Posted: Mon 15th May 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 Mandy Chowdhary, founder of Goodness Goodies, an online shop selling 'free-from' sweets, chocolate and other sustainable products to help people make small changes to their lives.
Which aspects of the business.connected programme have you engaged with so far?
It's amazing what can be covered in a 30-minute webinar and I always make sure I take at least one action away from each session. The fact that they're only half an hour long also means they don't intrude too much into my busy schedule.
How did you come up with your idea and turn it into a business?
The idea to start Goodness Goodies stemmed from a desire to find free-from items that were suitable for my daughter Seren, who has a nut allergy.
Seren found her allergy a nuisance because her school would be cautious and not give her any chocolate or cake that contained traces of nuts – even though, fortunately, she can eat foods with nut traces in them.
She'd tell me she felt left out and different. She also felt sidelined at school and at parties because of her nut allergy and would be watching her friends around her eat yummy food while she grazed on a piece of fruit or breadstick.
When I founded the business 10 years ago, the free-from market was a different place. Back then, I struggled to find products that suited my family's specific dietary requirements and allergies, whether that was nuts, gluten, meat or dairy-free. By creating Goodness Goodies, my aim was to change this for my family and customers.
I enlisted a web designer friend to develop an e-commerce website and from there I sold free-from products online and to friends and families local to me. I wanted Goodness Goodies to mainstream 'free-from' and make products available that everyone could enjoy. No-one should ever be made to miss out just because of their allergy or dietary choices.
Watch this e-learning module to find out the five steps to setting up e-commerce for your business:
What are some of the key challenges you've faced on your business journey?
Right now, it's the cost of living crisis. The majority of my business is now B2B – I supply independent stores, coffee shops and bakers with the goods that I import.
I feel like every week there are customers of mine who are closing their businesses, and this is incredibly challenging. These are often long-standing customers who can't afford to continue due to increased costs and reduced revenue. I also export to Europe, and Brexit led to me losing a few customers. It's hard finding new businesses to replace those that I've lost.
Being a product business, cash flow is quite tough right now as products don't sell as quickly as they did or customers are buying less. My products are quite specialised and although they weren't readily available for a time, my aspiration for Goodness Goodies to make 'free from' foods part of the mainstream has become a reality.
This is great, but it does affect all my independent customers who are competing with the larger supermarkets and chains.
What's the best advice you've received while taking part in business.connected?
There have been so many nuggets of advice along the way but here are a couple of things that come to mind:
Know your customer. Developing avatars was a new concept to me and one that took me some time to get my head around. My career before setting up Goodness Goodies was operations in social housing, so I wasn't developing too many customer avatars then!
Plan your content. Know what you're going to post and to where you're going to post it. I spent 25 years or so in operations "fire-fighting" and dealing with problems, to the point that planning my work was an aspiration. But this is strong advice.
It's also quite lonely working on your own and you have to discipline yourself and your time. So, planning what you're going to do every day and every week and setting goals is very important. It's easy to drift without those goals as you're only really answerable to yourself. The planning and goal-setting keeps me in check. Plus, the sense of achievement on accomplishing those goals is great.
In this webinar, Dragons' Den's Steven Bartlett explains why setting goals is so important:
Is there a specific part of the business.connected programme that has inspired you the most?
I get inspired from reading about other business owners and their case studies. Attending networking events, meeting new people and hearing their stories and journeys can also be very inspirational.
Finally, what advice would you give to anyone who's considering starting a business?
If you have an idea, go for it. This can very much be a sideline that you work on in the evenings or at weekends. In my view, setting up a business is easy – it's actually having an idea in the first place that's hard.
Test the market and do your research. Who is your competition? What are you offering that's going to be different? Think about your customer and what value you're going to add to their life. Why will they come to you over someone else?
I always thought you only developed a business plan if you were asking the bank for a loan. But I was wrong – a business plan will frame what your business is about. If you want a sustainable business, then develop the business plan to give your business a strategy.
Finally, there are so many resources available from organisations like Enterprise Nation that you can tap into for support and guidance. My business is 10 years old and I find Enterprise Nation incredibly useful. Don't do it alone – there's support out there to help your business become a success.
Enterprise Nation has partnered with Vodafone Business to equip 800,000 small and medium-sized businesses with the digital skills they need to take their operations to the next level.
The free training programme – delivered exclusively online, and consisting of workshops, webinars and e-learning modules – empowers businesses to kickstart digital change, adopt new technology, and stay safe online.
For more information, visit the business.connected support hub