit through one of these facilitated sessions, let alone multiple sessions.
Finally, what advice would you give to anyone who's considering starting a business?
I would say choose something you're passionate about. Because it's not an easy being an entrepreneur. It's not a simple road! But your passion will pull you through the tough times.
As a founder, you're often working alone. But if you reach out to people, you're very rarely alone. If you need help, ask for it.
Free video training, exclusive offers and workshops
The business.connected hub is a free online training programme of workshops, webinars and e-learning modules designed to help businesses go digital, adopt new technology, and stay safe online. Take me to the hub now